The Vatican's media marked the 40th anniversary of the "White Album" by dismissing as a "quip" John Lennon's notorious claim that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus Christ.
The Vatican's newspaper, Osservatore Romano, has come out lauding the Beatles while forgiving a remark by John Lennon declaring the Fab Four more famous than Jesus Christ.
Back in 1966, the Evening Standard in England published an interview with Lennon in which he was quoted as saying: "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that. I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first — rock 'n' roll or Christianity."
Five months later, an American teen magazine called Datebook reprinted part of the quote on its front cover, sparking widespread protests in the American South and public burnings of Beatles records.
Lennon, who was killed in 1980, was shaken by the reaction and addressed the controversy in a news conference in Chicago on Aug. 11, 1966:
"I'm sorry I said it, really. I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious thing. I apologize if that will make you happy. I still do not know quite what I've done." The Vatican accepted the apology.
In the Osservatore article, the writer says Lennon's comment now "sounds only like a 'boast' by a young working-class Englishman faced with unexpected success after growing up in the legend of Elvis and rock and roll."
The article goes on to hail the group as a force in musical history. "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."
Church historian and Catholic commentator Paul Collins states the opinions printed in the paper do not necessarily reflect those of thePope.
"It is checked on by the Secretariat of State, I suppose we would call it censored by the Secretariat of State which is really the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet within the Vatican," he said. "But while its articles on theology would certainly be taken as representing the Vatican's point of view, something like this John Lennon article sounds like a bit of a colour piece, as we would call it in Australia."
He says it would be a stretch to assume that the Pope has now forgiven Lennon for those controversial comments. "I think Benedict the 16th would hardly know who John Lennon was," he said. "I know that that might be surprising to many people, but the reality is that Joseph Ratzinger - Benedict the 16th - is a man whose entire interest is in classical music and more particularly in Mozart. "So I think it is quite unlikely that he would be a keen listener to John Lennon and very unlikely that he would care very much about John Lennon at all."
The editorial in L'Osservatore Romano was printed to mark the 40th anniversary of the release of the Beatles' White Album.
The paper describes the album as a magical musical anthology and says the Beatles songs have shown an extraordinary capacity for survival.
Paul Collins says that does not mean John Lennon has been proved correct. "If you were to count all Christians you would be getting up to close to two billion adherence," he said.
"I am sure that John Lennon had a lot of fans but I wonder if he had quite as many as that."