On Melancholy: the Physiological aspects of depression and bi-polar

Last night, I posted a semi-defense of certain controversial comments made in the wake of Robin Williams’ suicide and a general suggestion of how Matt Walsh, Rush Limbaugh, Bryan Kemper and others might have done better.

Part of Matt Walsh’s appeal is that, like the early Limbaugh, he uses sensationalistic packaging to get people’s attention to pieces that are usually very thoughtful. In this case, which backfires horribly because his piece isn’t as thoughtful as he thinks, he emphasized the notion that “Robin Williams didn’t die of a disease; he died of a choice.” At one point, he says, “First, suicide does not claim anyone against their will.”

He anticipates this response a few paragraphs above, but that is precisely the problem. Mental health issues, addiction, etc., reduce or remove culpability. Now, the mentally ill person may remain culpable for what is done while sane, but the question–which none of us can answer in this life–is whether the person who commits suicide truly has control of his or her will.

People like causes. They like to have someone or something to blame, especially if it isn’t themselves. “He was depressed because his career was in the tank” is an easy target versus “He was depressed because he had a genetic condition that made it difficult to control his emotions.” That gets into a mess of problems about free will versus determinism. Then there’s the controversial, “He was post-abortive,” which I want to discuss in a separate post, but while guilt, financial troubles, or frightening medical diagnoses may contribute to mental health issues, we cannot deny that there are physiological components. Matt Walsh is right that there are spiritual components, but wrong to dismiss “chemical imbalances” as modernist mumbo jumbo. Physiological understandings of depressive disorders are nothing new at all.

It is precisely “He was depressed because of XYZ” that is “modernist mumbo jumbo,” originating with Freud’s era.  Back in the old days, instead of “chemical imbalances,” people talked about “humors.” Melancholy is usually associated with depression, though the “melancholic temperament” would be what we now call “bipolar” and possibly include even autism. The melancholic is concerned about the troubles of the world, prone to mood swings, etc. Literature’s most notorious melancholic is perhaps Prince Hamlet from Shakespeare’s eponymous play. Three major movies made of the play within a decade demonstrate different psychological interpretations of the character:

The Zeffirelli/Gibson film (1990) depicts Hamlet as bipolar, mostly manic or “rapid cycling.”  
The Branagh/Branagh (1996) version depicts Hamlet as almost sociopathic (choleric), with the melancholy a complete facade.
The Almereyda/Hawke (2000) version depicts Hamlet as straight-up clinically depressed.  

Either way, all effective writers are natural psychologists and write their characters so well that they can be readily diagnosed (always baffles me that people insist you can’t “diagnose” fictional characters because a particular health problem or mental health issue wasn’t named: people still had problems).  Shakespeare drew from the psychology of his day and also left the character open to interpretation because he was aware of the debates that existed even then.

One of the concerns Walsh, and many others raise in critiquing a biological interpretation of mental health, is the spiritual component.  Fr. John Corapi would compare it to any physical disease: you might have a genetic predisposition to something. Then you add in the component of an actual physical trauma, poor nutrition, etc. Then bacteria come into the wound and infect it.

With mental health, you may have a genetic predisposition to bi-polar, depression, schizophrenia, autism spectrum, etc. You experience traumas that other experience but they hurt you more because of your predispositions. Things that might cause a brief situational depression for anybody are devastating (or, conversely, one thrives in a crisis). Then the demons, like bacteria in a wound, come along and whisper “You’re unworthy.” They infect the emotional wound and refuse to leave.  That certainly needs to be dealt with, and most treatment programs acknowledge it.  

“Madame has moments of melancholy,” says Max in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950).  Norma Desmond, also clearly bipolar (mania demonstrated by her literally insane, rambling “script” that she’s been working on for years), has made several attempts on her life, and Max has removed all the doorknobs in the house, as well as all knives and razors (“Madame got the razor from your room, and she cut her wrists!”)

If Robin Williams had shot himself, certain people would be calling for restricting the ability of mentally ill people to own guns. They cite statistics on gun deaths in America, more than half of which are suicides.  It is noteworthy that these same people objected to “politicization” of his death when some pro-lifers pointed to his status as a post-abortive father (post-abortion syndrome contributing to many suicides), or when Rush Limbaugh, ironically or inadvertently “politicized” his death by complaining about the media politicizing it.  Yet the same people would have readily “politicized” it if it had been a gun suicide.

