When Sinead OConnor tore up the Popes photo on TV

When Sinéad O’Connor tore up the Pope’s photo on TV

Thirty years ago on October 3, Shuhada Sadaqat, as Irish singer-songwriter Sinéad O’Connor now calls herself, made headlines (and jeopardized her entire career) for tearing up a photo of Pope John Paul II during an episode of the show US television Saturday Night Live. He did it to draw attention to allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland: largely covered up, widely documented a few years after the act, and eventually recognized by the popes.

Sinéad O’Connor is 55 years old and has been characterized since the beginning of his career by his unconventional behavior and his tendency to break the rules of so-called “show business”. He rose to international fame in 1990 with his second album, which featured Nothing Compares 2 U, the song originally written and composed by Prince. The video for this song, with the face of Sinéad O’Connor in the foreground, is still considered one of the most recognizable and famous in the history of video clips.

His third album “Am I Not Your Girl?”, a collection of standard jazz covers, i.e. pieces that have become the common repertoire of jazz musicians, did not find the expected response. The singer left to promote the album, and on October 3, 1992, she took part on Saturday Night Live and sang “War” by Bob Marley, a song of denunciation against war and for equality between people inspired by a speech at the UN in 1963 by the Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie.

During his a cappella interpretation, O’Connor changed the final words of the text to make explicit reference to the problem of pedophilia in the Catholic Church that has been publicly emerging in the United States for several years. And he tore up the photo of Pope John Paul II in front of the camera with the words “fight your true enemy”, “fight your true enemy”.

By the time she attended Saturday Night Live in October 1992, O’Connor had already landed at the center of much controversy: she had decided to boycott the Grammy Awards, where she had won a Record of the Year nomination, and stated that she didn’t want to be there be: “A world that measures artistic ability by material success” and which therefore uses sales figures to determine which records are the best. She then refused to sing the US anthem before her concerts in the US because national anthems “have nothing to do with music in general”.

But the scandal that followed the tearing up of the photo was huge, effectively destroying his reputation and career.

In the memoir, titled “Rememberings,” O’Connor explained that his version was very different: He says it was the huge success of “Nothing Compares 2 U” that really plunged his career into a crisis while he the photo of him tore up the pope and put him “on the right path”. “I needed to get back to making a living performing live, and that’s what I was born for. I wasn’t born a pop star.” However, she also says that what followed was “very traumatizing” for her.

A few weeks after Saturday Night Live, O’Connor attended a concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden honoring Bob Dylan. Arriving on the stage, he waited a long time for the silence of the audience, which did not occur. However, she began singing amid the boos and shouts of “War,” then left the stage in tears. She told the New York Times that initially when she heard the boos, she was so surprised she thought they were pointing at her clothes.

She was publicly criticized for tearing up the Pope’s photo, Joe Pesci threatened to hit her, Madonna mocked her by tearing up a photo of Joey Buttafuoco, a man convicted of rape who was the focus of a very current case. The singer-songwriter was later condemned by the Anti-Defamation League, hundreds of her records were destroyed outside of her record company, and Frank Sinatra called her “a fool.”

Sinead O’Connor wrote a public letter attempting to describe his experience of the Catholic Church in Ireland, but this had the opposite effect to what was hoped.

Today, the first comment under O’Connor’s protest video on YouTube says it was the best thing that ever happened on Saturday Night Live. The second says that O’Connor was right at the time, that she was “very brave” and stood up for all of us.” Indeed, the sexual abuse of minors and its cover-up within the Catholic Church soon became the focus of public discourse and John Paul II himself recognized them, but only in 2001.

The New York Times reports that O’Connor’s complaint was also due to his personal situation.

In the autobiography, O’Connor speaks at length about how her mother physically abused her since she was a child. And on the day his mother died, O’Connor took the only photograph hanging on the wall in his mother’s bedroom: a picture of the Pope that he kept for years, waiting for the right moment to tear up. “Child abuse is an identity crisis and fame is an identity crisis, so I went straight from one identity crisis to the next,” she said. And when he tried to draw attention to the abuse of minors in the church, he did so by drawing on his own fame.

In 2016, international newspapers again reported on O’Connor when he disappeared for several hours in Chicago. On that occasion, she threatened to kill herself after custody of her 13-year-old son was lifted, telling social services they had “a dead celebrity on their hands” if they didn’t change their decision. The following year, she posted a lengthy video on her Facebook page in which she recounted living in a motel in New Jersey for weeks and being abandoned by her family.

The New York Times reported that O’Connor now lives in isolation, away from it all (“I bought uncomfortable chairs because I don’t like people staying late”). She still shaves her head every ten days and wears the hijab: she converted to Islam in 2018 and called herself Shuhada Sadaqat. She has been admitted to psychiatric facilities many times over the past six years and says she suffers from post-traumatic and borderline disorders. His last TV appearance is in 2019.