For Sinead O’Connor, nothing compares to the night she tore up a picture of the Pope on “Saturday Night Live.” The Irish singer-songwriter recounted the controversial moment in a new interview with Billboard, and on Thursday the music magazine posted excerpts from O’Connor’s cover story.
In the interview, O’Connor said she stands by her decision to tear up a picture of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live in 1992, and the singer even touted the headline making incident as one of her proudest moments. "[It was an] artistic gesture made by an Irish female Catholic survivor of child abuse," she revealed.
The controversial live TV moment, which ultimately crippled the singer’s career, occurred after her a capella performance of Bob Marley's "War.” At the end of the song, O’Connor ceremoniously ripped a photograph of the Pope in half and declared, "Fight the real enemy." She then tossed the shredded pieces towards the camera.
According to Salon, “SNL” control-room execs were stunned by the musical guest star’s shocking adlib. They chose not to hit the "applause" button after O’Connor’s performance, and instead went to a silent fade-out to commercial. NBC's switchboard instantly lit up as thousands of complaints from angry callers poured in, while a 30-ton steamroller later crushed dozens of the singer's tapes and CDs outside of Rockefeller Center.
O’Connor suffered immediate backlash from the scandal and some of her peers even slammed her. In an interview with Irish radio RTE, Madonna said, "I think there's a better way to present her ideas rather than ripping up an image that means a lot to other people. If she's against the Roman Catholic Church and she has a problem with them, I think she should talk about it. I think you have to do more than denigrate a symbol.”
During an appearance earlier this year on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN update show, “Oprah: Where Are They Now,” O’Connor talked about her views on religion. "To me, music is the holy spirit," she said. "I was a person who was going to jail. I would steal … If I hadn't found music, I would be in trouble. And it wasn't open to me to be a priest because I was a girl -- that's the only other thing I would have wanted to do."
She also revealed that she believes that “faith comes from knowledge and experience,” and she admitted she prays before her shows. "To me, prayer is actually very important," she said. "I'm not of any specific religion; I sort of believe everything and nothing."
While O’Connor doesn’t regret her famous Pope-ripping moment, she is sorry that it was misunderstood. In a 2010 article she penned for The Washington Post, the singer reiterated that her intent was to make a statement about abuse among priests in the Catholic church, and she said her only regret from her performance was that people assumed she was atheist.
“All I regretted was that people assumed I didn't believe in God,” she wrote. “That's not the case at all. I'm Catholic by birth and culture and would be the first at the church door if the Vatican offered sincere reconciliation.”
Sinead O’Connor’s latest album, I'm Not Bossy, I'm the Boss, is due out on Aug. 11.