Sinead O’Connor performed an a cappella cover of Bob Marley’s “War” on Saturday Night Live on October 3, 1992, rewriting a few of the lyrics to address child abuse, in addition to the song’s initial topics of racism and the horrors of war.
As she finished the song, she produced and tore to shreds a photograph of Pope John Paul II, shouting, “Fight the real enemy!”
In his opening monologue the following week while hosting SNL, actor Joe Pesci insisted that had he been in charge of the show, he would have given O’Connor “such a smack.” This echoed an event from the previous year when O’Connor insisted that the National Anthem not be played before her concert at a venue in New Jersey. Frank Sinatra, while performing at that same venue the next night, threatened to “kick her ass.”
And Jonathan King, a millionaire British television and record producer, and the executive producer of the BPI Awards, stated in an interview with Billboard that she needed to be spanked for her display of bad manners. Ten years later, King would be convicted of several counts of sexual assault on 14- and 15-year-old boys and sentenced to seven years in prison.
By then O’Connor had already earned a reputation as something of a loose cannon and a crazy woman after a series of radical public acts. And in the popular cultural memory of the United States, O’Connor remains a crazy woman. Her act of speaking out against the Catholic Church with that bold action remains for many a hysterical act. What she did was intentionally incendiary.
Blowback from destroying a picture of the pope on live national television is to be expected and, one would imagine, desired. But at the time, the Saturday Night Live incident was not well understood. At the time, the public was largely unaware of the sex abuse crisis hiding within the church.
Today the world sees with increasing clarity just how deep the Catholic Church child abuse epidemic runs. It has been well-documented that priests who raped young boys were in many cases simply moved from parish to parish, endangering greater numbers of children. Thousands of civil lawsuits have been brought against the church over five decades’ worth of abuse cases around the world, including O’Connor’s native Ireland, resulting in settlements totaling billions of dollars.
O’Connor illuminated these issues with an angry and haunting act on live national television 22 years ago and was issued a humor-coated, SNL-endorsed threat of physical violence in response. She was dismissed as deserving of a “smack” — more of a nuisance than a threat…Read More at