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:

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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  • Jerry

    The question that should be asked for anyone who supports him is why should a rich, famous and talented white man be treated any differently than a woman (Sara Jane Olson) or a poor black man? This could be asked either in a secular, equal protection under the law sense, or from a religious perspective.

  • Davis

    Father Reese should be reminded of Father Maciel, who was lauded and celebrated by the Vatican despite widespread knowledge of his abuse of young girls. The lesson is people protect their own, even when it is Pope John Paul II protecting Maciel.

    So the film industry is running to his defense. It’s no difference than decades of Catholic bishops, and the willingness of the press–especially the Catholic press–to not pay attention. Reese would be a lot more persuasive if his own front porch was cleaned off, as my grandmother used to say.

  • Christopher Orr

    I think most people assume that even when the word ‘rape’ is used that it simply refers to ‘statutory rape’. That is, to illegal and improper sexual, but consensual, relations of the college kid and his high school girlfriend variety.

    This is what I assumed were the facts behind his plea regarding ‘rape’.

    Obviously, this not the case if your description of the facts in the case is accurate:

    …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…

    Perhaps simply better explaining the details of what he admitted to and what was alleged is in order. While the French may be against puritanical American sexual mores such as ‘statutory rape’ laws, I’m not sure they’d be as supportive of a 40 year old ignoring a 13 year old’s requests that he stop having sex with her after he drugged her. That’s a very different kind of story and one I am only now starting to hear told.

  • tmatt


    Both sides of the Catholic spectrum contain people who courageously spoke out for strong action in the three decades (so far) of the sexual-abuse era. Both sides contained people who tried to wave the scandal away.

    This is not a left-right issue AT ALL. When people like Father Thomas Doyle and Leon J. Podles are on the same side of an issue, the lines between left and right are irrelevant.

    Please see the following, largely based on the work of a solid Catholic man of the left:

  • Davis

    I don’t disagree, although I find Reese’s accusation specious given the facts on the ground. And since everyone is relying on Reese’s theory about the treatment of the Polanski affair, it’s worth noting the speciousness.

    So this basically boils down to some in Hollywood–like some in the Catholic hierarchy–who are making apologies for Polanski. The press is reporting that, but also including critiques of the Polanski argument–like Eugene Robinson’s–so we are getting a fairly thorough examination.

    Has Mollie seen Robinson’s critique?

  • Mike Hickerson

    For those interested in the details, The Smoking Gun has an archive of Polanski-related legal files.

    These include the (then) 13-year-old girl’s grand jury testimony and a letter from her family’s lawyer asking the judge to accept Polanski’s plea, citing their desire to protect their daughter from further distress. Unfortunately, Mollie’s summary describes the girl’s testimony accurately.

  • Peggy

    Did you see this column at Politics Daily? It references Fr. Reese and also includes a statement by David Clohessy.

  • tioedong

    I probably won’t write on this as a “Catholic” blogger, because Polanski is not a Catholic as far as I know.

    However, I am planning to write on it as a “medical blogger” (I have several blogs). He raped her. Period.
    But taking it to court essentially rapes the victim again.
    I say, let him go to court as a fugitive.

    And since rapist like this usually are often serial offenders, I wonder if we are missing the real story…

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I’m not surprised Woody Allen is on Polanski’s side–didn’t he seduce and bed his stepdaughter?? Wasn’t that the last straw between he and Mia Farrow???
    Maybe my memory is wrong since I have seen no mention of his case in the posting here, comments here, or elsewhere.

  • MarkAA

    Polanski’s before my time, and a quick look at his body of work tells me I’ve got no use for his “art.” I’m also a journalist, and he ought to be treated no better than the other rapists who appear in the police blotter. He deserves a nice, long stay in one of our American maximum security facilities. I’m sure some inmates can think of some interesting ways to make him feel welcome. Maybe they can even offer alcohol and Quaaludes and repeatedly refuse to comply with his requests to stop. Whole situation, and the media fawning over this twisted man, makes me sick.

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  • Marian

    On the Smoking Gun’s website there is a document that gives quotes from celebrity friends of Polanski who wrote in support of him back in 1977 when the rape happened. One of those celebrities that wrote in his defense was Mia Farrow.

    Wonder what she thinks of him now and does she still defend him?

  • Dale


    Father Maciel did not make a statement, under oath, that he had sexual contact with an underage girl. Once the Vatican concluded that the accusations against Maciel were true, he was removed from his post and ordered into secluded retirement.

    On the other hand, there was never any question of Polanski’s crime: he plead guilty in a courtroom. The Hollywood establishment ran to his defense then, and they do now. Honoring him with an Academy Award is tantamount to beatifying him. Reese is right– there’s a double standard.

  • SouthCoast

    Without the accent, and the aura of European “sophistication” which sends his apologists giddy with adulation, Polanski is just another Garrido.

