Sinéad O’Connor Inspired Child Advocates to Sue the Vatican
Earlier today, devastating news broke that Sinéad O’Connor, the famous Irish singer, songwriter, and activist, passed away. She was well known for her single Nothing Compares 2 U, released in 1990, which became a number one around the world. While much is known about the life of Sinéad O’Connor, she did much more than perform music and denounce wrongdoers. She was also a remarkably prescient and powerful inspiration to many of us who fight for children and against abuse, secrecy, and cover-ups in institutions.
Sinéad first reached out to me in the early 1990s, around the time she famously and controversially tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live, a move she felt in her conscience she had to make, despite knowing full well it would almost certainly be detrimental to her career.
More than 20 years ago, it was during conversations with her that I first began to think about suing the Vatican for its role in innumerable child sex crimes and cover-ups across the globe. Unlike most of the world, Sinéad saw predator priests not as a ‘couple bad apples’ but as signs and proof of a deeply corrupt and almost untouchable clerical system. Few think of the word ‘wise’ when thinking of Sinéad O’Connor, but she was not only wise, she was ahead of her time and was able to see what many could not.
Our discussions about the depth and breadth of clergy abuse in religious contexts prompted me to dig deeper, work harder and focus on the leaders at the very apex of the Catholic structure. I was inspired to form a path that led to unprecedented accountability.
The Vatican was indeed untouchable in the courts, until finally, in 2002, I was able to take legal action against the Catholic hierarchy in Rome. In fact, I’ve continuously been in legal battles against the Vatican ever since then. Three months ago in Minnesota, we held oral arguments before a federal judge on our case against the Vatican involving crimes by Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer that were concealed by then-Archbishop John Nienstedt. The Vatican is a defendant in that case.
Sinéad inspired not just me but an immeasurable number of others in this fight for children and against predators. We stayed in regular contact for a number of years. As best I could, I followed her career and life from afar. I will always cherish our relationship because it was founded on a unified dream to protect children.
Like all of us, Sinéad was complicated. She was brimming with both impressive courage and almost palpable vulnerability. She was immensely powerful and simultaneously deeply wounded. Hers was a lonely, dark, and uphill road at times, a road that many avoid altogether but that ultimately leads to healing.
She was crying out – for kids and for herself – back in the day when the majority thought clerics could do no harm, and it was nearly unthinkable that bishops would tolerate, hide and enable such harm.
It took tremendous courage for her to be one of those early, lonely voices for the voiceless. She was a champion who, by sharing her own suffering, brought comfort to others struggling in shame, silence, and self-blame.
Our movement has lost a champion. And I’ve lost an inspiration. But this loss will be deepened if those of us who are dedicated to protecting children don’t honor and amplify her brave, passionate, and controversial advocacy and amplify our efforts to prevent horrific child sex crimes.