The Harvey Weinstein scandal has been a nauseating fixture in the news over the last week or two, inescapable and distasteful. Nauseating and distasteful in the details of the accusations against him, of sexual misbehaviour and abuse of power on an industrial scale. Yet equally nauseating has been the exponentially-increasing parade of Hollywood identities lining up to throw their stones at the man, rightly or wrongly, now in the stocks of public opinion.
Even if only half of the accusations are true, Mr Weinstein has behaved in an appalling manner. But are they true? This raises the first question we, especially Catholics, should be asking. Where and when was the trial? There has been no due process of law, only a trial by media which has pronounced Weinstein guilty on the basis of untested allegations, and already he is being stripped of various roles and positions. Australians will be well aware of a similar trial by media of Cardinal Pell, with the secular press largely declaring him guilty despite swelling murmurs of his innocence and calls for a fair and just trial. One of the most cherished principles of our system of justice—innocence till proof of guilt is established beyond reasonable doubt—is wantonly overturned by the media for its own ends, not the least of which is revenge. In Britain we saw similar trials by media of Field Marshal Lord Bramall, and prominent politicians Leon Brittan, Harvey Proctor and, post-mortem, former PM Sir Ted Heath. In all these cases reputations were ruined, lives made miserable and insufficient evidence found even to begin a trial.
Equally distasteful is the parade of stars and entertainment industry types laying out in great detail and with absolute conviction accusations which paint a picture of a type of movie mogul that has long been a feature of the industry. After all, the “casting couch” is now an accepted phrase in the language. Rather than being an outburst of truth-telling, it appears to be more a stampede of virtue signalling, to use the modern phrase.
This brings us to the second question we should be asking: why did none of these people say something earlier; why now? We have heard endless condemnations, not all of them just, showered on the Church for failing to address adequately the evil of clerical abuse of minors. We can understand why a child victim of clerical or other abuse may say nothing, for the child is at an utter disadvantage on so many levels. Yet we can only conclude that Hollywood has actively colluded in allowing Weinstein to continue in the abuse of power and people of which he has now been accused of doing.
Britain has barely come to terms with the Jimmy Savile affair, where senior members of the BBC, of the entertainment industry and the NHS, both covered up what appears to have been a staggering level of organised abuse of children and vulnerable adults, and even aided and abetted him in pursing it, giving him private rooms and keys to such places at Broadmoor high-security mental hospital. The truth came out only after Savile had died and could no longer affect anyone’s career. Even worse, it came out after a fair trial could have been held.
The silver lining to the dark cloud of abuse in the Church has been that we have made it extremely difficult for a priest or any other church official to abuse children or vulnerable adults. When even a whiff of an accusation appears the machinery of safeguarding quickly takes over, sometimes bringing its own injustices in the zeal to root out and remove abusers. What is clear is that Hollywood and the wider entertainment industry has made no such progress, and remains a far more dangerous place for children or vulnerable adults than the Church. Indeed, presbyteries are now, arguably, safer places than the family home.
The Church has had to face up to the darkness within it. So too should the entertainment and media industries, quick as they are to plunge the knife into the reputations of Christians and others on the thinnest of pretexts. If Mr Weinstein is guilty let him be tried in a court of law and the evidence heard and tested. Let, moreover, the trial be truly fair. The same is due Cardinal Pell. Let whistleblowers have every protection; but if found not to be telling the truth, let them be prosecuted. And should it be that a guilty party goes free because the evidence was insufficient to satisfy the legal standards, then the Christian knows that there will be a final, far more powerful and infinitely more just tribunal awaiting us all after death. Sometimes it is the only consolation we can have in an often unjust world. And for everyone, there is always repentance.
It is a principle that a person is innocent until proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law. A contiguous principle is that it is better that the guilty go free than the innocent be condemned. That is a harder pill to swallow for most of us, but it should make us consider the nature and centrality of justice and what purpose it serves. Two wrongs have never made a right. Catholics and all Christians should, surely, be at the forefront of promoting a justice that is authentic, and in recognising that justice is rarely if ever served by a baying mob, no matter how famous or rich its members… or perhaps especially if its members are rich and famous.