Sinéad O’Connor Twenty Years After

Twenty years ago today, during a Saturday Night Live performance, Sinéad O’Connor ripped up a photo of Pope John Paul II. There was an immediate outcry from critics, journalists, and, a week later, SNL host and noted theologian, Joe Pesci. O’Connor’s career never recovered. When she attempted to perform Bob Marley’s “War” at a Bob Dylan concert, she was booed off the stage. Now, twenty years on, Michael Agresta takes a fresh look at the event.

[click to see performance via YouTube]

Agresta listened to what O’Connor had to say: she added some fresh lyrics to “War” about child abuse as one of the Catholic Church’s sins. This isn’t news today, but it was then. In fact, most people (including me, I have to admit) missed the allusion altogether and thought O’Connor was protesting abortion/contraception policies or something. But O’Connor, when anyone bothered to ask, was quite clear about what angered her:

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.

The Time magazine interviewer didn’t really grasp what O’Connor was saying, so she tried to explain by giving some personal history. She said she had been subjected to every kind of abuse:

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. Naturally I was very angered by the whole thing… [Time interview, November 9, 1992, behind a pay wall, unfortunately.]

Her mother, said O’Connor, was a Valium addict, a product of Catholic schools. Later, when O’Connor went to an Adult Children of Alcoholics-type group, she got a handle on her situation. The photo of the Pope that she tore up? That had belonged to her mother: “The photo itself had been on my mother’s bedroom wall since the day the fucker was enthroned in 1978.”

Young Sinéad, striped shirt.

O’Connor herself was incarcerated in a Magdalene laundry, an Irish institution for wayward girls, at the age of 15. The Magdalenes have been criticized by the UN Committee Against Torture and one Magdalene being sold by nuns trying to make up stock market losses turned out to have twenty-two unregistered anonymous corpses buried out back.

After Pope Benedict apologized in 2010 for the Irish abuse cover-up, O’Connor criticized him for calling the cover-up “well-intentioned” and called for a boycott of the Church. She told Rachel Maddow that she is a believer who wants to free the Church from those who have brought it into disrepute. And in the Los Angeles Times:

I’m a Catholic, and I love God. . . . That’s why I object to what these people are doing to the religion that I was born into. . . .

I’m passionately in love and always have been with what I call the Holy Spirit, which I believe the Catholic Church have held hostage and still do hold hostage. I think God needs to be rescued from them. They are not representing Christian values and Christian attitudes. If they were truly Christian, they would’ve confessed ages ago, and we wouldn’t be having to batter the door down and try to get blood from a stone.

Sometimes angry people are dismissed when they do or say things other people find disturbing. Often these angry people are absolved over time. Sinéad O’Connor paid a price for expressing her anger and for telling truths that people weren’t ready to hear. She is a brave woman who has finally been awarded some of the respect that she has earned.

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14 comments on “Sinéad O’Connor Twenty Years After

  1. The Nag says:

    I was not one of those booing Sinead. I was educated in Catholic schools in Quebec in the 50s and 60s and experienced abuse at the hands of the nuns who were my teachers. To this day I become anxious if I have to enter a Catholic Church.

  2. raistlin47 says:

    Reblogged this on The Red Pill and commented:
    Well thought out article! Thank you.

    • Róisín Kehoe says:

      Please be aware, it’s utter fiction. Cheers!

      • Gary Fielder says:

        What fiction are you talking about? She really was on Saturday Night Live. They have video. She really was booed off the stage by people who paid for tickets see a tribute to the greatest “protest singer” of all time. Millions of children really were (and continue to be) molested by priests in the church. “Cheers.” What are you talking about? Your comment is utter fiction. Sinead was ahead of her time. Maybe a new star can ruin her career by tearing up a picture of Jerry Sandusky.

    • Róisín Kehoe says:

      You actually believe this nonsense? Have any of you been here? Have you met the woman? Dear God…

  3. Sam says:

    She has the sixpointed star in her necklace. Cabbalism. Was she recruited by the Illuminati?

  4. Róisín Kehoe says:

    Hi. Just thought I’d let you know, as an Irish woman of the same age as Sinéad, she would’ve needed a time machine to be incarcerated in a Magdalene laundry. In fact, she came from a very privileged family, her brother being the award-winning author Joseph O’Connor. Please don’t insult Irish women who actually have suffered in this country with non-existent research. Oíche mhaith.

  5. Lygeia says:

    This was so devastating read, that she was incarcerated in a Magdalen laundry. My heart and prayers go out to Sinead O’Connor, that she can find peace and healing.

  6. Song says:

    She’s brave and has the guts to call out the trash that so many cower down to even after they have been violated in the most hideous ways one can imagine.It’s common knowledge that the majority of so called religious leaders are nothing more than manipulating and power tripping sexual predators.Those who choose to blind themselves to this obvious reality are either totally ignorant or in complete denial…..and unlike Ms. O’Conor…..a spiritually broken coward.

  7. Ana says:

    I absolutely agree with your article. What a light in the darkness, and how sweet it is to see some redemption.

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