  • Jay

    One thing that no one seems to mention is that skipping town is also a crime. It used to be a federal crime, but perhaps not any more

  • Doug Sirman

    Dale, there’s no such person as “The Vatican.” If JPII himself hadn’t willingly obstructed justice for Maciel for over a decade the way JPII himself willingly obstructed justice for Groer for over two decades, the truth would have come out much, much sooner. With, of course, absolutely NO thanks whatsoever to the PR poseurs masquerading as catholic “journalists”.

  • Steve

    “I’m not surprised Woody Allen is on Polanski’s side—didn’t he seduce and bed his stepdaughter??”

    No, he didn’t. Soon-Yi Previn, now Allen’s wife, is the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow (Allen’s former girlfriend) and Andre Previn. Allen and Farrow were never married.

  • Mollie

    Re: Woody seducing Soon-Yi.

    Legally not his daughter. Definitely a step-daughter situation, however. He and Mia were together for 12 years, during which time they adopted a couple of children and had one of their own biological children. All the children, including Mia’s from previous relationship, were in the house while Mia and Woody were domestic partners. It was during this time that Mia discovered that Woody and Soon-Yi were getting it on.

    Call it what you want. I call it sad and sick.

  • Dave

    The PBS coverage noted that Polanski fled after a judge threw out a plea bargain. I didn’t see that in the post, excerpts or comments so, with your gracious permission, I’m noting it here.

  • Julia

    I never thought I’d agree with Fr Thomas Reese – it must be a cold day in hell. Lots of conservative blogs are on this story – Michelle Malkin and The Anchoress are only two.

    Check out the documents at the Smoking Gun website. Truly amazing what he admitted – he even said he knew she was 13.

    There’s an interview of Polanski (that I don’t have the link to) wherein he says something like – judges and juries and all men want to xxxxx young girls. The man is depraved. He also had a thing with the 15 yr old star of his movie “Tess”. I’ll bet there’s a lot out there – this kind of thing doesn’t happen just once. Aren’t the bishops castigated for believing that pedophile incidents can be isolated events?

    Reminds me of the Vagina Monologues episode with the adult woman having sex with a minor girl which is presented as a good thing.

    Lots of Hollywood types and others are rallying around Polanski, but I was surprised and proud of Ariana Huffington and Ms Bryzinski, the MC, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe who did not support the rapist.

  • David Charkowsky

    On my drive home yesterday, I heard NPR take the “hasn’t she suffered enough” position, with injections of audio clips from Hollywood personalities insisting that we take into account how many good movies he made. They seemed to say, if the victim is satisfied and he has made all these “contributions” to society, and California is in debt, why not just leave him alone? The sense of justice at NPR strikes me as highly relativistic.

  • Ava

    A study in contrasts (Polanski and John Paul II, both Poles) by Anchoress

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  • Julia

    Found the anterview in the UK – here’s the worst part:

    If I had killed somebody, it wouldn’t have had so much appeal to the press, you see? But… f—ing, you see, and the young girls. Judges want to f— young girls. Juries want to f— young girls. Everyone wants to f— young girls!”

  • str


    “He raped her. Period.
    But taking it to court essentially rapes the victim again.
    I say, let him go to court as a fugitive.”

    Nonsense. He raped her and must be, if possible, be brought to justice. Letting him go if he is able to stand trial (and I don’t see that he isn’t) condones his actions.

    And lest we forget: the victim has no say in whether he should be brought to justice. It is the state that has a beef with Polanski for breaking the law!

    “And since rapist like this usually are often serial offenders, I wonder if we are missing the real story…”

    A ridiculous suggestion based on a faulty prejudice.

    BTW, the View hit the bottom not with Mrs Goldberg’s comments but when the other girl said that one should charge someone so long after the crime and retorted to the obvious counterexamples of war-criminals: “But they are Nazis!” Quite apart from the fact that not all or even most war criminals are Nazis, the double-standard reflects a complete lack of morality on her part.

  • str

    Davis and others,

    how come a case of a non-Catholic film director (and a truly great one IMHO) raping a girl, admitting to it, fleeing the country and now being on the brink of being brought to justice brings forth accusations against the Catholic Church and some of its members. That is totally not the issue here.

    You cannot even base in on Fr. Reese’s comments as he was speaking on a hypothetical case of a pedophile priest being awarded and defended. Now you think that the case is not so hypothetical after all (and given the facts I would disagree with you on that) but that doesn’t change the fact that Reese’s comparison is accurate. Everyone would be appalled by honouring a pedophile priest (and those that consider Maciel’s case that way were appalled) – however that doesn’t change the scandal of Mrs Goldberg and others defending and shielding a rapist or attacking those simply pursuing justice.

    Actually, I am sympathetic for Polanski. He did a terrible thing years ago. He deserves to be meet the proper punishment for it (which is hardly 100 years in jail, Mrs Goldberg) – he doesn’t deserve to be defended by such low-life “friends” as Mrs Goldberg and made a example of some people’s own moral depravity (which goes much further than Polanski’s crime of passion).

  • str

    “The PBS coverage noted that Polanski fled after a judge threw out a plea bargain. I didn’t see that in the post, excerpts or comments so, with your gracious permission, I’m noting it here.”

