Roman Polanski and Roman Catholics

pianist_271Jim Lindgren over at the legal blog The Volokh Conspiracy has excerpted a fascinating George Orwell essay from 1944 about what a morally depraved yet talented artist Salvador Dali is. It discusses how the fans of his art claim "a kind of benefit of clergy" where they exempt him from the moral laws that constrain ordinary people. Here's the line that got me:

If Shakespeare returned to the earth to-morrow, and if it were found that his favourite recreation was raping little girls in railway carriages, we should not tell him to go ahead with it on the ground that he might write another King Lear.

Well, apparently Orwell didn't consider Woody Allen, David Lynch and Martin Scorsese, three of the latest film luminaries, according to the Guardian, that have signed a petition calling for the release of talented director -- and child rapist -- Roman Polanski.

When I first learned of the arrest of Polanski -- he'd been sought since 1978 after skipping town prior to sentencing for the rape of a 13-year-old girl -- it didn't occur to me that people would defend him. I mean, heck, we all like Chinatown but that doesn't mean you get a Get Out of Jail Free card, does it?

Apparently it is. There's this odd clip from The View where Whoopi Goldberg tries to explain that Polanski merely raped the girl, not "raped-raped" her. Because apparently giving a 13-year-old alcohol and Quaaludes and repeatedly refusing to comply with her demands that you stop orally, vaginally and anally raping her isn't "rape-rape."

Although most of the sympathy for Polanski is coming from Hollywood and the more liberal media elite, some of it is creeping into the mainstream media coverage. I don't think everyone who rapes 13-year-old girls gets the "it's such a complex situation" treatment that we've been seeing on, for instance, Good Morning America coverage. Or note this headline from the New York Times:

Question in Polanski Arrest: Why Now?

At the Washington Post, media critic Howard Kurtz says the headling "shows how Polanski advocates have gotten their spin into the mainstream news coverage." Here's a Washington Post Style piece explaining how Polanski is in a fighting mood, full of quotes from his high-profile defenders. And here's the Los Angeles Times version that advances the view of some that the arrest reveals "America's dark side."

If you're curious in what the opinion media is saying about Polanski's arrest, here's an absolutely devastating take in Salon, by Kate Harding. Anne Applebaum, a columnist for The Washington Post, takes the view that Polanski has suffered enough, losing his mother to a concentration camp and his wife to the Manson murderers. She neglected, however, to reveal that her husband is the Polish foreign minister pushing for his release.

Anyway, all this to say that there is an interesting religion angle here. Turns out that some people have noticed the discrepancy between how different sexual abusers are treated. In other words, if only Roman Catholic pedophiles could have been Roman Polanski pedophiles! Here's Father Thomas Reese writing in the Washington Post's On Faith section: Rosemarys-baby

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?

The statute of limitations is apparently shorter for Polanski than it was for Elia Kazan, I guess. Some religion reporters are paying attention to the double standard. Here's USA Today's Cathy Lynn Grossman. U.S. News & World Report's Dan Gilgoff cites Reese and others before writing:

But what is noteworthy about the Catholics speaking out against Polanski's generally liberal apologists is that they are overwhelmingly liberal themselves. . . .

More conservative Catholic blogs have been relatively quiet about the Polanski arrest, at least so far. For the moment, the debate over how to treat Polanski is mostly a family feud among political allies: the left's serious Catholics and its Tinseltown honchos.

I'm not sure it's true that conservative Catholic blogs have been quiet about the arrest but will have to pay attention as I complete my tour of the Catholic blogosphere today.

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