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James Martin, S.J.September 28, 2009

Tom Reese took the words right out of my mouth.  When I read the New York Times story about Roman Polanski's arrest in Switzerland for having raped a 13-year old girl in 1977, I thought: if he were in a collar there would be no boo-hooing about his recent plight.  There would be zero pity for him.   Here's Fr. Reese on the Newsweek blog:  

Imagine if the Knight of Columbus decided to give an award to a pedophile priest who had fled the country to avoid prison. The outcry would be universal. Victim groups would demand the award be withdrawn and that the organization apologize. Religion reporters would be on the case with the encouragement of their editors. Editorial writers and columnist would denounce the knights as another example of the insensitivity of the Catholic Church to sexual abuse.

And they would all be correct. And I would join them.

But why is there not similar outrage directed at the film industry for giving an award to Roman Polanski, who not only confessed to statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl but fled the country prior to sentencing? Why have film critics and the rest of the media ignored this case for 31 years? He even received an Academy award in 2003. Are the high priests of the entertainment industry immune to criticism?

Do you think, though, that Polanski's famous artistry, popular films and other good works mitigate his guilt, and should mean that he should be leniently treated?  Or that enough time has passed?   

That is the thinking among some.  USA Today reports this:

Polanski was "thrown to the lions," said French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterand. "In the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America that has just shown its face."  "It seems inadmissible ... that an international cultural evening, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, is used by police to apprehend him," says a petition circulating in France and signed by artists including Costa Gavras, Stefen Frears and Monica Bellucci.

A petition!  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 past--do you believe the same about pedophile priests?

James Martin, SJ


David Gibson at Politics Daily weighs in:

Perhaps my sensitivity to the Roman Polanksi fiasco can be traced to having covered the clerical sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church for so many years -- even before 2002, in fact, when it became a "scandal," which basically means the media pays attention.

Or perhaps my irritation at the emerging empathy for the award-winning director stems from a basic sense of justice.

Read the rest here.

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14 years 9 months ago
What an interesting idea, Ted Seeber, that pedophiles lose their libido and become less of a threat as they age.  After they reach this age, do they sit around and wonder how they could ever have done the things they did or do they sit around reminscing over them?  Might they not still be interested in some the activities they did that harmed young people but that do not necessitate the use of Viagra?  I think they were never properly socialized and that this is not something that corrects itself with age. 
14 years 9 months ago
"Yes, Polanski should be held accountable.
Polanski has not made a movie in the U.S. since Chinatown (1974). In effect, he has been banned from Hollywood,
He does not work for an organization in which the higher-ups protect the violators.
And yes, I can imagine a petition going around among the faithful and the clergy in support of an accused priest."

Very well said. Especially the point that Polanski is facing this crime as an individual and that he is not being either directly or indirectly protected by an organization.
14 years 9 months ago
I forgot:  when did Roman Polanski claim to be acting in persona Christi?  Did the Pope quote St. John Vianney saying "After God, the movie director is everyting!" recently?  If so, I missed it.  Does the average movie director tell people that God commands them to support him with their donations?  
The comparison is so stupid, only a Jesuit could have made it.  Roman Polanski is scum.  But pedophile priests are a hundred times worse.
14 years 9 months ago
I fully expect to get a few e-mails for this opinion, but:
" If you believe this about Polanski-that his good deeds offset his guilt and that enough time has past-do you believe the same about pedophile priests?"
Yes!  I do believe the same about pedophile priests, and just about every other pedophile, because I believe in the possibility of conversion over time, as well as the scientific fact that the human libido is not a constant force, but waxes and wanes.
A 77 year old man is simply not capable of the sex crimes of a 45 year old man.  They are physically two different beings.  Quite possibly spiritually two different beings as well.
That doesn't mean we should escape the temporal effects of our sin- of which punishment by civil authorities of crimes is one.  But it does mean that I don't for a second believe that a man who, for instance, invited boys to use a sauna in the nude in perfectly normal Sweedish tradition in 1978, as one of my close priest friends was accused of, would be able to do the same today.  For one, his pacemaker isn't compatible with a sauna.
So the "what if he's still molesting children today" argument for his punishment is laughable at best.
The "he still owes for his crime" argument on the other hand, is much better.

