'Father Polanski Would Go to Jail' Says Jesuit

ABC's Bill Blakemore reports from New York:

The arrest of film director Roman Polanski has prompted a focused splash of perspective from a Jesuit Priest.

“Imagine if the Knights of Columbus decided to give an award to a pedophile priest who had fled the country to avoid prison,” Father Tom Reese, S.J., points out. “The outcry would be universal.”

Writing for the Newsweek/Washington Post website, he adds that “Victim groups would demand the award be withdrawn and that the organization apologize.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 then he adds: “And they would all be correct. And I would join them.” ( See his op-ed here)

Father Thomas J. Reese, S.J., former editor of the Jesuit journal America, has been an on-air analyst for ABC News in past years on various Vatican and Catholic matters.

His short op-ed drills into some deep issues doubtless swimming around in the heads of most anyone who enjoys the movies and other transports into engaging entertainments.

Reese asks, “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?”

EMOTIONALLY CONVENIENT?

As if the insubstantial and enjoyable worlds of imagination that our artists offer us somehow tend to include the artists themselves, Father Reese seems to suggest, people in the real world have often found it far more emotionally convenient to give some transgressors of child abuse a pass than to ponder the law.

This is perfectly natural, of course -- but then, that's obviously one of the reasons societies have long established laws.

“It is not as if Polanski is the only Hollywood celebrity to be accused of child abuse,” writes Reese. “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 sharp-penned former America editor (now a columnist for newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith) draws a line between his profession and Mr. Polanski’s, and some may see this as another entry in the annals of religious dismay about “the world of the theater” -- dismay found in ancient texts stretching back way before Shakespeare’s time:

“Entertainment is the new religion with sex, violence and money the new Trinity,” writes Reese.

“Entertainment, not religion, is the new opiate of the people and we don't want our supply disturbed.” Father Reese commends the arrest: "Good for the Los Angeles prosecutors who have not given up on this case."

Reese's column is sparking interesting comment and question.

“Not justifying Polanski at all,” writes one friend, “but in answer to the 'why no outcry': Polanski never set himself up as a moral guide. He admitted guilt early. He was not, as far as the story goes, a repeat offender. These differences may explain the relative lack of outrage.”

Another writes of Reese’s column, "This seems an attempt to compare apples and giraffes. It suggests that somehow the defense of Polanski is also a defense of priest abuse...Further, Father Polanski would have much more likely raped a boy. And to be honest, in my experience Father Polanski would never have gone to jail, but shuffled...into a college dorm and then only dozens of years later taken out away from susceptible adolescents and young men." A third suggested that the column was a little off balance in perhaps seeming to equate Polanski, who is accused of having thus transgressed once, with serial child rapists, and adds that there's no evidence of aiding and abetting by Hollywood in any repeating of the offense, as there is with the Catholic Church.

These responses raise interesting further questions.

For example, how many priests who have been defrocked for such transgressions, transgressed once? Is that relevant? Is there evidence that Polanski did this more than once?

(Further details about the original accusations against Polanski and his arrest are found in many media today. For example, one interesting column with some similarities to the Reese column is "What Polanski Deserves" by Eugene Robinson in today's Washington Post.) Reese is writing from within an institution -- the Catholic Church -- which sets a high bar for morality and has, as a group, had its reputation affected by discoveries relating to child abuse.

Is Reese's suggestion that something similar -- not identical, but similar -- may obtain in “Hollywood” a reasonable question and worth pursuing?

Would it be relevant, or worthwhile, to point out that the three private comments above were made by males? Given that the Polanski victim was a girl?

One image that lingers in the mind today, is the face on national television last night of the woman, now in her forties, that girl became, saying, if my fallible (human) memory serves, essentially that she'd like the whole thing to go away. (Polanski and the victim reached a settlement following a civil case.)

Which raises a some further interesting questions: how many people or groups of people have helped keep this victimization as alive as it stills seems to be, and would a different course of choices by Mr. Polanski have led to an earlier liberation for...for various people?

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