Madonna and the Bishop

OPINION: Brian Edwards on Auckland's Roman Catholic bishop view on Madonna.

I read in the New Zealand Herald that Auckland’s Roman Catholic bishop, Patrick Dunn, has “slammed” Madonna as being “highly offensive to Christianity.”

I know Patrick Dunn quite well and very much doubt that this gentle and rather charming man has ever “slammed” anyone. But one must take into account the tendency of tabloid publications like the Herald to sensationalise in the interests of commercial gain.

Here is what Bishop Dunn, as reported by the Herald, said: “There is no question in my mind that some of Madonna’s material is highly offensive to Christianity and will be found just as offensive to the majority of people of religious faith, as well as many cultural sensitivities.”

That, it seems to me, is quite simply a statement of fact. If you doubt it, check out the video of Madge’s Like a Prayer, in which sex and religious devotion combine to make a potently erotic statement.


Dunn was, in any event, simply agreeing with a Singaporean archbishop who had said that Madonna “denigrates and insults religions” and had gone on to urge Catholics not to attend her show.

In “slamming” Madonna, Bishop Dunn had “stopped short” of asking his flock not to see Madonna. But he did say: “In a multicultural and multi-faith society like New Zealand, it is imperative that entertainers not presume their own cultural perspective is that of the majority. Often it is not.”

That, it seems to me, is a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black. Bishop Dunn’s “cultural perspective” is certainly not mine and neither is it the cultural perspective of most New Zealanders. I hope it will not offend the bishop if I observe that, if the churches could attract (paying) congregations of the size attracted to a Madonna concert, the outlook for Christianity in New Zealand would be considerably brighter.

And then there is this: Celibacy makes the Catholic priesthood the most erotically charged and challenging of all vocations. That, if I am not mistaken, is at least one possible interpretation of Madonna’s Like a Prayer. Eros is indeed at the heart of much Christian devotion, nowhere more clearly expressed than in the practice of Holy Communion where worshippers consume “the body and blood” of Christ.

Finally, the Herald reports: “For her Auckland concert, Madonna’s stage will be a huge crucifix that will span the arena with a heart-shaped “Rebel Heart” logo at the end. The tour will feature a ‘holy water’ segment which will feature dancers dressed as bikini-clad nuns performing on cross-shaped stripper poles.”

If you can’t afford the ticket price for a Madonna concert, I suggest that you type “bikini-clad nuns” into Google. I’m reasonably sure that you won’t be disappointed.

Tasteful? No. Offensive to many people? Certainly. But, if you’re one of those people, stay away or, for that matter, camp outside the theatre with a protest sign. But do so because it offends your own cultural or religious sensitivities and not because some authority figure has said that Madonna “denigrates and insults religions.”

After all, in the age of ISIS there is, as there has always been, considerable justification for denigrating and insulting religions. Once you bring the will of a divine being into the equation, nothing is so inhumane or outrageous that it cannot be defended. By comparison “bikini-clad nuns on cross-shaped stripper poles” seem fairly tame, quite good fun and, you might even say, life-affirming.

Media trainer and commentator Dr Edwards posts at Brian Edwards Media.

Tune into NBR Radio’s Sunday Business with Andrew Patterson, launching this Sunday morning, for analysis and feature-length interviews.

Login in or Register to view & post comments