14 years 9 months ago
Read from the grand jury transcript at
http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/polanskia1.html p. 1-18 and
http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/polanskib1.html p. 19-36

14 years 9 months ago

Statement by David Clohessy of SNAP (314 566 9790)
We as a society must clearly show, by our actions, that child sex abuse is wrong and that child molesters will be pursued, whether they are rich or poor, prominent or unknown, whether they 'face the music' or flee the country. It's a grave disservice to crime victims and an irresponsible risk to children if we let child sex offenders walk free because they've delayed justice or fled overseas.
Is it possible that there was some prosecutorial misconduct in Polanski's case? Of course. Does that mean he gets to unilaterally 'opt out' of the justice system and walk free? Of course not.
No one seems to even consider the possibility that Polanski may have abused others, even recently. That's yet another reason he should be extradited.
If Polanski is NOT extradited, the message child molesters will get is "If you get smart lawyers, hang tough, and move elsewhere, you'll get away scot-free, especially if you've got some kind of talent." That's a terrible message.
It's sad that California has a budget crisis and that Polanski has suffered pain in his adult life. It's wonderful that his victim has forgiven him. None of this, however, means he's not still a risk to kids. Nor does it somehow give a convicted child molester any kind of 'free pass.'
The church's on-going child sex abuse and cover up scandal should have taught us that when authorities give excessive deference and favoritism to some predators, because of their occupation,  more children end up being devastated and more adults stop trusting and cooperating with law enforcement.

Finally, he did not "have sex with a girl." He abused her. He molested her. He's pled guilty to this. And, according to several media reports, he plied her with drugs and booze. "Having sex with" is a phrase that implies consent. And we've all agreed, as a society, for years, that a vulnerable teenager simply can't consent to sex with an adult, especially a powerful and charismatic one.


14 years 9 months ago
Thanks for posting this, Fr. Martin, and for the link to Fr. Reese's artucle.  I had just posted something at my own blog about it.
Do you think, though, that Polanski's artistry, films and other good
works mitigate his guilt, and should mean that he should be leniently
treated?  Or that enough time has passed
No and no.
14 years 9 months ago
This blog has the potential to be revolutionary. It's written by a dear friend of mine..a Catholic nun with a unique vision. Please read...comment, if you like...and participate...www.commutuality.org
14 years 9 months ago
There's no comparison.  Priests are privileged individuals because of their role in the believing community and the betrayal of that privilege by the rape of children is not comparable to Roman Polanski's crime of rape.   And you gotta add the betrayal of the bishops to this cocktail-it was and continues to be, in support of good publicity no matter what the cost.  And plenty of Catholics have rallied around priest perpetrators. So let's not pull out the sanctimony in the name of our good name.  We don't have a good name.  I think it'll take two generations to make a good name for the Catholic church.
14 years 9 months ago
This article is a real stretch and over-reach on your part.  You have made assumptions, inaccurately described the court case that led to this LA attornery request for extradiction, etc.
Would suggest that comparing the film industry to the catholic church is a stretch....go back 30 years and you will find (like the catholic church) that the film industry is not one solid front....many wanted Polanski to serve time.
It is very ironical that the LA district attorney is pursuing this - what about the current situation with Cardinal Mahoney, the latest dispostion by his former vicar of clergy...the continued archdiocesan efforts to delay, hinder the release of records that they agreed to last year in the abuse settlement. 
What about the fact that 30 years have passed on the Polanski case....in the same situation, bishops refuse to go to court or turnover personnel files becase the statute of limitations has expired.  Nothing about the fact that most allegations are credible, that these same bishops may have known this and transferred the offending priest more than once so they could re-abuse.  And you are outraged over the media response to this Polanski event....give me a break.
Your comments are disingenous; do not reflect either the facts nor reality.  You do know that the Dallas Morning News ran a series of stories for a year about where, when, and how religious orders, dioceses, etc. transferred their own priests overseas or to the Vatican for safekeeping to avoid court cases.  DMN found these priests - in a couple of cases resulting in extradiction and court sentences (to the DMN credit).
Finally, what about the NCCB presentation in the mid-1990's on Crimen Solicitationis and how bishops needed to forward all personnel files of credibly accused priests to the papal nuncio because the files would then be protected by international law....what did that have to do with truth, justice, repentance, continuing protection of children, and with repentance, some form of amends....not a word from our dear bishops.
14 years 9 months ago
This is so well put - so very well put. You really put the perspective on it that is needed.
The entire situation goes beyond a double standard. I am never happy at the way portions of the clergy sexual abuse scandal unfolded. That said, I am often startled at how things are viewed differently when the perpetrator is from another walk of life.
Not to get the Church off the hook, but we also must collectively own what our culture says when we are awash in images of purile sexuality pressed up against a Puritan instinct. There is no integrity, little wholeness, just a break. I better quit while I am ahead and before I veer too far off topic.
Our collective sense of sexuality is so skewed both in the Church and without, how will we ever heal ourselves?
And paying attention to how Roman Polanski is dealt with is important to that healing.
14 years 9 months ago
Duh!  He's not a priest.  There's nothing in his job title that implies that he is safe to be around or that he is celibate.  What a ridiculous comparison.  It's actually the opposite.  He's going down for his crime, while thousands of predator priests roam freely.  It does not behoove your position to whine about this.  And I believe it is common for parishioners to pass around a petition even after they know the priest molested children.  They still want him back.  Which is pretty bizarre.
14 years 9 months ago
Rape of a child is rape.  Be it a King, a Pope, a Bishop, a Movie Star, or a Movie Producer.    Polanski is a child rapist - he belongs behind bars.  
14 years 9 months ago

