In today’s Globe and in an associated religious blog there’s a piece asking how society would treat Roman Polanski, convicted of statutory rape some thirty years ago, if he were a priest instead of an esteemed film director.
Polanski fled the United States following his conviction and has been a fugitive from justice, living in Europe. The Swiss recently arrested him on a United States warrant and he is fighting extradition.
The tenor of comments on the blog hold that Polanski would be treated poorly in public opinion if he were a priest, and that his status as a film director of high repute appears to entitle him to better treatment, including possibly having the entire affair excised from the justice system.
The problem with the argument is that Polanski is not now and has never been a priest. Or minister. Or rabbi. Or imam. He was and is a film director. He took no oath to protect the members of a parish. He was under no obligation from his vocation, from his religion, from any so-called sacred book, to protect children from sexual activity. He held no position of trust in that regard.
And let’s face it – anyone who would trust their minor child to the care and good graces of a Hollywood film director, or a corporate CEO, or a Republican Congressman, needs to have his head examined.
Priests have a special place in society. Rightly or wrongly they are trusted beyond normal people. Wrongly, as it turns out, given the number of them found to have been poking their penises into children. When a priest, or his Protestant or Jewish or Islamic counterpart, commits a crime against a child, he should rightly be treated with scorn and contempt. When a hedonistic film director commits a similar crime, he should suffer the penalty of law just like everybody else. Scorning is optional.
But it should be remembered that a pedophile priest not only committed a crime considered vile, but also engaged in a vast hypocrisy that extends from his local parish right up into the chambers of the Pope. The priest and his church committed an extraordinary betrayal of trust. The law should treat equal crimes equally, but society should dish an extra heaping of scorn on the priest.
Comparing Polanski’s situation to that of a pedophile priest is like comparing a bruised apple to a pile of rotting oranges.