That’s another easy cause, though, that  people look for.  They try to say, “It’s guns,” except when it’s not guns.  Nobody is talking about legal action to restrict ownership of ropes, or belts, or plastic bags, or knives or razors by mentally ill people.  The real issue there is why people must rely on the government for everything. 

A desperate person will find a means.

One last observation under this topic is the question of medication.  Some people will say, “See?  This proves meds don’t work!” or “This proves meds make things worse!”  One of the reasons it’s important to nail down the right diagnosis is that the wrong medicine really can be disastrous.  Someone with bipolar needs to be on bipolar meds, not necessarily anti-depressants or anti-anxiety meds, which can cause a horrible mania and, in turn, drastic behavior.  

Accurate diagnosis is so very important, as are accurate treatment methods.  

On celebrity deaths and the Spiritual Works of Mercy

Generally speaking, my view of how the media, and society in general, handle celebrity deaths (or any deaths) can be understood by Fr. George Rutler’s “Speaking Well of the Dead” from the November 1997 Crisis, which addresses the problem of insta-canonizations and eulogies, particularly of people who do not seem deserving of it. Or, as Crisis co-founder Ralph McInerny once quipped in his own column, “We cannot be certain of the fates of anyone but the Saints and our mothers.”

Plus, I have never been comfortable with getting emotional over celebrities, whether living or dead. I pray for them, either way, and leave it at that. Somehow, even before I knew the details, however, the death of Robin Williams kind of hit me, and when the details came out, it hit even closer to home. The subsequent media frenzy has touched on a number of issues that I have been wanting to write about, anyway.

Some people have been condemned, rightly or wrongly, for calling for caution in how the issue is being handled, especially given the circumstances, and I’d like to address those two main areas of concern *in general*.

Again, there is generally a reaction in these situations to the true neo-Pelagianism of “he was a ‘good man.'” As the cartoon that accompanies Fr. Rutler’s piece reminds us, Our Lord, and Bl. Teresa of Calcutta (whose death was one of the events that inspired it) have both cautioned “No one is good but God.” “Judge not” works both ways. Salvation is not a game of mathematics, where good deeds win points and bad deeds take them away. Nor is it a magic formula of sacramental grace or saying, “I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior” being a “Get out of Hell free card.” Salvation is about relationship, and again I’ll address that later, perhaps.

Right now, I wanted to focus on what I think is the problem when dealing with death from a pastoral theology standpoint, and the major worry regarding suicide.

While they may or may not have phrased it badly, and often the harshest critics have been those who’ve faced this temptation itself, one of the biggest problems some people are having is language like the now-infamous, “Genie, you’re free” meme, or saying things like, “He’s in a better place.” These words may seem consoling, but they can, as Rush Limbaugh, Matt Walsh, Todd Bridges and others have attempted to warn, be severely tempting to someone in the grip of despair. If such language is problematic with a natural death, it’s dangerous in this case.

When I was seven years old, and first became aware of how different I was from other children, I first thought about jumping out a window because I’d heard about reincarnation on TV and thought I could come back with a better body. “I didn’t break any mirrors. Why have I had seven years of bad luck?” I cried on my birthday. What saved me then was my parents telling me there was no such thing, and that if I did that, I would go to Hell.
Just last year, when I was on a respirator and feeding tube, and sedated, and hearing the ICU nurses debating questions of Obamacare regulations, organ donation, and “why don’t they just pull the plug,” and for a time (time at that point was irrelevant, but that’s another story), I became convinced that everything I believed as a Catholic was wrong, and that it would be better to pull the plug. Thankfully, they didn’t take the new “living will” I attempted to draft seriously. They *did* take it seriously in assigning my a psychiatrist, but again that’s another story. I just bring it up here to say that, attempts to console one person might bring another to despair.

That brings me to my other main thought. These “insta-canonizations,” as they’re referred to, whether of celebrities or the fellow down the road, are often well-meaning attempts to practice two of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy at the expense of others. It is a corporate work of mercy to bury the dead. It is a spiritual work to comfort the sorrowful. However, in comforting the sorrowful, we must be cautious not to use language that discourages praying for the dead.

Purgatory is temporary, and the holy souls in Purgatory know they’re going to see Jesus, but that no one imperfect can stand in the presence of God. They can intercede for us, but not for themselves. However, they still suffer, and our prayers and sacrifices on their behalf can alleviate their suffering if not free them, so well meaning attempts to say that someone “is in a better place” and presume that he or she went straight to Heaven is failing in one of the spiritual works and discouraging others from practicing it.

