Father Polanski Would Go to Jail

THIS CATHOLIC’S VIEW By Thomas J. Reese, S.J. Imagine if the Knight of Columbus decided to give an award to … Continued


By Thomas J. Reese, S.J.

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 Victim groups would demand the award be withdrawn and that the organization apologize.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 president and cultural minister of France, where Polanski has been protected for years, objected when the Swiss arrested Polanski at the Zurich airport when he arrived to attend a film festival at which he was to be honored. Good for the Swiss. Good for the Los Angeles prosecutors who have not given up on this case.

Polanski’s defenders, including a 2008 HBO documentary, argue that he should not be punished. They say that the girl was willing and sexually experienced and she has forgiven him (after receiving a settlement). They even cite his tragic childhood and life as an excuse. And besides, it is ancient history.

Such arguments from pedophile priests would be laughed out of court and lambasted by everyone, and rightly so. It makes no difference that the girl is willing and sexually experienced, it is a crime. It is the role of the court, not the victim, to decide who goes to jail and for how long.

It is not as if Polanski is the only Hollywood celebrity to be accused of child abuse. 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 Catholic Church has rightly been put under a microscope when 4 percent of its priests were involved in abuse, but what about the film industry?

The world has truly changed. Entertainment is the new religion with sex, violence and money the new Trinity. The directors and stars are worshiped and quickly forgiven for any infraction as long as the PR agent is a skilled as a saintly confessor. Entertainment, not religion, is the new opiate of the people and we don’t want our supply disturbed.

Is there a double standard here? You bet.

Thomas J. Reese, S.J., is Senior Fellow at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

By Thomas J. Reese | 
September 28, 2009; 5:33 AM ET

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Georgetown/On Faith


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  • ckmedia

    Great post, Fr. Reese. I am appalled that anyone can defend Polanski or question his arrest. No 13 year old can consent to sex. Period.

  • paulbigbird

    Thomas ReeseYour not factoring the church’s 2000 year history. “306 Council of Elvira” This problem has been covered up for a very long time and no Bishop or Cardinal has served a day in jail for assisting the escape/transfer of priests on to the world. Our children are still at risk because of the good church trying to save face.

  • ccnl1

    For the rest of us: Bravo, we should have the “Polanski, the Felon” in custody soon. Maybe he can direct his last film, the story of his sordid life from his jail cell. See

  • ccnl1

    For the rest of us: Bravo, we should have the “Polanski, the Felon” in custody soon. Maybe he can direct his last film, the story of his sordid life from his jail cell. See

  • hoatsie

    Is Tom Reese for real? If Polanski were “Father Polanski” he, like the pedophile celebrity founder of the Legionnaires of Christ, Fr. Maciel Degollado, would have kept his celebrity status and been honored at Papal ceremonies with warm embraces from the Church hierarchy. Heck, he could have even been the rector of a major Rome basilica, just like another criminal from this country! Pedophile priests have not been held accountable, for the most part, and their enablers have definitely not been held accountable.

  • norriehoyt

    “But why is there not similar outrage directed at the film industry for giving an award to Roman Polanski…”Because the film industry isn’t in the morality and uplift business the way the Church claims to be.


    The fact is that there are numbers of priests known to have “fled the country” to avoid being held accountable for the sexual abuse of girls and boys. Visit the web site of former Benedictine monk, Catholic priest and psychotherapist at http://www.richardsipe.comThey didn’t even need a get out of jail card because they received a completely free pass as did their bishops or superiors, if they were order priests or brothers.

  • vangrungy

    Umm,You should know, she forgave him.The California Court needs closure for the case as it is active until a ruling is made. That can’t happen when the accused is in absence. Which again is stupid because he served 42 days and was released. I notice you don’t acknowledge that part.Look, here in Canada, he would have received probation, and community service.It’s not like the guy didn’t have normalcy in his life before Manson came along. In other words, he ain’t no serious diddler. Unlike the many, many serial offenders who have been constantly re-released here in Canada. Or, the Catholic Church shifting serial offenders from church to church, victim pool to victim pool.So what is your problem Tom?Why don’t you reply directly, I’d sure like to hear a comeback to the smackdown I just gave you.What do you really think of Judges who re-neg on plea agreements?Do you a fixation with punishment?

