June 12, 2000

                Sinead Keeps The Faith

                    The outspoken Irish singer sounds
                    off on her new priesthood, celibacy,
                    child rearing--and making her best
                    album in years


                    Bewley's Cafe would not seem to be a Sinead
                    O'Connor kind of place. Given her reputation as a
                    fiery, outspoken singer, one might expect her to
                    favor shadowy, wrong-side-of-town pubs.
                    Bewley's on Westmoreland Street at first glace
                    seems like the kind of coffeehouse where one
                    might spy Chandler, Monica and the rest of the
                    Friends gang sipping cappuccinos. But in truth,
                    Bewley's is a historic chain in Ireland (James
                    Joyce is claimed as a past patron), so this is
                    where O'Connor, who lives nearby in a
                    three-bedroom apartment, chooses to meet and
                    talk about Faith and Courage, her brilliant new
                    album that's due out next week.

                    She arrives at the table smiling and carrying a
                    tray of water and tea. O'Connor is small and
                    slight in person but visually arresting. As is often
                    her custom, she has shaved the jet-black hair on
                    her scalp down to about as much stubble as
                    you'd find on George Clooney's cheeks if he went
                    razorless for a long weekend. Her nearly bare
                    head, combined with her wide, bright eyes, gives
                    her a beautiful, birdlike appearance, like
                    something newly hatched. She's wearing brown
                    boots, a blue coat that drapes below her knees,
                    black sunglasses perched on the top of her head
                    and--most significant--a white priest's collar
                    around her neck.

                    O'Connor's life has had enough twists and turns
                    and zigs and zags to fill up a month of Behind
                    the Music episodes. The priest's collar is her
                    latest zag. After years of criticizing Roman
                    Catholicism (including infamously ripping up a
                    picture of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night
                    Live in 1992), she decided last year to be
                    ordained as a priest by controversial Irish
                    clergyman Bishop Michael Cox, the leader of a
                    tiny religious sect. However, O'Connor hasn't
                    quite joined mainstream Catholicism. Cox has
                    come under fire in the past for reportedly offering
                    confession over the telephone. And according to
                    Des Cryan, assistant director of the Catholic
                    Press and Information Office in Dublin, Cox's
                    "holy orders are not recognized by the Catholic
                    Church in Ireland." Besides which, Cryan adds,
                    "the Catholic Church does not ordain women to
                    the priesthood."

                    O.K., so what else has O'Connor been doing
                    these past few years? Well, O'Connor, whose
                    last full-length album, Universal Mother, was
                    released in 1994, says she's been raising her
                    son Jake, 11, and her daughter Roisin, 3.
                    (O'Connor is divorced, and her children have
                    different fathers, the former by an ex-husband,
                    the latter by an ex-boyfriend.) She has also
                    passed the time deciding which record company
                    she wanted to move to after her old label,
                    Chrysalis, went under (she is now signed to
                    Atlantic). She has gone through years of therapy
                    (she has charged in the past that her mother,
                    now dead, abused her as a child) and says she
                    feels happier than she has ever felt.

                    "I was 20 when my first record came out," she
                    says. "Now I'm 33, and that gives you a
                    confidence and self-assurance and wisdom and
                    more familiarity with your soul. When you're
                    young, you don't really know what the f___ it is
                    you're aiming at. But the voice inside you gets
                    louder as you get older, and you get more
                    directions from it. So on this album there's more
                    of a sense of self-assurance and more
                    awareness of what it is I'm trying to communicate
                    as an artist."

                    Faith and Courage is one of the best CDs of the
                    year. On her past albums, O'Connor's songs
                    burned with anger. Her new album, for which she
                    recruited a wide range of producers, including
                    hip-hopper Wyclef Jean, radiates forgiveness,
                    and the music is often as sweet and smooth as
                    strawberries and cream. A few tracks, including
                    The Healing Room, beam with sunny reggae
                    rhythms. The album is dedicated to "all Rastafari
                    people." In one song, What Doesn't Belong to
                    Me, O'Connor sings from the perspective of God,
                    rejecting the self-segregation in the world: "I'm
                    Irish, I'm English, I'm Muslim, I'm Jewish/ I'm a
                    girl, I'm a boy/ and the goddess meant for me
                    only joy." On another track, The Lamb's Book of
                    Life, O'Connor becomes Ireland itself, running
                    from history and searching for redemption in
                    America: "I know that I have done many things/
                    To give you reason not to listen to me/ ... Words
                    can't express how sorry I am."

                    Even when taking on the guises of God and
                    Ireland, of course, O'Connor seems to be singing
                    about herself. When she writes, the music flows
                    from some deep, hidden spring. "I don't ever sit
                    down and try to write songs," she says. "I believe
                    they write themselves and that they're in the air
                    and in your soul. I start hearing them inside
                    myself, and I don't make any effort; I just walk
                    around for a month or so and let the song sing
                    itself inside of me and then usually it's complete
                    before I try and sit down to work out the chords."

                    But back to the question of the day: What's the
                    deal with her becoming a priest?

                    "If you're going to put yourself in the position of
                    criticizing something, then you must feel that you
                    can do a better job," she says. "Well, if you feel
                    you could do a better job, then join the
                    organization and do what you can to change it. I
                    do believe in not throwing the baby out with the
                    bathwater. There are things that need to be
                    cleaned out within the church, but underneath all
                    of that there's a beautiful baby, this beautiful

                    She says her priest name is Mother Bernadette
                    Mary. And, she adds, her exact title is now
                    archdeacon. "Basically, I do all the things that
                    other priests do, allowing for the fact that I have
                    two children," she says. "Obviously my children
                    come first. So I do what I can. [But] I don't do
                    marriages. The reason I don't do marriages is
                    that people tend to want me to do them because
                    I'm a pop star. It's the Al Green
                    syndrome--everyone wants Al Green to marry
                    them because he's Al Green."

                    So is she celibate?

                    "I have a huge calling toward celibacy, which will
                    probably ultimately be the way I'll go," says
                    O'Connor. "Obviously I am a very sexual person,
                    and that's why it's a struggle." O'Connor opens
                    up her jacket to reveal her sleek figure. "I do
                    insist on wearing very feminine and feminine-cut
                    priest gear," she says. "And I don't feel that
                    being celibate means I have to cut off my
                    sexuality, because that's my life force."

                    O'Connor says No Man's Woman, the first single
                    off her new album, is actually about celibacy. A
                    few other songs, however, deal boldly with love
                    and lust. On Daddy I'm Fine, O'Connor cries out
                    about feeling "sexy underneath the lights" and
                    yearning to have sex with "every man in sight."
                    Her newfound calling clearly hasn't dampened her
                    rock-'n'-roll spirit. O'Connor may be a priest, but
                    she's no nun.