Articles of Faith

What if Polanski were an abusive priest?

In 1977, Roman Polanski was charged with raping a 13-year-old girl. He had been on the lam for 30 years, until he was recently arrested by Swiss authorities. In 1977, Roman Polanski was charged with raping a 13-year-old girl. He had been on the lam for 30 years, until he was recently arrested by Swiss authorities. (Reuters/ File)
By Michael Paulson
Globe Staff / October 4, 2009

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There’s quite a conversation going on in the religion blogosphere about the contrast between the case of Roman Polanksi (famed filmmaker, accused of raping a 13-year-old girl decades ago, on the lam, and now, after finally being arrested in Switzerland, winning public support from fellow entertainers and European public officials) and that of multiple priests (not famous, accused of abusing minors decades ago, etc.).

The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, was first out of the box, posting an item headlined, “Father Polanski Would Go to Jail,’’ at On Faith. An excerpt: “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 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.’’

Next up was the Rev. James Martin, associate editor of America magazine, writing, “If he were in a collar there would be no boo-hooing about his recent plight. There would be zero pity for him.’’ An excerpt from his post, which was titled, “If Polanski Were Wearing a Collar’’: “Can you imagine a petition being circulated among actors, directors, and producers in the United States to have a Catholic priest reinstated in his parish after he had abused a 13-year-old child? If you believe this about Polanski - that his good deeds offset his guilt and that enough time has passed - do you believe the same about pedophile priests?’’

Multiple others are chiming in as well. David Gibson, writing for Politics Daily, also asks, “Comparisons are by their nature invidious. But what if Roman Polanksi were wearing a Roman collar? Would ‘Monsignor Polanski’ receive the same considerations?’’ Peter Smith, a religion writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal, wonders, “Let’s say Roman Polanski was a priest who, say, fled the country and for decades avoided serving a sentence for statutory rape. Well, the question is a bit obvious. Would anyone sympathize with the end of his longtime fugitive status for his statutory rape conviction?’’ And Rod Dreher, blogging as BeliefNet’s Crunchy Con, takes the argument even further, writing, “In our culture, when it comes to sex, celebrities are beyond good and evil. At least Polanski isn’t an orthodox Catholic or committed Evangelical of any sort. In his cultural milieu, that would be the unforgivable sin.’’

‘Godot’ in Lower Ninth Ward

Last weekend I saw an unusual production of “Waiting for Godot’’ at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston. I’d seen the play before, but this production, by the Classical Theatre of Harlem, has a Katrina overlay - in 2007 it was set outdoors in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, and now, as it tours, it features sets evocative of that place, and a cast that is predominantly African-American. At the ICA, the set included not only hints of the country road/tree/evening prescribed by playwright Samuel Beckett, but also a bunch of debris and the shell of a house spray-painted with the now-iconic search and rescue marking that indicates, among other things, whether anyone was found dead inside. There was a certain surreal aspect to the ICA staging, because, through the windows of the museum, we could see the booze cruises motoring by in the harbor, offering a strange contrast to the bleak and forgotten landscape re-created onstage.

Barrels of ink have been spilled on the religious themes of “Waiting for Godot,’’ so I’m not going to travel too far in that direction, except to admit that I had forgotten how much explicitly religious language is in the play. At one point, Vladimir analyzes the different descriptions in the four Gospels of what happens to the two thieves crucified with Jesus, and later, he muses, “To every man his little cross. Till he dies. And is forgotten.’’ Estragon imagines his previous, but forgotten, interaction with Godot as “a kind of prayer’’ and “a vague supplication,’’ and at another point poignantly asks, “Do you think God sees me?’’ And then there are the allusions.

This particular production, though, actually invites the audience to step outside the religious realm, because the post-Katrina New Orleans setting suggests that men wait for something more tangible than the divine. The hunger and pain and isolation and abandonment of Vladimir and Estragon, and the madness of the world in which they live, is not in some abstract, faraway place, but here, in our own time, in our own country, and it seems possible that what they wait for is us.

Abortion rights support slipping

Support for abortion rights appears to be slipping, according to a new report issued Thursday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. “In Pew Research Center polls in 2007 and 2008, supporters of legal abortion clearly outnumbered opponents; now Americans are evenly divided on the question, and there have been modest increases in the numbers who favor reducing abortions or making them harder to obtain,’’ Pew reported.

A few tidbits on attitudes among people of faith, from Pew: “Observant white mainline Protestants and white Catholics (i.e., those who attend worship services at least weekly) each exhibit double-digit declines in support for legal abortion, as do Jews and less-observant white evangelical Protestants.’’ And “Among white Catholics who attend Mass weekly (most of whom oppose abortion), one-in five continue to rate abortion as a critical issue, which is essentially unchanged since 2006. By contrast, among white Catholics who attend Mass less regularly (most of whom support legal abortion), the figure has dropped from 20 percent to 4 percent.’’

Highlights from Michael Paulson's blog. For the full blog, visit Follow updates on twitter at @GlobePaulson.