  • tpdoyle1

    I must admit that I was both surprised and disappointed at Tom Reese’s column in the Washington Post. He said some of the “right” things but missed an essential point. Roman Polanski and priests who rape children are far from analogous. Roman Polanski was a Hollywood director, not a Roman Catholic priest. He didn’t hold a position of immense trust nor did he come from an “industry” that preached chastity, purity and a sky-high standard of sexual morality. But even more important, Roman did not have an archbishop or a cardinal in his corner who would lie about what he had done, intimidate his victims and then send him off where he could find yet more young people to devastate.

  • mbs235

    Very well put, Father Reese. Also, for those who think consent is an issue in this case, this child did not consent, she repeatedly asked her abuser to stop and take her home. Also, Polanski can claim he didn’t know she was 13, but he knew she was underage, because he had her mother sign a consent form for the pictures he planned to take. In any event, the girl was raped, she did not consent, and she was only a child. Polanski is a criminal and should be in jail.

  • LeMecJackson

    How many priests have actually gone to prison?? The worst that happens is they are quietly reassigned to another parish or in the most extreme circumstances defrocked. Yes Polanski is a criminal. But that has nothing to do with countless cases of abuse by priests. Priests are in a position of power incomparable to Polanski’s. We are taught as young children that priests are one of a few adults in whom we can confide. The Catholic Church needs to punish priests instead of covering up their crimes. Only then will I believe that priests are getting a raw deal compared to Polanski.

  • lckelly

    I generally agree with Fr. Reese and am content to let the law resolve the Polanski issue. However, it seems to me that Fr.Reese is plain wrong on a major issue. If a priest had done what Polanski did in 1977, his superiors would never have permitted his crime to become public and thus, there would have been no penalty. I’m not convinced that the same reaction would not prevail today in the Catholic Church where the local bishop or superior thought he could get away with it.

  • marymary

    Not sure the “if it were…” reflection holds up, as where is the benefit in comparative revulsion?

  • ccnl1

    See Said review will hasten the needed thought process of the flaws and errors of Catholicism and Christianity in general and will eventually lead to the sorely needed corrections in all religions to include Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Paganism and Bahaism.

  • usapdx


  • atomikweasel

    I’m trying to decide which is a more profoundly corrupt and hypocritical institution, with the least credibility as to matters of justice and morality – the American System of Justice or the Holy Roman Catholic Church, and I simply can’t decide . . .Lectures on morality from a *Jesuit* ? ? ?Please.

  • twoten5

    France as a haven

  • flanoggin

    “Is there a double standard here? You bet”Damn straight—let’s see apirtual leaders on one hand and hollywood on the other….hmmm…you equate the 2? For shame…..I would hope there would be a higher standard for priests, i mean, really….

  • truthynesslover

    Who is Cardinal Law?

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    France as a havenLindner is not even the tip of the iceberg. With all the trials going on across the US, I doubt we’ll get to the base of the berg in the next 100 years. And then there are all the other nations in which pedophile priests dwell.And here we have Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ, crying because Roman Polanski, who pleaded to a single charge involving sex with a minor, served his sentence, was victimized by judicial misconduct, has been championed by many, including the then girl with whom he had sex.Catholic school, anyone? Perhaps, you ought to send your children for tennis lessons, instead.

