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Polanski, priests and child pornography

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If you're going to get a lifetime achievement award, make sure the country hosting the ceremony doesn't have a warrant for your arrest. To be more precise, make sure the United States hasn't arranged with Swiss authorities to have you arrested. I confess this isn't very valuable advice: for most this isn't a problem, and if you happen to be film director Roman Polanski, the advice is too late anyway.

But that's probably for the best. If I had a good grasp of immigration law I wouldn't want to waste it on Polanski, who was arrested on September 26 for long-standing charges for drugging and raping a 13-year old girl during a photo shoot in 1977. While the specifics of the case are noteworthy, they aren't complicated enough to suggest the whole matter should be forgotten. But many are suggesting that. Not, mind you, almost every editorial one can find on the topic; instead it is a number of Hollywood's elite who are attempting to dilute the seriousness of this case.

The claim seems to be that Polanski should not be extradited to the United States, and should not go to jail for what he did, for two reasons. First, sufficient time has passed to make punishment unnecessary; even the girl he raped wants the case forgotten. Second, Polanski, they argue, is a valuable contributor to society, and it would be a shame for him to be punished, as all of society would suffer from his internment.

Really though, neither of these arguments are convincing. Even if time does heal all wounds (it doesn't), time doesn't provide the best means of serving justice. It won't do either to say that Polanski has been prevented from entering the United States, and that is punishment enough. The guilty don't get to choose their own sentence for a reason, and this case is no different. Further, while a statute of limitations exists in most legal systems to determine the maximum amount of time within which legal action may be pursued, Polanski was already found guilty of the accusations -- it isn't that he avoided the trial in the first place, which is the rightful domain for a statute of limitation -- he has been avoiding punishment.

Others have noted that the "I'm famous so I don't deserve such harsh punishment" defense is pathetic, but unfortunately it works too often. The best rebuttal for such a weak argument is simply to underline it. Sure, The Pianist was good, but not good enough to justify the rape of underage girls. Adding in all of his other films, of course, won't make it more convincing.

It is worth mentioning the other big child molestation case that broke this week. Raymond Lahey, recently retired bishop of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, turned himself in to Ontario police after he was found in possession of child pornography. Lahey was lauded as recently as earlier this year for how he handled many of the worst molestation cases during his various bishop positions around the Maritimes, which only makes it doubly hard for the community now. Tormenting children with the doctrine of Hell and then looking at pictures of them naked commits two forms of wrong. The difference between Lahey and Polanski (albeit a small difference), is that the former at least had enough spine to turn himself in once a warrant was issued.

Perhaps the most significant point that bringing these two men to justice will show is this: some wrongs are independent of specific times and places. Some views have changed -- Polanski was originally charged with the crime of sodomy, a law that survives in various forms despite its obvious discrimination against, well, anyone who freely consents to the giving or receiving of acts of sodomy. Rape, however, will forever remain immoral, and doing it to children will always be worse.

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Comments

Didn't Christopher Hitchens write about this in his column in Slate earlier this week? And, as a matter of fact, isn't that column also called Fighting Words?

@Bob:

"...And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why you do not name your column after a cliche."