Here’s a little thought experiment. Imagine the industry known in shorthand as Hollywood as a kind of parallel Catholic Church. Call it the First HollyChurch of Bel Air. (Remember, this is an analogy, not a simile.)
In HollyChurch, the studio heads and producers are the bishops; the directors are the priests; and the celebrity actors are the deacons. The HollyChurch bishops have the power to hire or fire the priests and deacons. The trouble is, firing rarely happens, only more hiring—unless there’s a huge PR nightmare.
Enter Harvey Cardinal Weinstein, whose bishopric comes with special honors.
His Infamous has led a double life—a public life (“public” as in the outsider perception of him and his accomplishments) and a private one, the one in which he sexually harassed, and—if allegations are true—raped at least one of his deacons.
In the wake of Weinstein’s fall, a spate of HollyChurch priests have also been accused of similar behavior, both homosexual and heterosexual. For example, there’s the Reverend Fathers Roman Polanski, Bryan Singer, Brett Ratner, and James Toback.
A growing list of deacons of HollyChurch have also been credibly accused, including Deacons Kevin Spacey, Ben Affleck, Bill Cosby, Dustin Hoffman, Charlie Sheen, and Louis C.K. There are plenty more in the wings.
One deacon, Corey Feldman, says he was a victim of serial abuse by unnamed HollyChurch prelates years ago, and recently opined that “pedophilia has been, is, and always will be the biggest problem” there. Feldman has further vowed to take a wrecking ball to the pedophile ring he says infests the place to this day.
As convenient as it is to scapegoat the Cardinal, the fact remains that molesting moguls are nothing new in the fame factory, which has a very poor track record when it comes to respecting minors.
Start that list with Judy Garland’s own account of indignities suffered at the wandering hands of Louis B. Mayer, and the fact that she her teen co-star Mickey Rooney were given uppers, then downers, to make the Dickensian shooting schedules. Thus was born the phenomenon of the millionaire child slave. (There’s even an implied casting couch scene involving the fictional Bishop Max Fabian in the 1950 Academy Ward-winning movie All About Eve—pay attention to the scene involving the deaconess Marilyn Monroe.)
With the lid blown off the story, we get the spectacle of dozens of high-level HollyChurch clergy who stayed mute for years about Weinstein now enthused about joining the scapegoating posse. If they don’t drive him into the desert to expiate their own sins of omission, who will?
A more potent mix of schadenfreude, chutzpah, and cowardice is hard to find.
Some, like former Los Angeles County D.A. Steve Cooley, have pointed out some similarities between HollyChurch and the Catholic Church. Both are viewed as powerful organizations with secrets to hide, reputations to protect, and victims to shame or frighten (usually both) or otherwise silence through plea bargains, payouts, and non-disparagement clauses.
These similarities don’t make most practicing Catholics wince because of anti-Catholic bigotry, but because they hew uncomfortably close to the truth.
But this is not the point of the HollyChurch analogy. Which is: where is the MSM presupposition that Hollywood itself—the whole showbiz industry—is corrupt based on the actions of some of its leaders? When Catholics behave badly, they’re invariably cast as part of an institution that’s evil in itself, while showbiz perpetrators are depicted as philandering rogues independent from the system that gave them both positions of power and cover from consequences.
Could it be, just maybe, that the difference here is that the mainstream media oligarchs and the prelates of HollyChurch are fellow travelers who sing off the same sheet music, and work for the same cultural ends?
If we must admit the unflattering similarities, we must also admit that, despite the media-skewed impression, bad priests are a very rare exception to the rule in the Catholic Church. The John Jay Report (2002), corroborating other studies, found that the total percentage of priests convicted between 1950 and 2002 is 0.1%, against a total accusation rate of 4%. Compare this to public schools. In their survey on 2,064 students in 8th through 11th grade (2000), the American Association of University Women (AAUW) reported that a full 38% of students reported they were sexually harassed by teachers or school employees.
Another difference: the sins of HollyChurch are framed by the media mavens more as gossipy feminist narrative about male power than as serious crimes. The double standard should be self-evident to a reasonable observer. The clincher is that every practicing Catholic abhors what a mercifully tiny minority of clerical predators did. But what does the HollyChurch establishment do whenever Roman Polanksi gets an award or gives a speech? They leap to their feet with a thunderous ovation.
The media exposure of the abuse scandals in the Archdiocese of Boston rocked the Catholic Church, from the pew to the papacy. The late Father Richard John Neuhaus called it “the long Lent of 2002.” The exposure, led by The Boston Globe, had very good effects including the establishment of salient, if far from perfect, reforms under Pope Benedict XVI.
Still, to extend the movie industry analogy, many of the faithful have voted with their feet by staying away from the Church’s product, as chronicled starkly in Philip Lawler’s The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture. Likewise, moviegoers began voting with their feet more recently, first because of disgust at Hollywood’s creations (2017 was the worst box office year in 25 years) and now because of disgust at their creators.
God willing, if the long Lent of 2002 led to badly needed reforms for the Catholic Church, the long fall of 2017 will do the same for Hollywood. The quality of current movies can only get better.