The traditional Requiem prayers are all about the awesome judgement of God, and in addition to praying for the deceased, reminding those in mourning that we, too, are mortal. That’s where admonishing sinners, instructing the ignorant, and counseling the doubtful come into play.

We’ve covered 5 of the 7 spiritual works of mercy, and the other two provide the last guidepost in these situations: bearing wrongs patiently and forgiving willingly.

Whatever wrongs a deceased person has done must be forgiven by us if we are to show mercy. We must always forgive as we would be forgiven, so even if the person hasn’t asked God’s forgiveness that we know of, and while we must not commit the sin of presumption ourselves, we may and should offer forgiveness to the dead–though, again, forgiveness requires acknowledging something to forgive. We can talk about a person’s good qualities and the signs of hope while acknowledging the things that need forgiveness.

Thus, when we look at the various arguments surrounding the Williams suicide, there have sadly been many offenses against Mercy, but we should forgive each other.

God Comes to Us in the Soft Voice: O Me Of Little Faith!

People like to say, “Jesus will understand.” They talk of their “nice guy,” thumbs of Jesus but then come readings like this week’s. The Apostles are cowering in a boat in a storm. They’re *fishermen* and they’re scared. They see Jesus and think He’s a ghost (when I was a kid, I assumed this was a post-resurrection story). Of all of these twelve chosen men, who have already come back from their first commission and worked miracles on the Lord’s behalf, one has the courage and love to jump out of the boat and run to Jesus. Then he wavers. And what does Our Lord say?
“Oh you of little faith!”
If *that* is “little faith,” imagine what we all should be capable of. If St. Dominic Savio told his former teacher, St. John Bosco, in a dream that he could have saved many more boys if he’d had more faith, what does that say of us?
Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

When I had my aortic repair surgery in March 2013, I lost my left vocal cord. The laryngeal nerve was paralyzed: they don’t know whether it was cut or pinched off. After 3 months in the hospital and multiple follow-up surgeries, I had an injection to try and restore some of my speech. The injection was basically Botox, and the goal was to swell the left vocal cord so instead of being permanently open, it was permanently closed. That helped restore my ability to speak enough that I could make a phone call and carry on a conversation.

It was a temporary injection supposed to last a couple months at least but only lasted a little over a month. I didn’t like the side effects, and the surgeon told me the only option was likely to be “reenervation,” when they somehow do a nerve bypass. After doing some research, I decided I didn’t feel comfortable with that path and its risks. I also figured that if Julie Andrews doesn’t have enough money to get the right procedures to get her singing voice back, I might as well pray and wait for a miracle.

A few weeks ago, we were in Virginia visiting my wife’s family and met a couple Facebook friends in person. This one lady (keeping her anonymous so she doesn’t get bombarded) brought along a rosary from the Holy Land. She’s a traditionalist, so I was a bit more open to her claim than I might have been rom a charismatic. She said that the first time she prayed it, her dog was healed of pancreatic cancer. Another time, she touched a lady at church with it, accidentally, and the lady was cured of cancer.

“Do you mind if I touch your throat with it and pray?”

I was like, “Sure, why not?”

I was wavering between doubt and hope, skepticism and faith.

People describe a feeling of warmth with a healing. As I was arguing in my head about whether God would be willing to give me such a wondrous miracle, I felt that sensation, and a bit of a buzz.

I started talking: nowhere near my old voice, but as good as it ever got with the injection. I also felt better. There was a sense of relieved tension. When we got back to my in-laws’, I called my mom, and she understood me. While some family members have been able to understand if they tried really hard, my father in law has barely heard me on the phone. Our conversations the past year have amounted to:
“Hi, John, is Mary around?”
“No, but I . .. . “
“Ok, I’ll call back later.”

The evening we were driving back to South Carolina, he called and asked how we were doing, whether we were home yet, etc. We actually had a conversation!

I called my sister and one of my brothers that weekend. I have managed to handle several phone calls in the subsequent weeks that my wife would have had to handle for me.

Plus, my energy levels have generally increased. I’m feeling much better, overall, than I have in years. Not quite a “call the Vatican” miracle, but definitely a “healing.”

So, that brings me back to these week’s readings. Hearing Jesus reprimand Peter for his doubt, I thought, “Is He reprimanding me for my doubt? Did He have more in store for me that I failed to accept out of fear?”

