A Vatican newspaper has forgiven John Lennon for claiming in 1966 that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus.
An article praising The Beatles in the L’Osservatore Romano newspaper said Lennon had merely been showing off.
In March 1966 the London Evening Standard published an interview with John Lennon in which the singer told journalist Maureen Cleave that “We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity“.
The remarks were republished around the world, sparking controversy in the United States and elsewhere.
L’Osservatore Romano is the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper, which often runs entertainment articles alongside papal speeches and other religious reports.
The lengthy article was published to mark the 40th anniversary of The Beatles’ White Album. It praised Lennon and the group, and claimed that the controversial remark was “showing off, bragging by a young English working-class musician who had grown up in the age of Elvis Presley and rock and roll and had enjoyed unexpected success”.
It also heralded The Beatles for their “unique and strange alchemy of sounds and words,” and described the White Album as a “magical musical anthology”.
The fact remains that 38 years after breaking up, the songs of the Lennon-McCartney brand have shown an extraordinary resistance to the passage of time, becoming a source of inspiration for more than one generation of pop musicians.
Lennon’s 1966 remarks were reprinted in an American magazine four months after the Evening Standard interview was published. It led to public burnings of Beatles records, their songs being banned on radio stations, and anti-Beatles demonstrations organised by the Ku Klux Klan.
The Beatles received death threats during their final US tour. The Vatican denounced Lennon and Beatles albums were banned in South Africa.