How such a thing could have ever happened is almost beyond comprehension. On Halloween, a music video dropped by the pop star Sabrina Carpenter, another Miley Cyrus in that she is also a Disney children’s entertainer turned hyper-sexualized singer. The video features Carpenter in various provocative states of dress (if you can call that “dressed”) being ogled by men, culminating in their violent, bloody deaths and her dancing and writhing and strutting in a skimpy outfit at their funerals in the sanctuary of a church—a Roman Catholic Church. To be precise, the video was filmed in the nineteenth-century Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Lithuanian Church in Brooklyn, New York, leaving many asking, “How did this happen?”
Carpenter’s video is a vulgar, outrageous profanity, to say nothing of it, and there has thankfully been plenty of outcry against what was inexplicably allowed to happen in that church. But is such sacrilege in a church so extraordinary, I shudder to ask? While it may be hard to think how such a video was permitted, it might prove equally hard for Catholics to think about the things that are permitted, in one way or another, on a daily basis in Catholic churches everywhere.
The performance at the Brooklyn church is overt in its contempt, but more dangerous (and demonic) are those acts done in secret, with tacit approval, indifference, or without notice. The quiet breakdown of the sacred is far more disconcerting, and this blasphemous video may be an occasion to take note of and action against the blasphemies that happen under the noses of Catholics all the time.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily
Carpenter’s video for the song “Feather” has amassed over 4.3 million views on YouTube at the time of this writing. (I don’t recommend watching it due to its slinky and stultifying content.) It didn’t take long for outrage to be voiced over the lewd material that was performed in a church, with the altar covered in profane, ugly decorations, surrounded by pastel coffins embossed with crude language such as “RIP BITCH,” and all presided over by the half-naked singer. It’s pretty mind-blowing.
How was this allowed? Who is the pastor? Comments like this were flying fast on social media. The pastor is Monsignor Jamie Gigantiello, and though there have been no official statements from him, reports have it that his office claims the video crew were not forthright about the material they would be filming but, also, that there was not a proper review of the script, as diocesan protocol demands. Still, even if there was subterfuge or shortcoming in these areas, one simple Google search of the singer should have been enough to refrain from letting her use a Catholic church for her purposes.
One positive thing in all of this is that Brooklyn Bishop Robert Brennan has been very public about his disapproval of what happened, saying in a statement that he was appalled and has opened an investigation into the matter. He offered a Mass of reparation at Annunciation Church and blessed it and the altar to restore sanctity after such a desecration. Bishop Brennan also removed Msgr. Gigantiello from all administrative duties at the parish and the diocese until he decides how this came to be and what should be finally done, especially since his investigations thus far show that the proposal presented to the parish “clearly portray inappropriate behavior unsuitable for a church sanctuary.”
It is very encouraging to see a bishop respond with such strength and clarity in the face of secular intrusion. Bishop Brennan should be commended for his swift and sensible response to this atrocity in his diocese, and we could use more bishops doing likewise over liberties taken in the House of God that are inconsistent with a place where the Blessed Sacrament resides.
It is easy to ask, “How did this happen?” But it is unfortunately a question we can ask in so many churches in the face of revealing or slovenly dress, ugly artwork, terrible music, inappropriate talk or demeanor, people in a public state of sin receiving Communion, or inclusive gestures or speech that lean away from Church teaching. Or even (saying it like I see it) unconsecrated hands casually holding the Consecrated Body of Christ. How did all this happen? In fact, the latter categories are far more alarming than a lewd and ignorant young lady pulling a fast one and dancing like a strumpet in a church for shock-value entertainment.
I say “ignorant” not to be pejorative but to be honest about the inconsistency between this artist’s message and her actions. Her video has a wild irony about it. Again, it shows a girl rejoicing at the violent death of men who objectify her, but it is so incredibly oblivious to make a statement against the disrespect of objectification while prancing in a sacred place in a blatant and grotesque act of disrespect toward millions (all the while dressed in costumes that beg objectification by not respecting the personal sanctity of the wearer or the weaknesses of those who might see them). The contradiction looms large here as Carpenter demands respect while behaving disrespectfully.
Catholics must be cautious and even suspicious about the muddled modern messaging coming from entertainers like Sabrina Carpenter, who sadly attract a younger set of fans who may be drawn to break down their sense of respect for tradition and faith through sexually charged, self-asserting, anti-religious material. (Speaking of all that, this path was well-blazed by Madonna back in the ’90s.) Parental oversight is a serious duty when it comes to the influence of pop icons like Carpenter or Miley Cyrus or Billie Eilish or Katy Perry, or even Taylor Swift with the boom she is enjoying now with her Eras Tour concert. Swift may not be like the raunchy sex symbols that Carpenter or Cyrus are, but her themes of men in a revolving door and the self-indulgent catharsis of broken heart after broken heart are not ones reinforcing respect and responsibility.
With the sexual agenda that infiltrates the lives of virtually every young girl, should there be much shock when something like this happens—when a girl behaves scandalously for the sake of attention or some backward sense of affirmation? What this over-sexualization of our day inflicts upon female psychology and self-esteem is that the best way for a girl to assert her womanhood is to embrace a roaring, animalistic sexuality that has nothing to do with authentic sexuality or womanhood. And there is a growing cultural blindness to this movement, and that is also, in part, how this happened.
The display many women put themselves on is not, however, emblematic of the empowering, carefree ideal that it is made out to be. It is servitude to a system that treads all things underfoot—an ideology that devalues all that is sacred in the name of power. And it is a system that is chipping away at the Church.
The laissez-faire attitude that pervades so many parents who don’t know what their kids are listening to or watching is part of how this happened. The lax attitude of parish priests and cultural-chameleon bishops about what is said and done in Catholic churches is part of how this happened. The “Feather” video made headlines this past week, but how many Catholic churches over the years have been unnoticedly included in films that are far from Catholic? There’s schlock like John Wick 4, filmed at Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre in Paris, and then darker entries like Stigmata shooting at St. Vincent Catholic Church in Los Angeles and The Exorcist shooting at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
The Church is becoming just another feature of the relativist landscape to be used and abused as the world and its minions see fit. It isn’t that surprising that such a video could happen, especially when the sanctity of the Church is barely guarded or even upheld by so many Catholics. But Bishop Brennan shows us that the lines can still be drawn to defend the sacred from the secular. And those lines must be toed when it comes to the normalization of material like “Feather.” With the desecration of religion, sex, music, and womanhood, all things holy are vulnerable to a similar tarnishing unless the objections that sounded loud and clear this week remain strong.