Then Father started his homily and addressed the first reading. “God comes to us in the soft whisper,” he said.

God has come to me in the soft whisper. It pains me (literally) to be unable to sing today. Our organist played the Holy Holy and Amen I grew up with. She played “All Creatures of Our God and King” for the recessional. I tried to sing. I managed a bit, but it was painful.

Might I be able to sing now if I’d had a bit more faith in that moment of healing? Or did God give me just what I needed, my daily bread, though He still wants me to learn from my “soft voice”?

Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!

Will the real Fatima.please stand up?

It dawned on that, everywhere I look, I see people who need Fatima’s message, yet even most who “promote” it get it wrong.
For many, Fatima is “about Vatican II,” when, if anything, Vatican II was about Fatima.
For many, it was and is about a magical formula for the “consecration of Russia” that will lead to the magical “conversion of Russia,” and in turn to an “era of Peace.” Those prophecies are open to interpretation until they can be seen through the lens of history. Sr. Lucia said St. John Paul fulfilled it. If he didn’t, it’s too late, anyway.
Russia’s errors have spread through the world: not just the Communism that is encroaching on the US thanks to so many money-hungry “Catholics” voting for Obama, but also abortion (the USSR was the first country to legalize it).
The reason we have not seen mass conversions and world peace is not because the Pope failed to say the right words at the right place and time with the right bishops. It’s because laity, priests and religious fail to answer Our Lady’s call to conversion of heart:
sacrifices (in the manner of the Little Way);
true contrition and monthly (at least) Confession;
Frequent, sincere and meditative praying of the Rosary;
Devotion to and respect for the holy Eucharist
Wearing the Scapular or Miraculous Medal.
How many people do these practices at all, much less with the depth and sincerity Our Lady called for.
Francisco didn’t see her the first few times. He was below the age of reason and yet she still said he was guilty of too many sins and needed to say many Rosaries to see her and to avoid Purgatory. Yet we presume we’ll all be instant Saints.
She showed them souls falling into Hell like snowflakes, yet we hold to a watered-down universalism.
She said souls go to Hell mostly for sins of the flesh, which are as disgusting to the Devil as they are to God, and that, “Fashions will be introduced that will offend my Son greatly.” Yet we fall right into the filth with the rest of the Culture of Death.

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Praying the Office Online

I’ve been praying the Office since 1997 or ’98. My aunt and uncle sent me a copy of _Christian Prayer_ for, I believe, my Confirmation. My wife also had a copy she’d received from an uncle. We bought the four volume set (at least two of one). The latter is tricky because despite my best efforts, I always seem to be unable to find the correct volume for the season. The one volume versions have both fallen apart from use.

One of the goals of Vatican II was to make the Liturgy of the Hours more accessible to laity, reducing its complexity, but many people are still intimidated by all the “ribbons,” keeping track of the Psalter, the Proper of Seasons, the Proper of Saints, and the various Commons, etc.

It was about 10 years ago that I started thinking how it should be relatively easy to create an interactive version of the Office using HTML, where one could click on a link, bringing up a frame with the appropriate materials, and providing choices for optional memorials, or memorials celebrated as personal Feasts, etc.

So, I created several HTML files in Word, and made it part of my daily prayer to type the relevant sections into the appropriate files.

Then I discovered that others were already deep into similar projects, and I saw little need to recreate their work, though some of the problems still remain, as I will discuss in reviewing and linking each site in this post.

The Liturgy of the Hours is one of the oldest prayer forms in the Church, and is used by Catholics, the various Orthodox churches and many “mainline” Protestant denominations. In Roman Catholic (as opposed to Byzantine/Orthodox) theology, the Liturgy of the Hours is “public prayer” or liturgy, an extension of the Mass. To pray the Office is to pray “with the Church,” so it’s important the words be as unified as possible. This is distinguished from “private devotion.” So, in a popular internecine debate among faithful Catholics, 1,000 people saying the Rosary are in “private prayer,” while one person praying the Office under certain circumstances is engaging in “public prayer.” Catholic clergy (bishops, priests, deacons), religious (nuns, monks, friars, sisters) and members of secular orders are under canonical obligation to say the Office but also have the grace of praying “publicly” even when we’re “alone,” because in sharing the common texts that others are praying around the world, we are joining with them spiritually. For laity who are not in Third Orders, it’s still a private devotion, unless they’re saying it in community with others. Thus, the “trick” with online adaptations is whether the translations are appropriate.

