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Breach of faith.

Shortly after Sinead O'Connor tore up the pope's picture on "Saturday Night Live," the folks at NBC penitently announced that her actions had constituted a "breach of faith." No one, of course, had ever before improvised on the comedy show, even to the offense of many - although I have vivid memories of a frenetic Sam Kinison on "Saturday Night Live" several years ago pretending to pound nails into the hands of Jesus Christ with the head of his microphone. But he was, after all, a male comic; such an outburst as O'Connor's seemingly deserved special apologies all around.

What reason could there possibly be for a single, Irish woman to be angry with the pope? Well, for starters, there's the Irish constitution itself, which recognizes "the special position of the Holy Apostolic and Roman Church as the Guardian of the Faith professed by the great majority of its citizens." And in words that would make Pat Buchanan drool, it proclaims "the family" as "the natural primary and fundamental unit group of society.... No law shall be enacted providing for the grant of a dissolution of a marriage."

Okay, so she can't obtain a divorce in Ireland because the church has declared it anathema. Why else might Ms. O'Connor be a bit peeved with the pope? By extension of the above-cited clauses, women also cannot obtain contraceptives or abortions. Despite a recent referendum on abortion - publicly drubbed by Irish prelates as the work of the devil - Ireland still considers itself a Catholic country, though fewer than 10 percent of Dublin's Catholics attend Sunday masses.

Perhaps Sinead O'Connor is angry with the pope because, in 1988, he and Carlo Caffarra of the Pontifical Institute for Marriage and Family Matters suggested that, if an AIDS-stricken hemophiliac husband could not abstain from intercourse, it was better to infect his wife than to ever resort to using a condom. Perhaps it was such systemic misogyny, ensconced in the civil laws of her native land, that gave rise to the "breach of faith" committed by O'Connor on "Saturday Night Live."

Unfortunately, such facts aren't at the disposal of the average "SNL" viewer. In a nation with a long history of nativist anti-Catholicism, it wasn't surprising that blue-collar ethnics would shortly thereafter boo Sinead O'Connor off the stage at a Bob Dylan tribute. Few (if any) reporters took the time to provide a context for O'Connor's seemingly inexplicable actions, leaving them seemingly inexplicable. (And this is not to say that O'Connor herself can't say some truly stupid things. Her defense of rapist Mike Tyson in a recent interview with Rolling Stone as a "little boy" persecuted by a "bitch" is difficult to comprehend; and, like many militant ex-Catholics, she is prone to see the sinister hand of the church everywhere - even running the World Bank - without a shred of evidence to support such beliefs.)

But without this frame, the Catholic hierarchy was able to turn ignorance to its advantage, decrying Sinead O'Connor as simply an anti-Catholic bigot - or worse. One week after the "SNL" episode, Cardinal John O'Connor wrote a rather loopy column in the archdiocesan paper Catholic New York in which he likened the Irish singer's performance to "voodoo" and "sympathetic magic." In short, his eminence resorted to an old but effective tactic long used by the Catholic church to silence and condemn unruly women: he simply called Sinead O'Connor a witch.
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Title Annotation:Against the Grain; Sinead O'Connor and the Catholic Church
Author:O'Sullivan, Gerry
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Column
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:Truth hurts.
Next Article:Another cold war casualty.

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