Who would have thought that Sinéad O’Connor — in her own blunt and quite crass way — would be defending Catholic Church teaching?
Although it was a long time ago, many remember the infamous “Saturday Night Live” episode where she tore up a photo of Blessed John Paul II on national television. Back then she was harshly criticized by Catholics and many others who rightly called her antics sacrilegious and nothing more than a shameful publicity stunt.
She would later tell reporters the episode was her personal statement of outrage against the terrible priest abuse scandal in her native Ireland. Whether you believed O’Connor or her critics, one thing was for sure, she did grab the spotlight.
Some 21 years later, the singer is making headlines again after offering advice to Miley Cyrus. O’Connor probably doesn’t realize it, but her message echoes the very man and institution she railed against in 1992. Remove the expletives and a few other rough words, and you have quite a surprising advocate for John Paul’s writings on women. As odd as it may seem, the concerns regarding the objectification and the exploitation of women so strongly outlined by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”) can also be found in a woman’s words to the former “Hannah Montana” star.
O’Connor said she felt compelled to write the letter after Cyrus claimed one of her controversial music videos was inspired by the Irish singer’s mega-hit “Nothing Compares 2 U.” O’Connor explained the advice was offered “in the spirit of motherliness and with love.” She fears that Cyrus is going down a dangerous path that would lead to self-destruction in her attempts to exchange her teeny-bopper image for one that would make even Madonna and Lady Gaga blush.
“Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely not in any way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent.”
O’Connor strongly suggests that Cyrus needs to wake up, smell the cappuccino and face the realities of an ugly, greedy business that treats musical talent like objects.
“They will prostitute you for all you are worth and cleverly make you think it is what YOU wanted ... and when you end up in rehab as a result of being prostituted, they will be sunning themselves on their yachts in Antigua, which they bought by selling your body and you will find yourself very alone ... Many’s the woman mistook lust for love.”
Sound familiar? In his 1995 “Letter to Women,” Blessed John Paul spoke of a kind of conditioning that has led to the abuse of women and a failure by society to recognize their dignity. He condemned a “hedonistic and commercial culture which encourages the systematic exploitation of sexuality that encourages even young girls into letting their bodies be used as profit” (No. 5).
While he may have been referencing the problem of sex trafficking and prostitution, he was also acknowledging the pressures placed upon young women in our over sexualized society.
In Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI warned that taking sex out of its proper place would lead to women being reduced to “a mere instrument for the satisfaction of men’s own desires.”
Maybe we shouldn’t be so struck by O’Connor’s insights. Truth is truth after all, and it is revealed in many ways, even by fallen-away Catholic rock stars. Go figure.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.