Even a few years ago, there were not as many options there are now.

One of the first sites providing a daily Breviary online was Universalis, which is based out of England and provides detailed information on the degree to which its texts are approved for various English-speaking countries. It has gotten much more elaborate, of course, since 2005, and it provides apps. For those under obligation, I just discovered that Universalis provides the official Latin translations, so if you’re extra-cautious about whether the translation is official, you can always just use Latin. :)

Perhaps the most popular and well-made, and the one I use most regularly, is DIvineOffice.org.
It has all its copyrights in order and uses the canonically approved texts for the US. It also has very well-made podcasts of a group of people praying the Office, with licensed hymns, and the participants (mostly volunteers who, IIRC, started the project as a way of teaching the Office to an RCIA class) alternate methods of communal praying: sometimes chanting the Psalms, sometimes repeating the antiphons, sometimes having one person read or sometimes alternating. You can read the text with no audio, listen to the audio, or read and listen. The audio usually takes about 20-25 minutes for morning prayer and 15-20 minutes for evening prayer, depending upon how much is chanted.

Before Divine Office, I used to use PrayStation Portable from Fr. Roderick Vonhogen’s SQPN. I used to also have it on an RSS feed here but found it was unreliable. Sometimes, it seems to update too quickly and you can’t find the actual links for the day. Other times, there was a delay in posting. I hope they’ve fixed those issues, but it’s been a while since I followed it. It’s just Fr. Roderick reading it, not a group of people, and much simpler, but he does include prayer requests that listeners send him as part of the General Intercessions.

Plenty of websites and apps offer the Traditional Breviary, and several sites offer the various offices of Eastern Churches.

The added challenge, which led to my most recent discovery of a treasure trove of sites, is praying “Optional Memorials,” days that are not on the “General Calendar” (such as the Discalced Carmelite Propers), days that are personal/community Feasts or Solemnities, etc.

CatholicCulture.org* has a cool Liturgical Calendar page with the Feast(s) or Saint(s) of the day on both the Extraordinary Form and Ordinary Form Roman Calendars, Collects, devotional prayer suggestions and other activities. So, if I’m looking for a Collect that’s not in DivineOffice.org, I have been turning to CatholicCulture.

Still, if it’s a day where I want, say, the Common of Doctors or the Common of the Blessed Virgin, and DivineOffice just has the regular Four Week Psalter options, I often find myself searching the Internet, and recently those searches have proven more fruitful:

Liturgy Archive is exactly what I imagined 10 years ago. It is a basic HTML page with links to every option for the entire year: the liturgical seasons, and the collect for every saint on the general calendar. It also has the Commons. So now, when it’s a Carmelite day, I go there for the Commons. I don’t know what their arrangements are with the copyright-enforcing USCCB, but it’s all there for now. Its wider “Archive” has both internal and external links for a variety of liturgical prayers from a number of Christian traditions.

iBreviary is also very good. Indeed, when I heard people say “iBreviary,” I always thought they meant “Divine Office.org”. It is based out of Italy, and defaults to Italian but offers a variety of language options, including both Latin and the official (Grail Psalter) English translations. It is a relatively simple website but is oriented towards tablets.

eBreviary offers everything in PDF format but only offers certain parts for free on its website or App and otherwise requires a subscription because of the copyrights.

More and more, with all these apps available, priests, deacons and religious are finding their confreres praying along in chapel with their phones, tablets and eReaders.

Why do people reflexively oppose Pope Francis?

While it is not exclusive, I think much of the divide over Pope Francis concerns more traditionally minded cradle Catholics and reverts on the one hand, and traditionally minded converts.
Many of us grew up with the oral tradition of Anne Catherine Emmerich, Fatima, La Salette, and more recently Garabandal, Medjugorje, etc. Our grandmas, family friends, and even many priests warned us to be prepared for the Three Days of Darkness, False Pope, etc. When one collective narrative stands so firmly against the world we see as so clearly flawed, it can be difficult to separate out the authentic “traditional teaching” from the popular oral tradition.

