The Late Sinéad O'Connor’s 'Saturday Night Live’ Protest Is An Important Part of the Show’s Legacy

The Late Sinéad O'Connor’s 'Saturday Night Live’ Protest Is An Important Part of the Show’s Legacy

Irish singer and songwriter Sinead O’Connor passed away earlier today at the age of 56. May her soul rest in a better place than wherever they’re keeping John Paul II.

On Saturday, October 3, 1992 O’Connor joined host Tim Robbins as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. O’Connor had just released her third album, Am I Not Your Girl?, the month prior, and the Dublin-born songbird seemed set to continue her meteoric rise in the music world. Then, at the end of a somber, solo performance of Bob Marley’s song “War,” O’Connor held a photograph of then-Pope John Paul II up to the camera before tearing it to shreds, imploring the SNL audience to “fight the real enemy.” O’Connor’s intent was to draw attention to the sexual abuse of children within the Catholic Church, an issue which, at the time, was poorly publicized and rarely discussed.

O’Connor’s image and career would be tarnished, trashed and all-but-destroyed in the months following the protest. Not only would Lorne Michaels ban her from SNL, but, for the rest of Season 18, hosts and musical guests, including Joe Pesci and Madonna, would use their time on the show to take pot shots at O’Connor, with the former even bragging that, if he were in the studio at the time of the protest, he would have beaten O’Connor for the offense. Thirty years later, let’s make something clear – nothing that SNL has done since O’Connor’s final appearance has been remotely as meaningful as her protest.

Though Michaels would eventually call O’Connor’s protest, “The bravest possible thing she could do,” when O’Connor went off-script and ripped the photograph, he recalled how "the air went out the studio" and instructed his production team not to flash the usual “applause” sign for O’Connor’s performance.

History, of course, would vindicate O’Connor’s qualms with the Catholic Church following the Boston Globe’s bombshell revelations of systemic abuse and cover-ups in 2002. John Paul II’s own involvement with the concealment of child molestation by priests under his authority stretches all the way back to his time as an archbishop in Poland during the 1970s when he allegedly helped at least three pedophile priests escape consequences for their sex crimes and relocated them to different parishes.

That said, in 1992, SNL audiences didn’t have quite the familiarity with the Catholic Church’s propensity for abuse and obfuscation that everyone has today, and the gravity of O’Connor’s actions should not be understated. O’Connor’s protest was massively unpopular and heavily criticized, and her SNL ban was the least of her troubles as the media and music industry rallied against her in the wake of the incident. Still, O’Connor never once doubted the righteousness of her cause, writing in her 2021 book Rememberings,  "Everyone wants a pop star, see? But I am a protest singer. I just had stuff to get off my chest. I had no desire for fame."

Scroll down for the next article


Forgot Password?