Catholic priests
probably have the greatest disparity of any population categroy in the highest
amount of money paid for sex abuse and the lowest amount of jail time.

14 years 9 months ago
Yes, Polanski should be held accountable.
Polanski has not made a movie in the U.S. since Chinatown (1974). In effect, he has been banned from Hollywood,
He does not work for an organization in which the higher-ups protect the violators.
And yes, I can imagine a petition going around among the faithful and the clergy in support of an accused priest.
14 years 9 months ago
Not only that, but if he were poor and unkown, he would have gone straight to prison where he could only hope and pray that his public defender had the time and resources to challenge his sentence.
I agree wtih E.J. Dionne in WaPo:  "This isn't about a genius who is being hounded for flouting
society's hidebound conventions. It's about a rich and powerful man who
used his fame and position to assault - in every sense, to violate -
an innocent child."
Not to mention the rule of law.
If there are extenuating circumstances, then it's for a judge to decide how they affect the case.  Polanski should stand before a judge and account for his actions.
14 years 9 months ago
Let's see...Cardinal Law and his two subordinates knew that Fr Paul Shanley was sexually abusing children for ten years and did absolutely nothing about it.  Fr Maguire, one of your Jesuits, father confessor to Mother Theresa, took young boys with him on trips to see her.  Your Church has been hiding pedophiles just as Polanski stayed out of the reach of justice.
14 years 9 months ago
So, Lone Star, please tell us how any mistakes made by the church (which are being soundly addressed) excuses Polansky and determines that mistakes should be made with him?
Priests have been prosectuted or laicized well beyond any "statute of limitations" (and rightly so) but we should not worry about Polansky now?  He fed quaaludes and champagne to a 13 year old (when he was 44) and when she begged him to stop he would not.
Whether you like Martin's comparison or not, that is a heinous act that he needs to pay for just as priests need to pay for them too.  But Martin is quite right.  If he were a Catholic priest, Polansky would be hounded.  Instead, unbelievably, Hollywood is defending him.
I guess if you are an artist, you're not accountable.
Suddenly "Fear no art" becomes troubling.
14 years 9 months ago
Is Jim Martin for real?  If Polanksi were a priest, he would probably would be living in his fifth or sixth country, celebrating Masses and administering the sacraments.  Heck, he could be the rector of a large Catholic cathedral somewhere!
14 years 9 months ago
There is a huge difference, at least on the civil side.  For decades the Church's lawyers played hardball with the victims.  Polanski's lawyers did not.
Let this be a lesson.
14 years 9 months ago
I usually find contrary to fact conditions tend to shed more heat than light. Here too, Fr. Martin mixes apples and oranges.
I note no mention that the UN Hunman Rights commision scored the Vatican particularly for leadership's failures in dealing with clerical sex abuse; the Vatican response - we're not as bad as others.
Fr. Martin's comments, and others, may be a salve for many good priests (and there are very many) who feel under the gun for the misdeeds of their fellow clergy -some long ago . It is also true, however, as Fr. Tom Doyle has pointed out, that there is often widespread reluctance among our clergy not to bring forward misdeeds by their felllow priests.
Add to that, the inept at best handling of abuse by the hierachy,
The Polanski matter  is complicated by the allegation that he's had no problems for 30 years (do we know that?) set off against not only his admitted crime but his absconding before facing sentencing justice -factors that should be considered judiciusly in the Court of Law - not pubklic opinion.
It strikes me that Fr. Martin, whom I deeply respect, really has not done justice to two very complex justice matters.
14 years 9 months ago
Roman Polansky is a rapist and should be brought to justice. But he is not a priest, did not promise celibacy, did not present himself as sexually safe to children and their families, and never represented himself as an instrument of God or the Church. The difference is hugh and I'm sorry that Fr. Martin can't see it.

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