Sinead O'Connor No Longer Alone In Church Protest Eighteen years ago, the singer shocked many by ripping a photo of Pope John Paul II in two. The act was done in protest of child sexual abuse by priests. As the scandal grew, anger turned from O'Connor to the Catholic Church. Today, O'Connor says she wasn't looking to be vindicated and that she still loves the institution.
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Sinead O'Connor No Longer Alone In Church Protest

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Sinead O'Connor No Longer Alone In Church Protest

Sinead O'Connor No Longer Alone In Church Protest

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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GUY RAZ, host:

Back in 1992, Sinead O'Connor made a now-infamous appearance on "Saturday Night Live," where she sang an a cappella version of the Bob Marley song "War." Now, towards the end, she substituted the word "racism," from Marley's original lyrics, with "child abuse," and she sang it twice.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Saturday Night Live")

(Soundbite of song, "War")

Ms. SINEAD O'CONNOR (Singer): (Singing) Child abuse, yeah, child abuse, yeah.

RAZ: The words were supposed to draw attention to allegations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, but it's what she did at the end of this song that shocked America. She held up a picture of Pope John Paul II and ripped it to pieces.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Saturday Night Live")

Ms. O'CONNOR: Fight the real enemy.

RAZ: Afterward, O'Connor was vilified. Crowds burned her records. But the revelations of widespread sexual abuse among some Catholic priests has brought Sinead O'Connor back into the spotlight. She's recently emerged as one of Ireland's most passionate defenders of the faith, and an even more powerful critic of the Vatican.

Sinead O'Connor joins me from Dublin in Ireland.


Ms. O'CONNOR: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

RAZ: All these years later, after all the trouble that that appearance on "Saturday Night Live" caused you, do you feel vindicated?

Ms. O'CONNOR: Well, I suppose if I mean, it's not about me or anyone else being vindicated. Who is vindicated are the victims. It really isn't about anyone else. It's more important to realize that they have been vindicated and believed and treated with respect.

RAZ: I remember watching it in 1992, and I remember feeling shocked - in large part, probably, because I missed the nuance, and presumably many other people did. Watching it again, you see how you emphasize the words child abuse. And it's now clear, when you watch it, what you were trying to say.

Do you think you would have done it differently, knowing that the nuance would have been lost?

Ms. O'CONNOR: Well, no. I mean, I think the problem is that people don't really realize that we knew about this back in 1987, here in Ireland. And it didn't become an issue in the States until about '95, if I'm correct.

But in 1987, the Catholic Church in Ireland took out an insurance policy in every diocese to cover them against claims, which they foresaw would be made by victims and their families, and the first people that - begun in 1987 to start coming out and saying that this had happened to them.

So that was the thing. I mean, I think the reason people were so shocked in the States, I mean, quite rightly, no one could imagine that something like this could be happening.

RAZ: Right. Right.

Ms. O'CONNOR: And I understood that. But I think what people need to understand is that we in Ireland knew a good 10 years before anyone else knew.

RAZ: At the time, what was it like to endure that anger and hatred, particularly from America?

Ms. O'CONNOR: It was grand, to be honest. I mean, I'm an intelligent woman. I knew how people would react.

RAZ: But you were also young. You were also a young woman at the time.

Ms. O'CONNOR: Yeah, but I mean, I'm - I consider myself a spiritually, intellectually developed woman. I knew there would be trouble. I was quite prepared to accept that. To me, it was more important that I recognize what I will call the Holy Spirit, and that I acted out of respect for that. And I would have more fear of disrespecting that than I would of causing difficulty for either myself or anyone else.

I knew what to expect, and I knew what would happen, and I was perfectly willing to deal with the consequences.

RAZ: When you talk about the Holy Spirit, I mean, are you talking about the spirit of God, or the third part of the trinity?

Ms. O'CONNOR: I get wary of the word God in a lot of ways because it can be misinterpreted. And also, I don't know that it's very descriptive. So I prefer to describe it as the Holy Spirit. I don't think it matters if you call it Allah or Jehovah - or God or Daisy or Fred. I don't think it really matters. It's all the same spirit. But for me, the best way I can find to describe it is the Holy Spirit.

RAZ: But you would call yourself a believer, and you would call yourself a Catholic?

Ms. O'CONNOR: I would call myself someone who is passionately in love with the Holy Spirit, who feels passionate about that spirit, who does not like to see that spirit being misrepresented, as it is being by those in the higher echelons of the church.

I have nothing but respect for any priest and nun that I ever met. I think the regular priests and nuns have been very badly treated because they're still being disrespected and misrepresented. I think there's so much that's beautiful about Catholicism, but that has been clouded by the cover-up more, even, than the abuse of priests.

And there is a crime and a criminality in the cover-up, and that is something which is still taking place. Those involved in the cover-up have neither been fired nor prosecuted. It looks extremely bad that the pope hasn't fired them in outrage, for bringing him and the church into such disrepute.

And lots of us in Ireland feel that we should be entitled to democratically elect who we think is fit to be pope, who we think is fit to run the Vatican. They need to come out of the 15th century into the 21st century, be transparent and responsible with it and hold to account, as any other organization is.

There are these constant apologies for the abuse, but no acknowledgement or apology for the cover-up - and the present attempts to cover up the cover-up.

So to me, the behavior of these people is as if they don't believe in God. They certainly don't seem to believe in a God that is watching them or what they're doing.

RAZ: Do you think there's enough political and social pressure to change policy at the Vatican?

Ms. O'CONNOR: Well, you know, a fantastic thing is and we in Ireland are very, very happy about this - is the fact that America has now joined the fight. America, generally, you do what you say on the tin, for want of a better expression. You know, if you get something in America, it will do what it says on the tin, and I think that's how now the American people and the lawyers, etc., are really working very hard. The newspapers in America are working very hard.

Once the American media and the American people get involved in this, then it's all over. It's only a matter of time before, you know, the truth outs.

RAZ: You have said that the essence of the Catholic Church is beautiful.

Ms. O'CONNOR: Mm-hmm.

RAZ: What is it you're trying to preserve, and what is it that you're trying to cast away?

Ms. O'CONNOR: We're trying to cast away lies and misrepresentations of the Holy Spirit. You know, I can't really speak for anyone else, but I believe that the Holy Spirit is pure love and pure compassion. I don't believe it's judgmental. I believe it's horrified by what's been happening to children, and what's been done in its name. And I would like to see the Catholic Church being run by people who actually feel there is a God who is watching them, and who are able to state that what this regime have done, and how this regime have handled child abuse, is absolutely criminal - never mind sinful.

But there should be prosecutions of anyone who is an accessory by silence to the crime of child abuse. There should be a criminal investigation of the Vatican, criminal investigation of the present pope. We want that pope to stand down after admitting that he presided over a set of lies, and they're still lying.

And when they stand there continually apologizing for the abuse but not for the cover-up, they are abusing the whole lot of us, and they are abusing the good name of the Holy Spirit and the good name of Catholicism.

RAZ: That's Sinead O'Connor. She spoke with me from Dublin, Ireland.

Sinead O'Connor, thank you so much.

Ms. O'CONNOR: Thank you.

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