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As theories swirl around the motivations for Pope Benedict XVI‘s surprise resignation, one of recent history’s most vociferous critics of the papacy — Irish singer Sinead O’Connor — has issued the retiring pontiff a backhanded statement of support.
“I would like to congratulate Pope Benedict on his wise decision to retire before the very worst of what has been going on is discovered,” O’Connor writes in a statement on her website. “I appreciate his alluding to some of it in his statement and assure him The Most High forgives those who can faithfully say they did wrong.”
The singer doesn’t specify which parts of the pope’s statement she’s referring to. The official reason being given by the Vatican is failing health; in his announcement, the pope writes, “I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.” He writes that his last day will be Feb. 28, and later tells his fellow clergymen, “I ask pardon for all my defects.”
O’Connor shocked the world and derailed a hugely successful recording career when in 1992 she tore up a picture of Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, at the end of a performance on Saturday Night Live, saying, “Fight the real enemy.”
The protest against the popular pontiff drew a huge backlash at the time. Sixteen days later, O’Connor was booed at a Bob Dylan tribute concert at Madison Square Garden. Even Madonna, no stranger to courting controversy with the church, criticized the action, telling The Irish Times, “I think there is a better way to present her ideas rather than ripping up an image that means a lot to other people … If she is against the Roman Catholic Church and she has a problem with them, I think she should talk about it.”
It’s hard to picture such a reception greeting a similar protest now. The same year O’Connor tore up the photo, U.S. bishops had convened for the first time in South Bend, Indiana, to discuss the possibility of a cover-up regarding a number of emerging allegations of child sexual abuse. Twelve years later, a report commissioned by the church stated that 4,000 U.S. Roman Catholic priests had been accused of sexual abuse by over 10,000 children in the 50 years prior, most of them boys.
O’Connor alludes to the scandal in her statement, saying Benedict’s departure is the first step towards rehabilitating the Vatican.
“The church has been brought into dreadful disrepute by lies and blasphemies against The Holy Spirit,” she writes. “Benedict’s greatest achievement is this act of retiring. There is a chance now for the church to be re-built and made fit to house The Holy Spirit.”
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