Page last updated at 22:20 GMT, Saturday, 22 November 2008

Vatican 'forgives' John Lennon

By David Willey
BBC News, Rome

John Lennon
At the time radio stations banned their music and concerts were cancelled

A Vatican newspaper has forgiven the late English singer John Lennon for saying four decades ago that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus.

In an article praising The Beatles, L'Osservatore Romano said Lennon had just been showing off.

Lennon told a British newspaper in 1966 - at the height of Beatlemania - that he did not know which would die out first, Christianity or rock and roll.

At the time, the comparison sparked controversy in the US.

The semi-official Vatican newspaper marked the 40th anniversary of The Beatles' "White Album" with an article praising Lennon and the Fab Four from Liverpool.

Youthful joke

The paper dismissed Lennon's much-criticised remark that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus Christ as a youthful joke.

The paper described the remark as "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".

Charles Wheeler on the reaction to John Lennon's claim in 1966

L'Osservatore Romano recently got a new editor and now - apart from chronicling the Pope's daily doings and printing the texts of papal speeches - it sometimes runs articles on entertainment on inside pages, together with extensive reporting on world affairs.

In a half-page illustrated article, the paper praised The Beatles for what it called their "unique and strange alchemy of sounds and words".

The newspaper said The Beatles's songs had shown an extraordinary capacity for survival and the White Album album remained a "magical musical anthology".

In another article on the same page entitled "Twilight of the gods" the newspaper lamented the passing of the golden days of Hollywood and said the mysterious fascination of the star system of Hollywood in the 1950s had been superseded by the cult of so-called celebrities.

Although Pope Benedict has criticised many aspects of modern pop culture, he now allows the newspaper of the tiny independent Vatican state to reflect the reality of the world outside in a way that would have been unthinkable in the days of Pope Paul VI who reigned during heyday of The Beatles.

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