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An Open Letter to Bernard-Henri Levy, on His Defense of Roman Polanski and Pope Benedict XVI

Dear BHL:

May I call you B? You probably don't remember me, but we met a few years ago, when you were in Miami to promote your travelogue, American Vertigo. I interviewed you for a local NPR program. It went well, I thought, although I was perplexed by your suggestion at the outset that we speak entirely in Spanish on-air. I know we have a lot of Cubans here, but this was NPR not Univision.

Anyway, I've been reading your intemperate, self-righteous posts on the Polanski affair, in which you defend the child rapist against his detractors, among whom I count myself. You accuse us of being willing to "step over the victims rather than let go of their prey and renounce the drunken desire to punish." Our moral compass is so askew, we derive "an evil pleasure in replaying over and over the details of this sordid affair." In your effort to audition for the eponymous role in the remake of The Life of Emile Zola, you've even dusted off the dated and erroneous analogy of McCarthyism. The child rapist, on the other hand, is another Dreyfus, a Jewish scapegoat trapped in the eternal struggle between truth and injustice. Of course, he's not shackled to a bed on Devil's Island; he was confined to a Swiss chalet. And unlike Dreyfus, who was framed for treason, the child rapist did indeed commit the crime for which he has escaped punishment.

I know you'd prefer that "the details of this sordid affair," be downplayed, so I won't remind readers that this is about a 43-year-old man who lured a 13-year-old girl to a friend's house on the pretext of a photo shoot, plied her with alcohol and drugs, and stuck his penis into her anus despite her pleas for him to stop. I won't bring it up, B, because I'd never want to undermine your noble campaign. When your journal distributed a petition in support of the child rapist, dozens of celebrities precipitately and unwisely signed it. Within days, they were scurrying for cover from the international backlash that ensued. But you're still fighting the good fight, B. You praised a film festival for awarding a prize to the child rapist's new movie, as if this was some sort of vindication. Please. If you can't separate a work of art from the despicableness of its creator, you have no business judging a film festival. I like the child rapist's movies, and will continue to watch them after he's perp walked to a U.S. courthouse.

Championing a child rapist is bad enough, B, but did you also have to say kind words about the head of a global pedophile ring? Last January, you wrote a post entitled "In Defense of Benedict XVI." Granted, this was before the latest sex scandal came to light, but it confirms your lack of judgment. You praise Ratzinger (I refuse to call him by his superhero name) for continuing John Paul II's apology tour to the Jews for the Holocaust. But as Garry Wills points out in his book, Papal Sins, the church has been careful to mitigate its responsibility for the spread of anti-Semitism. Putting this aside for the moment, if you had done some research you would have learned that Ratzinger has long been under suspicion for complicity in the cover-up of child abuse by priests. After all, this was the papal enforcer who threatened bishops with excommunication if they tried to turn these perverts into the authorities. One must agree with Christopher Hitchens: "The Roman Catholic Church is headed by a mediocre Bavarian bureaucrat once tasked with the concealment of the foulest inquiry, whose ineptitude in that job now shows him to us as a man personally and professionally responsible for enabling a filthy wave of crime."

And this is the man whom you would have us honor because he directed some conciliatory words toward Jews? As a French intellectual, B, you must watch The Simpsons in order to deconstruct its signs and symbols. Whenever something happens in Springfield, the Reverend Lovejoy's wife cries, "Will someone please think of the children?" A funny gag, but you would do well to ask the question seriously.

Finally, I must take issue with another part of your love letter to Ratzinger. You attempt to exonerate Pius XII (formerly Eugenio Pacelli), who has been criticized for his actions, or lack thereof, during the Holocaust. Let's see, in 1917, while serving as archbishop of Munich, Pacelli was instrumental in denying a request from German Jews for palm fronds from Italy so "their Jewish cult," as he referred to the faith of Jesus, could celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. Later, as Vatican secretary of state, he negotiated a concordat with the Nazis that prohibited Catholics from actively participating in politics, thus emasculating a powerful rival faction that Hitler feared. On Christmas eve 1942, he delivered a radio broadcast that lamented "those hundreds of thousands who, without fault of their own, sometimes only by reason of their nationality or race, are marked for death or gradual extinction." This oblique statement is the only one he ever made about the Holocaust. The following year, while the Nazis rounded up thousands of Jews in Rome, Pacelli remained silently ensconced within his palace. I could go on. John Cornwell has documented Pacelli's moral ineptitude in Hitler's Pope, a book I guess you haven't read, B.

Your journal is called La Regle du jeu (The Rules of the Game). An homage to Jean Renior's great film? Remember what Renoir, in the role of Octave, says to the amoral aristocrat de la Chesnaye: "The most awful thing in the world is this: everyone has his reasons." Polanski, Pacelli, and Ratzinger had their reasons for what they did. I'm just tired of people like you accepting them.

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