  • jjenkinsphd

    Reese’s analogy between his hypothetical Knights of Columbus award to a priest pedophile and Roman Polanski’s recent arrest for sexual assault on a minor many years ago escapes me.Reese only confuses the matter and comes too close to the favorite diversionary tactic of most U.S. bishops who are always pointing out that “other professions” in the culture also commit child rape. As if that is suppose to relieve priests from the dictum of living up to a higher standard.There is no equivalency or “moral relevancy” at all for Mr. Polanski and priest pedophiles. And to make that argument, only diminishes the pain and grief of survivors of rape and sodomy by priests. Reese should know better!It should be evident to Fr. Reese that Mr. Polanski is a fugitive from justice for the rape of a young girl and should be brought to justice. I think it would do “the culture” some good if Polanski did some hard time for his crimes. Hollywood’s penchant for celebrating and excusing depravity is irrelevant and beside the point. Hollywood is not, and is not suppose to be, infused with gospel values.Unfortunately, like Hollywood, the church, of which Fr. Reese is a very prominent priest, seems to be motivated by the same values: money and power. The regret and bitterness most Catholics feel for their church these days is rooted in the monstrous betrayal by our bishops and priests of the most innocent and least among us.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    The organization that champions victims of predatory priests will stage a demonstration in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday to announce a boycott of the work of Roman Polanski and those who support his bid to avoid extradition to the United States.Unlike the cases of pedphile priests, there was judicial misconduct in his.Both the prosecutor and defense attorney agree that the misconduct occurred. Polanski would have turned himself in years ago if the investigation into judicial misconduct his lawyers have requested since 1978 had occurred.He is not a priest. He was not being hidden by the Catholic church. He did not create m multiple offenses.He offended once. Served his sentence.Returned in good faith to the Judge Ito’s court, when Ito let it be known that he planned to overturn the plea, renege on the plea agreement Polanski had reached.He was never convicted of rape. He was convicted of one charge: Having sex with a minor.If the organization representing the thousands, tens of thousands, God knows how many victims of priests has nothing better to do than sieze on Polanski, victims might want to look elsewhere for help.Poor Roman Polanski. He should have been a priest. No doubt, he would have been, had he been a serial rapist.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Really, what have I been thinking? How could one hold Roman Catholic clergy (worldwide) to the same standards as Roman Polanski?Let alone, say, Paris Hilton? Tush.

  • fbeckwith

    “Really, what have I been thinking? How could one hold Roman Catholic clergy (worldwide) to the same standards as Roman Polanski?”Rape, as I understand it, is not just a grave sin condemned by the Catholic Church. From my experience, my atheist, Protestant and Muslim friends believe it is wrong as well. I am sure they would be surprised to learn that you think its prohibition is a high standard required only of lifelong celibates. Now, I don’t know any Hollywood directors, but I suspect that if I did know one he would not claim that he believed that the proscription of rape did not apply to him or his colleagues. Rape, if it is truly wrong, is wrong for anyone and everyone.

  • ccnl1

    Once again:See Said review will hasten the needed thought process of the flaws and errors of Catholicism and Christianity in general and will eventually lead to the sorely needed corrections in all religions to include Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Paganism and Bahaism.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Rape, as I understand it, is not just a grave sin condemned by the Catholic Church. From my experience, my atheist, Protestant and Muslim friends believe it is wrong as well. I am sure they would be surprised to learn that you think its prohibition is a high standard required only of lifelong celibates.Roman Polanski is not a pedophile priest.To get on with his life, he pleaded guilty to a single charge: Having sex with a minor.He was sentenced to forty-five days in treatment, which he served.He returned, in good faith, to Judge Ito’s court, but Ito had let it be known that he planned to renege on the plea agreement.Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney accused Judge Ito of Judicial Misconduct.Due to this and other irregularities, when Polanski fled to France, his country, the French gave him assylum.He is known to have committed a single transgression and was then faced with judicial misconduct. Given that the Catholic clergy hold themselves up as moral exemplars (as Polanski never has), are supposed to be leaders, there current complaining about Roman Polanski (and Reese isn’t alone) is risible. It is risible and not only to me. I wonder if you’ve read the French newspapers of the last two days….The American Jesuits aren’t looking that good. Wonder why.

  • coloradodog

    With all due respect, Father Reese, thy crock runneth over.Imagine a Cardinal who decided not to defrock a pedophile priest who had fled the country to avoid prison. You then have the case of “Father” Nicolas Aguilar Rivera, a fugitive from US justice for molesting little boys first under the tutelage of now Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera in Mexico and later under the tutelage of Cardinal Mahoney in LA.Rivera “passed the pervert” to Mahoney under the Catholic clergy code of “emotional and family problems.” After his conviction in the US, Aguilar returned to Mexico where he still serves as a “Padre” in the State of Puebla.How many pedophile priests went to jail or even were defrocked? Please tell us, Father.Catholics apologists who deny, hide, aid, abet and otherwise try to snivel out of their responsibility over this elephant in the basilica (usually by saying, in a shrill adolescent voice, “Other people do it, too”) are no more “the Brothers of Christ” than Jeffery Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy.

