On This Day in Music History: Sinéad O’Connor Shreds Pope Photo in Infamous ‘SNL’ Moment

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Thirty years ago, controversial Irish songstress Sinéad O’Connor became a woman hated by many, by an entire religion even.

On this day in 1992, the “Nothing Compares 2 U” singer made a now-legendary appearance on Saturday Night Live, performing Bob Marley’s “War.” Her a cappella rendition of the 1976 tune was followed by the singer eviscerating a smiling picture of Pope John Paul II. In an attempt to protest against the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church—allegations that wouldn’t fully see the light of day for another decade—the singer exclaimed, “Fight the real enemy,” as fragments of photograph fluttered to the stage floor. She never once broke eye contact with the camera.

No one at the late-night sketch comedy show knew of her plan, saying in rehearsals leading up to the event, O’Connor practiced holding up an image of a refugee child in the Pope’s place. Many were outraged by her act, taking it upon themselves to stage their own protest by boycotting the singer and her music.

In a 1992 interview with Time, she addressed the performance, saying of the Pope “It’s not the man, obviously—it’s the office and the symbol of the organization that he represents. I consider them to be responsible for the destruction of entire races of people and the subsequent existence of domestic and child abuse in every country they went into.”

She continued, sharply criticizing the hold of the Catholic Church on her home country, saying “In Ireland, we see our people are manifesting the highest incidence in Europe of child abuse … Priests have been beating the shit out of the children for years and sexually abusing them. This is the example that’s been set for the people of Ireland. They have been controlled by the church, the very people who authorized what was done to them, who gave permission for what was done to them.”

Just like so many other instances of her speaking out about social and political issues, labels like crazy and unhinged flew amid the controversy. Her political statement was ultimately dismissed with people chalking the moment up to instability.

“Everyone wants a pop star, see? But I am a protest singer,” the singer recalled, detailing the event in a passage of her 2021 autobiography, Rememberings. “I just had stuff to get off my chest.”

This moment and many others have been detailed in the recent Showtime documentary about O’Connor’s life and career. Watch the captivating SNL moment, below.

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