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Prescient Messenger

On Oct. 3, 1992, Sinead O’Connor turned her Saturday Night Live performance into a fierce political statement. Eyes ablaze, voice quaking with rage, O’Connor ripped apart a photograph of Pope John Paul II, after replacing a lyric from Bob Marley’s “War” with the words child abuse. A few weeks later, she revealed that as a teen she had suffered abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church. She was still widely condemned—and her career took a significant blow. In 2010, O’Connor offered an explanation: “I wanted to force a conversation where there was a need for one; that is part of being an artist.”Today, entertainers often speak out about their personal experiences; back then, it was less common. As an Irishwoman, O’Connor was aware of the danger of criticizing a powerful entity like the church. She took that risk in order to publicly demand justice for children who were sexually abused by members of the clergy. Nine years after her performance, Pope John Paul II acknowledged and apologized for the church’s long history of sexual abuse. In recent years, O’Connor has been vocal about her mental-health struggles, once again laying herself bare for the world. She remains an example of the power of provoking necessary, if unpopular, conversations—and the courage it takes to do so. —Olivia Wilde

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