There's quite a conversation going on in the religion blogosphere about the contrast between the case of Roman Polanksi (famed filmmaker, accused of raping 13-year-old girl decades ago, on the lam, and now, after finally being arrested in Switzerland, winning public support from fellow entertainers and European public officials) and that of multiple priests (not famous, accused of abusing minors decades ago, etc.).
The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, was first out of the box, posting an item headlined, "Father Polanski Would Go to Jail,'' at On Faith. An excerpt:
Polanski's defenders, including a 2008 HBO documentary, argue that he should not be punished. They say that the girl was willing and sexually experienced and she has forgiven him (after receiving a settlement). They even cite his tragic childhood and life as an excuse. And besides, it is ancient history.
Such arguments from pedophile priests would be laughed out of court and lambasted by everyone, and rightly so. It makes no difference that the girl is willing and sexually experienced, it is a crime. It is the role of the court, not the victim, to decide who goes to jail and for how long.
It is not as if Polanski is the only Hollywood celebrity to be accused of child abuse. Woody Allen and Michael Jackson come to mind. I am sure that with a little research the media could come up with quite a list. The Catholic Church has rightly been put under a microscope when 4 percent of its priests were involved in abuse, but what about the film industry?
The world has truly changed. Entertainment is the new religion with sex, violence and money the new Trinity. The directors and stars are worshiped and quickly forgiven for any infraction as long as the PR agent is a skilled as a saintly confessor. Entertainment, not religion, is the new opiate of the people and we don't want our supply disturbed.
Is there a double standard here? You bet.
Next up was the Rev. James Martin, associate editor of America magazine, writing, "If he were in a collar there would be no boo-hooing about his recent plight. There would be zero pity for him." An excerpt from his post, which was titled, "If Polanski Were Wearing a Collar ":
Can you imagine a petition being circulated among actors, directors and producers in the United States to have a Catholic priest reinstated in his parish after he had abused a 13-year-old child? If you believe this about Polanski--that his good deeds offset his guilt and that enough time has passed--do you believe the same about pedophile priests?
Multiple others are chiming in as well. David Gibson, writing for Politics Daily, also asks, "Comparisons are by their nature invidious. But what if Roman Polanksi were wearing a Roman collar? Would "Monsignor Polanksi" receive the same considerations?" Peter Smith, a religion writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal, wonders, "Let's say Roman Polanski was a priest who, say, fled the country and for decades avoid serving a sentence for statutory rape. Well, the question is a bit obvious. Would anyone sympathize with the end of his longtime fugitive status for his statutory rape conviction? Wouldn't people be indignant if a Catholic organization honored him in exile?" Many other religion writers are asking the same, from USA Today's Cathy Lynn Grossman, to Reuters's Tom Heneghan. And Rod Dreher, blogging as BeliefNet's Crunchy Con, takes the argument even further, writing:
In our culture, when it comes to sex, celebrities are beyond good and evil. At least Polanski isn't a orthodox Catholic or committed Evangelical of any sort. In his cultural milieu, that would be the unforgivable sin.
(Photo, by Sebastien Bozon/AFP, shows the "Free Polanski" sign on a man's shirt at the Zurich film festival on September 28, 2009.)