Film director Roman Polanski and Philadelphia Monsignor William Lynn came before the bar of American justice with similar results, but for very different reasons.
“Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth has fallen in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey … There is no justice.” (Isaiah 59:14-15)
The monk, John Cassian was the first to list the Seven Deadly Sins and to popularize the term in Christian thought. His list was composed in the early Fifth Century, but was later nuanced by Saint Gregory the Great and Saint Thomas Aquinas. With just subtle variations, the list has always included pride, greed, lust, envy, anger, gluttony, and sloth. Were John Cassian to compose that list today, I think hypocrisy would make the cut, at least as a not-so-honorable mention.
To expose hypocrisy is another “Prelude to the Year of Mercy,” and for that the gloves have to come off for awhile. I’m sorry for that, but in a world of media and judicial hypocrisy, some recent events demand a little more truth than the mainstream news media has provided, and from that I cannot flee. Not after my “Hits and Misses of 2015.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer could not flee from the tyranny of propaganda that cost the lives of so many, and neither can I. So forgive me, please, in this Year of Mercy, for calling out double standards that cheat justice, and cheat us all out of its promised equality.
If you’ve read the entertainment section of major newspapers then you have likely come across a few film reviews droning on about the “Oscar-worthy” performances of actors who portrayed The Boston Globe “Spotlight” Team in the greatly hyped film, “Spotlight.” Media critic David Pierre told a less glorified version of the story behind the film in his landmark book, Sins of the Press. I, too, explored the story behind that story, and behind David Pierre’s book, in “The Pulitzer Lies: David and the Truth About Goliath.”
The highly touted movie, “Spotlight” was released in theaters on November 6, 2015, two days after publication of my post, “Cardinal Bernard Law on the Frontier of Civil Rights.” Talk about a collision of themes! In its awards for the year’s best films, however, the National Board of Review passed it over completely in every category of film honors, selecting as “Best Film” the movie “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
Don’t get me wrong. I like and respect the fine actors who lent their talents (“sold” is a more accurate term) for the production of “Spotlight.” I admit that I liked one of them, actor Mark Ruffalo, far better as “The Hulk” in the highly energized film, “The Avengers.” In “Spotlight,” he didn’t turn green with rage while portraying Boston Globe reporter Michael Rezendes, but a promo for the film included a scene of somewhat lesser rage. In character as a Globe reporter, Ruffalo shouted at the camera, and at Boston Globe editors, “People have to know that no one can get away with this!” It made for a great sound bite. The “this” he was enraged about was, of course, child sexual abuse and its cover up. Who could disagree? But the Hollywood version aside, there is ample evidence that the terror of sexual abuse and the plight of victims was not at all Boston Globe’s target. That tragedy was only a smoke screen for the real target: the Catholic Church and priesthood. Some people did get away with “this,” and the Globe remained silent.
A SPOTLIGHT ON HYPOCRISY
It was easy to miss if you didn’t wade into the lower tide pool’s of the news, but an astonishing side story occurred just days before the release of “Spotlight.” Famed film director Roman Polanski – who lived and worked in plain sight while on the lam from U.S. justice for decades – was arrested in Krakow, Poland at the end of October on a fugitive from justice charge that has been in place in the U.S. for nearly forty years.
What happened after his arrest, however, was fascinating. Polanski had been in Krakow, Poland to shoot a new movie when the United States issued a warrant for his arrest and demanded that he be extradited. Polanski appeared before Krakow court Judge Dariusz Mazur who ruled on October 31, 2015 that he will not send Polanski into the hands of U.S. justice. Judge Mazur ruled that Polanski “would be denied a fair trial,” and added, “conditions in U.S. prisons are too harsh for an 82-year-old.”
That last point was amazing. I wonder how many U.S. judges are even aware, or care one iota, that U.S. prisons are no place for old men. Just last year, a New Hampshire judge sentenced an 83-year-old man to ten to twenty years in this prison. The poor man, who had some dementia, ended up in an overflow bunk outside my cell where he cried his eyes out his first night here because he did not know what had become of his beloved dog. A guard bellowed at him and humiliated him one day when he was slow to respond to a question he did not understand. I was reprimanded one day because the old man was freezing. So I broke the rules by giving him a warm sweatshirt. Old men in prison are always cold.
And also last year, my friend, 80-year-old Martin, a U.S. Marine combat veteran, sat for months outside my cell in his wheelchair. He lost his leg several years ago when it was crushed in an accident. Now locked in a prison dormitory out in the open with zero privacy, Martin is still sitting in that chair in prison three years after being paroled because he cannot find a place to go that will accommodate his disability.
I spent time with Martin to be certain that what little he had wasn’t exploited by others. Old men and their meager belongings are easy targets in prison. Martin never complained, but he cried one night when he told me of the death of his wife of 56 years, of how he learned that sad news from a callous prison “counselor” who ridiculed him saying, “Oh just suck it up, old man!” because he couldn’t hold back his tears.
So how is it that a Krakow, Poland judge has come to know something about old men in U.S. prisons that seems to escape judges within a stone’s throw of this prison? What is the source of their apparent determination to remain clueless about what happens to old men they consign to prison while a judge in Poland could not fathom such a thing?
After Judge Mazur’s enlightened refusal to put 82-year-old Roman Polanski into the hands of U.S. justice, he ordered that a Polish prosecutor will have an opportunity to appeal that ruling. In another buried news blurb that appeared at the end of November, the Krakow prosecutor who reviewed the case also declined to challenge it, and sharply criticized the American justice system for stubbornly seeking Polanski’s extradition.
