Musician Sinead O’Connor tried to warn the world of abuses within the Catholic church during an appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1992, but no one listened.
In a now-iconic gesture, the singer tore up a picture of then-Pope John Paul II while singing Bob Marley’s “War” and switching out lyrics about African apartheid to reference “’child abuse, yeah,’ repeated twice with spine-stiffening venom,” the Atlantic noted in a 2012 article acknowledging she was right. During that protest, she also said: “Fight the real enemy.”
That article noted that the media failed to make “use of the traditional tools of journalism: interviews, research, and textual analysis. Instead, most commentators seem to have consulted their own imaginations.”
From a Rolling Stone article at the time:
“[I]s O’Connor’s aim to educate people about her point of view or to alienate them and insult their beliefs—as she did when she ripped up a picture of the pope on Saturday Night Live, ensuring that they will never take her seriously?”
In an interview with Time, she explicitly laid out her grievances with the Catholic church, clarifying her decision to rip up the pope’s picture:
“It’s not the man, obviously—it’s the office and the symbol of the organization that he represents… In Ireland we see our people are manifesting the highest incidence in Europe of child abuse. This is a direct result of the fact that they’re not in contact with their history as Irish people and the fact that in the schools, the priests have been beating the shit out of the children for years and sexually abusing them. This is the example that’s been set for the people of Ireland. They have been controlled by the church, the very people who authorized what was done to them, who gave permission for what was done to them.”
She described the abuse she experienced:
“Sexual and physical. Psychological. Spiritual. Emotional. Verbal. I went to school every day covered in bruises, boils, sties and face welts, you name it. Nobody ever said a bloody word or did a thing.”
But as the Atlantic noted, “[t]he interviewer remained skeptical of O’Connor’s characterization of Irish schools as playgrounds and training grounds for child abusers, and the interview moved on to different topics.”
Sinead O’Connor’s condemnation of the Church helped torpedo her career.
Twenty-six years later, countless priests and church officials have been exposed for committing and covering up abuse against children. In the most recent case, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a report detailing the abuse of over 1,000 children by over 300 church officials spanning. Some are also accused of producing child pornography in churches that included the use of whips and other violence.
As Irish Central observed this week:
“O’Connor had the bravery to point out the reality of the pedophile scandal that would engulf the church. She tore up the pope’s picture drawing massive protest down on herself.”
She did so even when most shunned her candidness:
“A week later as Saturday Night Live’s host, Joe Pesci, displayed the same torn photo during his monologue, saying he had taped it back together. He received huge applause.”
As the 1990s wore on, awareness of the abuses started to grow (and O’Connor continued to speak about abuses against her and others). By the early 2000s, it was a widely publicized global issue, and in 2018, incidents continue to be exposed.
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