  • ccnl1

    From: Dioceses owning up to the problem in dollars and disgrace: Year Diocese Cost Cases Reference1997 Dallas $31 million [83] 2003, June Louisville $25.7 million 240 [84] 2003, Sept. Boston $85 million 552 [85] 2004, July Portland $53 million 100 (over) Filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy hours before two abuse trials were set to begin 2004, Dec. Spokane $48 million (at least) Filed for bankruptcy, payment was a part (has to be approved by judge and victims) [87] 2005, Jan. Orange, California $100 million 87 [88][89][90][91][92] 2006, Oct. Davenport, Iowa 15 Filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, alleged victims were 15 students, Soens denied allegations [93][94] 2006, Dec. Los Angeles $60 million 45 45 of the over 500 pending cases [95]2007, Jan. Charleston $12 million Bishop Robert J. Baker agreed to pay [97] 2007, July Los Angeles $660 million 508 (over) Archbishop Roger Cardinal Mahony and diocese apologized after settlement [98][99] 2007, Jan. Charleston $12 million [97]

  • coloradodog

    Meanwhile, in other news from the twisted Huckabeelandia that once was America:LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A tiny Louisville church’s newest minister is a gifted music leader and popular among its three dozen members.Mark Hourigan is also a sex offender. Almost a decade ago, long before he joined the flock at the City of Refuge Worship Center, he was convicted of sexually abusing an 11-year-old boy in central Kentucky.

  • jahs4fun

    Farnaz1Mansouri1, a few details you may have chosen to ignore or simply aren’t aware of:1) This is a criminal case, not civil. The plaintiff is the state of california and it makes no difference what the (civil) victims wishes are if the state wants to pursue it.2) The victim is tired of this being dragged back out time and time again. Why? because Polanski robbed her of any potential closure when he fled the country to avoid punishment. This could have been over and done with in one shot the first time around 30 years ago if Polanski was man enough to face his responsibility.3) His time in a psychiatric facility was NOT his sentence, but was included in the plea bargain filed by the prosecutor (not the judge) to potentially be used as time served towards any sentence. The judge never formally accepted it and had yet to impose a sentence.4) A judge can use their own discretion to accept or deny any plea bargain put together by, once again, the prosecutor and the defense. If that plea bargain is rejected by the judge, the accused has every right to go through a full jury trial. Instead, that poor excuse for a man fled and held out in his French villa.

  • pt8685

    I don’t get this dialog. Most of the posts here are actually defending Polanski. What’s wrong with you people?I, too, am offended and angered by the sexual abuse of children by priests and the Church’s shameful cover up. The priests are being tracked down, defrocked, exposed, prosecuted, and imprisoned. The Church is paying billions in restitution to the victims. And this will go on – and it should.But I’m equally offended and angered by Polanski’s rape of a 13 year old girl. He, like the priests, should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. No one should escape justice just because they are old, or because it happened a long time ago, or the victim forgave them, or they happen to be an otherwise nice guy or make award-winning films.There’s no difference between Polanski and a priest who committed the same crime. Stop defending him.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    jahs4funThe following is from Yahoo news.”He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse; in exchange, the remaining charges were dropped, and the judge agreed to send Polanski to prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation.But Polanski was released after 42 days and fled the country for France before sentencing after the judge reportedly told lawyers he planned to add more prison”I don’t have time to go through the entire debacle of the trial with you. There is no question regarding judicial misconduct, Polanski’s reasons for entering the plea, Greimer’s support, etc. The web is brimming over with reports.That said, the numbers of pedophile priests, that is ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS, is probably in the tens of thousands. These are repeat offenders. Guilty in some cases of hundreds of rapes. Not one of them has attained the moral stature of Roman Polanski, who hardly exemplifies virtue, has never claimed to, is not a Catholic priest.And then there is the case of Fr. Lindner, who may also have been involved in a murder, of a colleague.Let us also remember how it came to pass that pedophile priests were arrested and charged. It began in New York City, after the death of a charismatic priest, John Cardinal O’Connor. The DA announced he wanted the records of pedophile priests being concealed (“treated,” i.e., sent from parish to parish after a brief trip upsate) and the Cardinal fought him.All along New Yorkers had been disgusted. Priests raped mentally challenged children, in public bathrooms.Now these are Catholic children and this is a Catholic issue. Is this is what you want for Catholic children, that’s something you need to take up with the government.As for me, I have any number of Catholic friends, of the Dorothy Day type, who are sickened by Reese’s column. Let me quote one of them for you: “The day that the RCC crawls out of the gutter, attains the moral stature of Roman Polanski, I will thank God, but not in any Roman church.”