    It actually is not noteworthy. Judges are there to sentence, not to solicitate plea bargains. If proven guilty, a defendant should be condemned, if otherwise he should be let go.

  • datechguy

    Well my conservative Catholic blog has not been quiet.

    You know a sin is bad when even a liberal priest like Reese can recognize it.

  • Dave

    It actually is not noteworthy.

    The present story wouldn’t exist if the original judge hadn’t thrown out the plea bargain. Prosecutors don’t pass those out as awards for talented film makers. They are intended to secure a conviction when getting one at trial seems dicey. I doubt it was offered because of Polanski’s high profile in the artistic community; the prosecutor’s motives would have been in the opposite direction had they been confident of conviction at trial. When this comes to court we shall see if the original prosecutor’s judgment is vindicated or not.

  • Mollie

    Although there’s a lot of criticism of the judge in question, I don’t think he threw out the plea bargain so much as threatened to.

  • MattK

    Deacon John, I’m not at all suggesting Woody Allen acted morally with Mia Farrow and Soon Yi Previn, but she wasn’t his step-daughter. There was no legally defined relationship between Woody and Mia or between Woody and Soon Yi. They are all guilty of fornication, which is serious enough, but not incest.

  • str


    you are merely nitpicking. For all practical purposes, Sun Yi Previn was Woody Allen’s stepdaughter. If you merely look as biological relation as pertaining to incest, she being or not being his legal stepdaughter doesn’t change a thing as biologically it was not incest in either case.


    apart from doubts about the accuracy of your claim, it only makes sense in the narrative of those defending Polanski’s flight because only based on the suggested plea bargain does Mrs Goldberg claim that it wasn’t “rape-rape”. Otherwise it is an irrelevant deail.

  • Dave

    str, you are misconstruing my intent, which is not to defend Polanski or his flight. It is to make sure an important fact is included in the narrative — that the justice system had a chance to punish him but blew it. That is a relevant detail.

  • str

    I am not misconstruing your intent as I am not construing your intent at all as I actually do not care about your intent at all. You take of your intent yourself. I am just saying that you reasoning only makes sense under certain conditions.

    And when you are saying that the justice system blew their chance, I could agree with you if you were referring to its letting him out on bail and hence gave him the chance to make his escape.

    All this plea bargaining, usually by the well-off, is already an abuse of justice. If people are proven guilty they should be punished, if not not. There is nothing to bargain about.

  • Dave

    str, I might agree with you that there is a lot of abuse in the plea bargaining process. That is the kind of generalization that is not dispository when considering a particular case. What I’ve gathered from the comments is that this prosecution had an unco-operative victim and was, of course, decades before law enforcement had forensic DNA science. A plea bargain might have made good prosecutorial sense, in which case the justice system in the person of the original judge may have blown it.

  • Dale

    Dave wrote:

    The present story wouldn’t exist if the original judge hadn’t thrown out the plea bargain. . . Prosecutors don’t pass those out as awards for talented film makers. They are intended to secure a conviction when getting one at trial seems dicey.

    Not necessarily. A prosecutor may offer a plea bargain for a number of factors other than the prosecutor’s belief in the strength of the evidence. Particularly in this case, with a minor involved, a prosecutor may offer a plea bargain to protect a minor from the trauma of courtroom testimony on the details of a rape.

    Another factor may be the court’s docket– if the prosecutor has too many cases pending in the court, he or she may make a plea offer in one case so that another, more pressing case gets to trial in a timely fashion. If the docket is too crowded, the court may dismiss a case because the defendant’s right to a speedy trial has been violated.

    Often prosecutors will have standard plea offers for crimes. Even if the case against a defendant is airtight, the defendant still gets an offer to plea to a lesser charge, because every defendant charged with the same crime gets the same offer.

    In my state, a judge always has the discretion to reject a sentencing recommendation that forms part of a plea bargain. In that case, the plea is withdrawn, and the defendant has a right to proceed to trial. The defendant does not have the right to flee the jurisdiction, as Mr. Polanski did; that’s a crime in itself, for which he should be held to account, and it’s admissible to prove his guilt for the original crime.

  • Becca

    Dave – Prosecutors plea bargain for a multitude of reasons, but usually it is to save time and money. My father was a prosecutor for over twenty years and would frequently handle huge case loads. There is no way the state could afford to bring every case to trial. And contrary to your assertion, “sure things” are much more likely to be plea bargained because prosecutors see a way to quickly lighten their case load and defense attorneys recognize when they are fighting a losing cause.

  • Dave

    Dale and Becca: Thanks for the other examples of when plea bargains may be offered. We’ll see which ones are germane when (or if) Polanski comes to trial on the original charge. I agree they have him cold on flight to elude justice.

  • str


    “There is no way the state could afford to bring every case to trial.”

    and there goes the rule of law!

  • str

    Why is Gerald Goldberg allowed to spam pages of irrelevant material here?

  • reddog

    I don’t think the Obama administration is getting enough credit for Polanski’s arrest and extradition request. After all, it’s been 30 years and nobody else was ever interested in doing it. There have been lots of opportunities.