Italian rapper Achille Lauro kicked off Italy's popular Sanremo song festival Tuesday with a televised performance of his hit "Domenica" (Sunday), kneeling at the end in mock prayer and performing a fake baptism of himself, pouring water from a ceremonial shell over his head and bare torso.
The crowd cheered, but "the reaction among Italy's Catholic majority was outrage," Claire Giangravé reports at Religion News Service. The local bishop called his pantomimed sacrament "not just offensive to religion, but to human dignity." The Vatican ignored the attempt at iconoclasm.
After commentators and comedians fussed over the Vatican's silence, Andrea Monda, editor of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, released a dry statement Wednesday. "We limit ourselves to observing that, in wanting to be transgressive at all costs, the singer fell back on Catholic imagery" — and others have done it better, Monda wrote. The Holy See "can never forget," for example, when the "great rock artist" David Bowie recited the Our Father on his knees with 72,000 fans at London's Wembley Stadium in 1992 to honor Freddie Mercury, recently dead of AIDS.
"They don't make provocateurs like they used to," Monda said, adding: "Never in history has there been a more transgressive message than that of the Gospel."
Achille Lauro — the stage name for Lauro De Marinis, taken from a ship that was the scene of a fatal 1985 hijacking — "is only the most recent in a long list of artists who have violated Catholic sensibilities," including Sinead O'Connor ripping up a photo of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live in 1992 and much of Madonna's career, Giangravé writes. "The Vatican's response to the latest provocation suggests that the institution may have come to terms with such occurrences."