Some of the most anti-Francis Catholics I know are people who were raised Catholic, fell into gravely sinful lives and returned to the Church, with a greater appreciation for the oral tradition they were partially raised with, and a mistrust of the post-conciliar permissiveness that they see as having contributed to their youthful downfalls. They’re not so much “older brothers on the porch” but more like the ex-smoker or ex-alcoholic who turns virulently anti-smoking or anti-alcoholism.
Since the Prodigal Son is often brought up in these circumstances, let me offer a modified parable that illustrates the problem more precisely. Let’s say the father in the parable had *three* sons, two of whom ran off, and, when the second son returns home, he says, “Dad, you showed me such mercy, and I was in a horrible state. Please, I’m very worried about my younger brother. I know what it’s like for him out there. Will you please go out and find him and make him come home?”
Dad says, “I can’t force him to come home unless he really wants to.”
This makes the second son very upset, especially given the rebellious tendencies that led him to stray in the first place.
So, I think that’s part of it: people talk as if Francis’s critics do not want the “prodigals” to return, yet that is precisely the problem people have with some of the Pope’s teachings: *he* sounds like he’s saying, “Go ahead and sin, stay non-Catholic, whatever you want to do. God will love you, anyway, even if you stay in the parabolic pig sty.” I don’t believe Francis really intends that message. But that is where his critics are coming from: they want to see souls saved and converted. This aspect of the controversy definitely has its ideological roots at least as far back as the Jansenists versus the Jesuits.
The other part, though, concerns the aforementioned prophecies. It can be very difficult, again, especially when those sources have been proven right in so many ways, to separate out what is authentic Tradition, etc.
To the extent that the problem is with Francis’s critics, I’d contend it’s an issue of spiritual growth, and name-calling and condemnation aren’t an effective approach with them any more than anyone else.
However, it is very easy to see why those who may have had qualms with Vatican II and the past few Popes and sympathies with “radTrads” are feeling greater inclinations in that direction. Francis could have been a virtual redux of Pope Benedict, and some of us would still have that voice in the backs of our heads for the mere fact of the Resignation. When we’ve been told to beware of a time when a Pope is driven from the Papacy and still lives while another is elected in his stead, what else can we think?

The problem is that such matters often can only be discerned in hindsight. I see little evidence from what Pope Francis has actually said that supports the narrative: indeed, some of the alleged prophecies could be read to suggest Francis will lead the Church out of the great crisis.

I’m not saying Francis’s strongest critics are right, though it’s taken me a lot of growth to get to where I am not 100% with them. Indeed, had I not been unconscious, in a hospital, fighting for my life when the infamous foot washing happened on Holy Thursday 2013, I would have been horribly scandalized by it. Part of me still suspects he’s more like “Puzzle the Donkey” in C. S. Lewis’s _Last Battle_: a kind, saintly pope who is being manipulated, not so much a wolf in sheep’s clothing as the opposite, but I do think it’s important to understand where people are coming from. I think he’s far more like St. John Paul II than some Catholics are willing to admit.

Apologetics is in some sense the rhetoric of theology, a notion I will hopefully develop more in a later post. An apologist makes the point of understanding why people think the way they do about “the Faith” and religion in general, answering their objections and explaining the faith in a way that helps their understanding. Yet many Catholic apologists whom I otherwise enjoy reading and often agree with try to insist that the obstinacy of “radTrads” (or “Radical Reactionaries” or “The Greatest Catholics of All Time,” “neo-pelagians,” or whatever the latest label is) is somehow worse than the obstinacy of liberal Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants or non-Christians, that these souls are not worth the effort of discerning and attempting to correct the flaw in their understanding.

False convictions and DNA: “Guilty until Proven Innocent”?

This is kind of off topic, but I’ve been thinking about this for a while. We often hear, especially in reference to the death penalty, that people convicted of crimes and later “exonerated” or “proven innocent” by DNA evidence. The following statistic gets to what I’m thinking:
“In almost 50 percent of DNA exoneration cases, the actual perpetrator has been identified by DNA testing.”
This is a perfect example of phrasing. One could just as easily say, “In less than 50 percent. . . . “
The only way to “prove someone innocent” is such “Perry Mason” type situations: DNA cannot “prove someone innocent” unless it proves someone else guilty. Showing that DNA samples found at the crime scene do not match the suspect doesn’t mean he or she wasn’t there; it just means they found no samples to verify his presence. I read somewhere that, at any given time, there are probably hundreds of DNA samples on a shoe. DNA evidence is based upon matching up the random samples of hair, skin, bodily fluids, etc., to the suspect. A lack of DNA or other evidence means legally “not guilty”; it does not mean “innocent.”
However, on the other hand, it speaks to how the theory is supposed to be “innocent until proven guilty,” but in practice most of us think the opposite.