Brian Edwards Media

Madonna and the Bishop

I read in the 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 sensationalize in the interests of commercial gain.

Here is what 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, 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 nor 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.



  1. Brian, without Catholicism, Madonna would have had no schtick to begin with – she deliberately exploited the connection between her name and one of the Virgin Mary’s alternative titles for the Like a Virgin album. Then there’s the whole “every Catholic girl’s nightmare” scenario behind Papa Don’t Preach, and the crude religious iconography of the chunky crucifixes and dangling rosaries. Frankly if she’d been brought up Presbyterian*, she’d have been screwed for ideas.

    *PS, it still delights me that Presbyterians is an anagram of Britney Spears… Perhaps that explains why she never quite took over from Madonna.

  2. What would Pat Bartlett have had to say?

    • I don’t doubt that Patricia, a former nun, would not have been amused. I interviewed her once and came to admire her strength of purpose and her determination. She had one of the biggest collections of pornography in the country. During the interview I asked her whether she ever got turned on by the material. She replied that she dealt with such urges by going out and digging her garden.

  3. this quote from BE β€œIn 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.” is worth nailing on a wall to be read often

    Case in point is the RSA’s current (arrogant) presumption that our soldiers fought overseas to honour the Flag.

    My antecedents have been in this country since 1840. In due course their sons fought for the country mostly and a little for the British Empire. I have a great uncle who was killed in WWI and and uncle who was killed in WWII. I am absolutely certain that they would have been fighting for New Zealand, for our New Zealand democratic way of life and above all for their children to be able to enjoy the benefits of our way of life.

    The silly symbol of any flag would not have entered into their considerations for fighting and it is utterly presumptuous of the RSA to imply otherwise.

  4. ” the Catholic priesthood the most erotically charged and challenging of all vocations” – well, we could bat that one back and forth for quite a while. Maybe it’s all in the hips?
    One of the more interesting aspects of this for me was that, of course, the bishop ended up providing Madonna with free publicity. Not as a result of efforts by her or her staff but gratis from the efforts of the journalist who put in the call to get a “story”.

    • Paul, you left out the first two words of that sentence: “Celibacy makes…” I think that context is important. Forbidden fruit and all that!

  5. Happy New Year Brian and Judy,

    Um, for Protestants (well, those of us who genuinely adhere to the “protest” part), there is much in Catholicism we find offensive. Including statutes and veneration of saints. I doubt Patrick Dunn will be amending his ways to accommodate my views…and neither should he.

    Ultimately while civility is a worthwhile virtue, it is not the most important in a free non-sectarian country…which means no one is immune from offense, no matter how “precious” their beliefs. As long as Christians – both Catholics and Protestants – are not being persecuted, then we are receiving everything we need from both God and Caesar. Anything else, including complaints of offensive South Park episodes with bleeding Madonnas (a brilliant episode, btw), or St Matts-in-the-City billboards are special pleading.

    Oh, yes, and as much as Madonna for many years was tedious with her telegraphed attempts to ‘shock’, she is nonetheless a really talented artist who has developed breadth and depth after over 30 years(!) in the business. That puts her in the Frank Sinatra/Elvis/Rollings Stones category. Irrespective of the use of a saint in the video, it is a very good song. If Catholics are offended by it…don’t watch it.

    There! Problem sorted.

  6. I would regard Cardinal Pell as far more offensive to Christianity than any entertainer could ever be.

  7. It’s a bit rich for Bishop Dunn to be upset over minor blasphemy by an entertainer such as Madonna. More likely he is running ‘interference’ for the Church as Cardinal Pell struggles with his memory and conscience. Hypocrisy 101.

  8. What does Roman Catholic Priest Patrick Dunn say about all of his fellows convicted on child sex crimes, hypocrisy.

  9. Tell me, what excites the senses, more: the above vid of Madonna or the NBR pic of bishop Pat Dunn?

    One is slightly titilating, the other evokes the chilling terror of the Inquisition.

  10. What is actually offensive to christianty are the events portrayed in the movie Spotlight.