He stated – now this is the prosecutor, mind you – that he agrees with the Krakow judge’s decision in this case and added his own opinion that that “U.S. judges [are] too easily influenced by the public and news media to be considered impartial.” The prosecutor also cited the “unacceptable conditions in U.S. prisons,” and noted with disdain that “U.S judges consulted with prosecutors without Mr. Polanski’s attorney being present.”
HE SHOULD THANK THE LORD HE ISN’T “FATHER POLANSKI”
I am certainly not advocating that this 82-year-old man be dumped into a U.S. prison, but the history of this story gives it more perspective. In a Los Angeles courtroom in 1977, Roman Polanski pled guilty to charges of drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. Accepting a plea bargain, he served 42 days in jail – that’s days, not years. Fearing that a judge in the case wasn’t accepting the State’s deal, knowing that he could face years in prison, Polanski fled the United States. He went on in Europe to direct several subsequent films, winning the 2002 Best Director Oscar for one: “The Pianist.”
Yes, his crime was a long time ago, but for perspective it was only two to six years before the charges against me which were claimed to have occurred sometime between 1979 and 1983. I will be 108 years old upon release when I could have left prison 20 years ago had I actually been guilty and could have taken the deal. So I see the Polanski case through a different set of eyes than most. Still, I think the Krakow judge and prosecutor are right about American justice and American prisons, a failed system that American politicians lack the courage and the will to address.
Having dual citizenship in France and Poland, Roman Polanski lived and worked openly in Paris for the ensuing decades after he fled. He had no fear of arrest as a fugitive from justice because the French see U.S. prisons and the justice system here as barbaric. France withdrew its extradition agreement with the U.S. decades ago.
THE WHOOPI CUSHION
Two years ago on These Stone Walls, I wrote “The Summer of Roman Polanski, Fr Dominic Menna, and Bishop Eddie Long.” It detailed glaring double standards with which the courts and the news media handled three simultaneous cases of accused sexual misconduct. That post described how, in 2009, Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland when he traveled there to receive the film industry’s highest accolade, the Zurich Film Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Some in Hollywood were outraged at the arrest of Polanski. “The View” panelist Whoopi Goldberg – whom I quoted in a post with the unfortunate title, “The Whoopi Cushion”- excused his crime with the now famous sound bite, “It wasn’t rape rape.” More recently, she has become a similar apologist for Bill Cosby. In 2002, Whoopi joined others at “The View” in vile condemnation of accused Catholic priests.
One media pundit excused this obvious duplicity stating – make sure you’re sitting down – that cases against priests should be treated differently from those of celebrities “because the entertainment industry doesn’t have the influence on young people that the Catholic Church has.” HUH? What planet has that pundit been living on?
In the end, after months under house arrest in the horrors of a privately owned Swiss chalet, the Swiss government declined extradition of Roman Polanski in 2010 citing some of the same opinions more recently cited by Polish judges and prosecutors. In response, The Boston Globe devoted a full two inches for an editorial at the very bottom of its Editorial Page on July 14, 2010, suggesting in wimpy prose that freeing Polanski “sends a disturbing message about how money and celebrity can supersede morality and justice.” Where would we be without The Boston Globe’s moral compass?
And so much for Globe Reporter Michael Rezendes and his angry sound bite, “People have to know that no one can get away with this!” In response to it all, the Los Angeles D.A.’s Office stated that these decisions in Europe “have no bearing on its campaign to bring the director back to the U.S.” Followed, just off camera, by a wink and a nod.
IT’S NOT ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA
More perspective: I wrote of the travesty of justice that befell one priest in “Trophy Justice: The Philadelphia Msgr William Lynn Case.” Weeks ago on December 23, a Pennsylvania appeals court overturned the conviction of Monsignor William Lynn and ordered his release from prison – for the second time. It came as welcome news for those concerned for the duplicity of justice in the arena of due process for priests.
Msgr. Lynn was released with his conviction overturned exactly one year ago, but Philadelphia prosecutor Seth Williams showed his contempt for the priest, for the court, for justice itself by publicly airing his disgust. He vowed to appeal. Monsignor Lynn and I have both learned the hard way that prosecutors, using your tax dollars, have an almost unlimited ability to fight off defendants’ appeals or to further appeal judge’s decisions they don’t like.
Just before Easter last year, D.A. Williams succeeded in getting Monsignor Lynn sent back to prison. Well into his 70s, this good priest who committed no real crime has thus far spent several of his senior years in a U.S. prison, but he has never been accused of any form of sexual misconduct. He was accused of violating Pennsylvania’s child protection laws by reassigning a priest who was accused. The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue wrote pointedly about this. So did I, in “A Rolling Stone Gathers No Facts, Just Dirt.” Now, finally, a Pennsylvania appeals court has reversed that decision and freed Monsignor Lynn. Bill Donohue has described the prosecutorial and judicial misconduct that took place here.
So Christmas came to two men, on two continents, both with high profile stories and vast differences in the justice meted out to them. In both cases, much of the news media remained silent, but for very different reasons.
A final bit of perspective: A whole lot of TSW readers were fuming with anger when TSW was overlooked for a recent web award after having received ninety percent of readers’ votes. For reasons of their own, the award’s judges opted instead for a site that received three percent. I’m not reopening to that silly fiasco, but just imagine for a moment what the media outcry would have been like had it been an accused Catholic priest summoned to Zurich for an honor like the Lifetime Achievement Award. KABOOM!!!
And imagine what the media response would be if it were the Vatican – and not the nations of France, Switzerland, and Poland – refusing extradition in the case of an accused and convicted man. The media explosions would be catastrophic!
If you haven’t come across the facts of this story anywhere else, consider this before you buy into the laurel wreathes of media heroism now being laid at the feet of The Boston Globe and its propaganda film, “Spotlight.” Consider not just what they have claimed to uncover and publish, but also what they have kept from you and still keep from you. It is precisely there that you will find the devil in the details.