A Roman holiday?
In the parlance of my native Sheffield: ‘I can’t get my breath!’ For the past twenty or so years, the Church, amongst other major institutions, has been working overtime to introduce measures into our corporate life that will safeguard young children and vulnerable adults. We have been largely successful in this, and, I think, can be justifiably gratified that most church communities now have a Policy for child protection and the national Church itself has highly developed methods for filtering out potential priests and employees who might misuse their position. Mindful of the immense amount of distress and suffering the Irish Roman Catholic Church has uncovered in relation to this issue, our present day arrangements to safeguard victims are not before time and are to be deeply welcomed.
Imagine then my distaste to find that there are those who believe that Roman Polanski, the famous film producer who perpetrated a pre-meditated sexual attack of the most dreadful kind on a thirteen year old girl in the late 1970s, should be saved from any prosecution. Their arguments range from: ‘it was over thirty years ago’ and ‘he’s a man of great artistic ability and genius: prosecution would be demeaning for him’ to ‘he’s suffered enough in his life’ (his pregnant wife, the actress Sharon Tate, was cruelly murdered by Charles Manson).
The arguments demand an answer. It is true that ‘genius’ and bizarre and cruel behaviour often go together: one has in one’s mind the picture of Van Gogh with his ear sliced away or the ‘discipline’ Thomas More is now said to have inflicted on his family, but are we really saying that the protection of the weak and vulnerable, and the moral code that goes with it, should be compromised because someone has made a major contribution to our cultural life?
Equally, is it right to punish someone so long after the crime they have committed? Those Nazis who sentenced others to death and suffering have been pursued until their own deaths because society needs to send the signal to itself that such heinous crimes and behaviour are anathema and beyond toleration. For Polanski’s victim, despite her open-hearted assertion that she has forgiven her attacker, and for others in her position the mental and physical scars of such abuse in incalculable. If the knowledge that they will be constantly sought and pursued prevents a potential abuser committing a crime, then such pursuit is doing its job.
It is true that Polanski has suffered many terrible events in his life: but does weighing this against his own crime add anything to our own efforts to eradicate and eliminate such terrible happenings? From all I have read, his attack on Samantha Galley was lascivious, self-seeking, heedless of her feelings or well-being, abusive in every sense and committed after he had deliberately fed her with drugs and drink to render her senseless. The pain he has himself endured he has deliberately and purposefully inflicted on a young child. What is perhaps most distressing, and in common with many other paedophiles, is that Polanski has never once suggested he is remorseful or craves forgiveness and instead projects guilt and culpability for the incident on his victim (Polanski was 44 when these events occurred).
We are aware that artists and others bound up in the world of culture and media often live their lives in a moral and ethical bubble of their own making (the lifestyles of many great Rock musicians do not bear too close examination) and are often derived from their unique viewpoint on the world. This can be the fount of their genius. However, if we allow even a chink of leniency to dismantle our laws surrounding this issue, then we are surely serving to put our young and vulnerable at risk?