Pope forgives Lennon for saying Beatles were bigger than Jesus

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IT WAS a little longer than Yesterday, but 42 years after John Lennon outraged Christians by claiming that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus, the Pope has generously decided to forgive him.

While the musician, who was murdered in 1980, imagined a world without a Heaven, wherever Lennon is now he can take comfort in the fact that the Vatican does not view him as an atheistic vandal but as a mere "show-off".

The L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's official newspaper, this weekend published a long editorial to mark the 40th anniversary of the release of The Beatles' "White Album" in which the publication praised Lennon and the Fab Four and took a more understanding view of his controversial utterance.

In 1966, Lennon said in an interview: "Christianity will go. We're more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first, rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."

In Saturday's edition of L'Osservatore Romano, the paper dismissed the Beatle's comments as a youthful joke: "The remark by John Lennon, which triggered deep indignation mainly in the United States, after many years sounds only like a 'boast' by a young working-class Englishman faced with unexpected success, after growing up in the legend of Elvis and rock and roll."

The paper went on to praise the band stating: "The talent of Lennon and the other Beatles gave us some of the best pages in modern pop music." It argued that only "snobs" would dismiss the band's songs, which had shown "an extraordinary resistance to the effects of time, providing inspiration for several generations of pop musicians".

Back in the 60s, Lennon's comments proved more problematic, particularly in America, where five months later a teen magazine called Datebook reprinted them on their front cover. In the deeply religious American south and midwest, conservative groups organised public burnings of Beatles albums, radio stations banned their songs and some promoters cancelled concerts. The Klu Klux Klan even issued a death threat against the Beatle.

Lennon was forced to apologise at a press conference in Chicago.

He said: "I was not saying whatever they're saying I was saying. I'm sorry I said it really. I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious thing. I apologise if that will make you happy. I still do not know quite what I've done. I've tried to tell you what I did do, but if you want me to apologise, if that will make you happy, then OK, I'm sorry."

The article in L'Osservatore Romano is an attempt by the Vatican to address the wider world. In the past the paper only ran stories chronicling the Pope's daily events as well as extracts from his speeches. However, it now runs articles on entertainment and world affairs.

In the same edition the paper printed a headline: "Twilight of the gods" in which it regretted the disappearance of the 1950s when stars were mysterious, and complained about the current cult of the celebrity.

Lennon later wrote that he was grateful for the furore as it led to the end of his touring days. He wrote: "If I hadn't said that The Beatles were 'bigger than Jesus' and upset the very Christian Klu Klux Klan, well, Lord, I might still be up there with all the other performing fleas! God bless America. Thank you, Jesus."

FACT BOX

JOHN LENNON is not alone in the musical world when it comes to having a run-in with organised religion. Madonna has had a turbulent relationship with the Catholic Church, not helped by her using the name of the mother of Jesus Christ as her stage name. In her video for Like A Prayer, she was seduced by a black Christ, while her current world tour has her 'crucified' on a diamante-studded cross, wearing a crown of thorns.

Marilyn Manson released an album called Antichrist Superstar, and in 2004 organised an exhibition of his art including Trismegistus, a large, three-headed Christ. When he appeared in Italy, he was arrested for indecency.

Sinead O'Connor once tore a photograph of Pope John Paul II into pieces. Five years later, she asked him to forgive her for the "ridiculous act".