This week, the Swiss government announced that it would not allow the extradition of famed film director Roman Polanski to undergo trial for drugging and raping a 13 year old girl some forty years ago in California. Government spokesmen clarified that they felt the 42 day psychiatric evaluation that Polanski endured just after he pleaded guilty of the crime amounts to a sufficient punishment. Consequently, the Oscar-winning filmmaker is a free man. His release was preceded by an extraordinary show of support on the part of some of the leading directors of the world: Martin Scorsese, Wim Wenders, Jonathan Demme, Pedro Almodovar, and Woody Allen. In the course of an interview with French radio yesterday, Allen opined that the justice department was just “picking on a man of 76 or 77…and wasting an awful lot of money.” You might remember that a few months ago, just after Polanski was detained and his extradition requested, Whoopi Goldberg, speaking on her television show “The View,” said that what Polanski did was “not really rape
Now I’d like to propose a little thought experiment. Suppose the perpetrator of the crime in question was not a well-known auteur, but a Catholic priest. Suppose a priest, some forty years ago, had drugged and then sodomized a thirteen year old child and then fled the country so as to avoid his sentence. How much sympathy do you think he’d inspire? How many petitions for his release would be signed by famous Hollywood directors? How many governments would intervene to prevent his extradition? How many newspaper editors would be satisfied with the explanation that the priest’s long-ago psychiatric evaluation was sufficient punishment? Would Woody Allen be complaining that law enforcement was “picking on an old man?” Would Whoopi Goldberg be suggesting that what the priest did wasn’t really all that bad? The questions answer themselves.
Mind you, I’m not suggesting for a moment that such a priest should deserve sympathy or special treatment, but I am indeed suggesting that the Polanski case shows rather vividly the double-standard that obtains in the press, in the legal profession, and in the court of popular opinion. When it comes to child sex-abuse, which is an epidemic in our country and around the world, there seems to be quite a bit of selective outrage: abuse by priests gets everyone’s attention; abuse by parents, coaches, teachers, etc., not so much. Did you know, for instance, that the American Medical Association has reported that one in four girls and one in eight boys are abused in or out of school before the age of 18? And did you know that statistics indicate that a child is sexually abused every day
in the New York public school system? We won’t truly address the horror of child sex abuse until we look, with unprejudiced eye, at every case and at every alleged offender.
Father Robert Barron is the Director of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.