  • readerny

    As someone who is close to a survivor of clergy abuse, I don’t get this article. There are still many, many priests who haven’t been publicly identified as the abusers and rapists they are. They will never be prosecuted. Where possible, their bishops will continue to sweep the past abuse under the proverbial rug. The Church has a great deal of housecleaning that remains to be done, much of which was completed ignored by the last pope and his enforcer, the current pope. Polanski is a fugitive and should be treated as such. But, to make the claim that the Catholic Church would have handled this better and would have been held more accountable, that’s a stretch to say the least. Victims’ groups forced the Church to act, and even then it lawyered up and tried to fight in most if not all cases. All progress can be attributed not to the Church in these matters, but to the average lay person or victim who got involved.


    The more I think about it the more disingenuous Tom Reese’s comments on Polanski are. They are just as self-serving in their own way as Whoopi Goldberg’s, “It’s not Rape, rape.”Is that because it happened twenty, thirty or forty years ago? Or because the perp was drunk? Or it happened only once? Or because it wasn’t really wasn’t sexual abuse, it was a homosexual act?Oh, that’s right, it was a forty something man with a female child so she must have been tempting him. Is that it?And where have all those excuses been heard before? Sister Maureen Paul Turlish

  • DaveL2

    You make an interesting point Fr. Reese, but don’t we expect more from our religious leaders, morally speaking, than our film directors?

  • ccnl1

    A disgrace to all good Catholics is what it is:To wit:”Profile of the abusersHalf the priests were 35 years of age or younger at the time of the first instance of alleged abuse. Fewer than 7 percent of the priests were reported to have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse as children. Although 19 percent of the accused priests had alcohol or substance abuse problems, only 9 percent used drugs or alcohol during the alleged instances of abuse. Almost 70 percent of the abusive priests were ordained before 1970, after attending pre-Vatican II seminaries or seminaries that had had little time to adapt to the reforms of Vatican II.[14]Of the priests who were accused of sexual abuse, 59% were accused of a single allegation. 41% of the priests were the subject of more than one allegation. Just under 3% of the priests were the subject of ten or more allegations. The 149 priests who had more than 10 allegations against them accounted for 2,960 of the total number of allegations.[14]2003 Vatican Conference on Sexual AbuseFailure by the hierarchy to grasp the seriousness of the problem. Overemphasis on the need to avoid a scandal. Use of unqualified treatment centers. Misguided willingness to forgive. Insufficient accountability. “

  • cyber-man

    i [WE] agree; that LIFE, aka LOVE (sex is not LOVE) on NEBULA-BUiLT “S.pace S.hip Earth” (of many like Here; some better, some worse) is the real “MIRACLE” or “HEAVEN”! WE eat Bread, not Bibles/Chumash’s nor Qurans or Geeta’s or Kangyurs…, in order to LIVE (aka LIFE as true LOVE; not sacred sex)!Anyone Disagree?

  • Publion

    I think there’s an awful lot more to this unique focus on the Catholic Church in the sexual abuse matter. There are a lot of agendas at work. I’ve put up a Post on my site:

  • Publion

    I think there is an awful lot going on in this unique focus on the Catholic Church in matters of sexual abuse. There seem to be a lot of agendas at work. I have put up a Post on my site: