What if Polanski wore a collar?



Here I am in Los Angeles, about to start a retreat, when I pick up today’s The Los Angeles Times, carrying stories about mortgage-bank woes, gay weddings, forest fires and the like.  Buried in the Arts section is a thumbnail review of the new documentary about Roman Polanski, “Wanted and Desired,” which has aired on HBO, and won plaudits at Sundance this year.


“This compelling, smartly told film,” wrote the Times’ lead film critic Kenneth Turan, “takes the seemingly familiar story of the circumstances surrounding Polanski’s fleeing the country after pleading guilty to having sex with a minor and tells it with such intelligence, dispassion and detail that it’s like we’ve never heard it before. Which is exactly the point.”  The film opens in L.A. today. 


In 1977, the director fled the country after being convicted of sexually abusing a 13-year-old-girl.  Whether the trial was fair is the subject of the new film.  What is not in doubt is that Mr. Polanski had sex with an unwilling minor, after plying her with Champagne and part of a Quaalude.  The International Herald Tribune reports today that Mr. Polanski may use the documentary to appeal his conviction.


All this leads to a question about double standards.  When it comes to  sexually abusive priests the media is merciless.  When it comes a sexually abusive artiste, the media offers nuance.   Manohla Dargis, in her review in The New York Times in March, wrote this about the film, “Neither is it about Mr. Polanski’s likability, his tragic past, morals, short stature, brilliant and bad films, the sleaze factor or your personal feelings on whether there’s anything wrong with a 43-year-old man’s having sex with a 13-year-old girl.”


Whether there’s anything wrong? 

Ms. Dargis noted the “curiously divisive reactions he has long inspired.”  Yes, curious.


Does abuse matter less if you’ve won an Academy Award?  Or, put another way, how would the media treat Mr. Polanski if he wore a Roman collar?   


James Martin, SJ

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10 years 6 months ago
Yes! wrong is wrong, priest or movie director. It sounds a bit like those who used statistics to say that only a ''small'' percentage of priests were abusive... He is a brilliant director, so he should get off the hook. No excuses!! Excellent thought Fr. Jim.
10 years 6 months ago
This is certainly not the only case. There is Victor Salva who videotaped himself having sex with a 12 year old male and then went on to make the Disney Financed Powder and the Jeeper Creepers horror series. Or how about Woody Allen whose conduct with his 7 year old adopted daughter was "grossly inappropriate" along with Soon-Yi Previn. The media is quite free with the term pedophile which is usually not technically accurate for any priests but pretty much ignore the entertainment elite and the vast numbers of sexual abuse in public schools. Though priest rightly should be held to a higher standard, the other cases should not be ignored.
10 years 6 months ago
I once came across a Latin quotation translated as “When two do the same, it is not the same.” The crime, no matter who commits it, is still a crime. It should not be nuanced to the point of extinction of what it truly is in any common sense understanding. It strikes me that complicit bishops are doing just that though – morphing criminal endangerment of children, obstruction of justice, failure to report in accord with the law, and even perjury to “mistakes” and “inadequacies.” The bleached language of rationalization finds strange outlets, whether in the film about Polanski, or in the contorted verbal gymnastics of episcopal dissembling. I see many parallels. I also find congruence in the trauma experienced by Polanski and clergy abuse survivors. Both endured horrific childhoods filled with violence of body and soul. Born in 1933, Polanski was eight when his parents were sent to concentration camps after some years in the Krakow ghetto. Making his way from one family to another, sometimes living in the streets scavenging for food and sustenance, hiding at movie houses, his formative years witnessed unparalleled hardship and cruelty. At 14 after the war, his father set him up in an apartment on his own. The idea that someone 13 years old could function as an adult may have been assumed given his experience. He was beaten in the head with a rock and almost killed by a serial killer after the war. Such a childhood inevitably leaves marks, though it does not become an excuse for crime. Sexual abuse survivors’ trauma is also of singular impact, whatever its configuration. The movie needs a counterpoint documentary, as do bishops’story lines about lack of culpability. I hope any outrage extends to both director and hierarchy. May Fr. Martin find much peace on his retreat. And Lord help us all in face of the evil of the world.
10 years 6 months ago
I think this reaction is overly prickly. As Catholics, we ought not get defensive over the misdeeds of our own, but rather own up to them, and do better. I have not seen the documentary that's being discussed here, but it seems to me that there is a lot more than mere Hollywood bias toward its own that could explain the different reactions (not that bias in favor of ones familiars is anything other than comonplace in our own community). First, the Polanski rape happened a long time ago. Our cultural memory is notoriously short lived. Lets see how Priests are treated in twenty years before we accuse the world of a double standard. Second, the public has always been more comfortable with statutory rape when it's heterosexual. Think of the book "Lolita" which was largely taken to be a salacious sex fantasy and not the depiction of a monstrous predator that its author intended it to be. Lastly, it would be right and proper to expect different levels of conduct from a person who has publicly devoted his life to God and love of his fellow man, and from a hedonistic film director. The public has always had special anger at those who misbehave while claiming a moral high ground. I am not familiar with Polanski's work, but I doubt that he claimed to be a pillar of rectitude. When a man becomes a Priest, he singles himself out for expectations of good behavior. We would not want it any other way. But when such a man hurts those in his charge, it is to be expected that they will be met with special opprobrium. So lets not feel defensive about a double standard. Instead, lets redouble our efforts to be good, live in a Godly way, and help the world along instead of demanding that it forget our sins.


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