US hip-hop singer Lauryn Hill stunned leading members of the Roman Catholic Church when she accused them of moral corruption, exploitation and abuse from the stage during a Christmas concert at the Vatican.
Hill, 28, launched her diatribe in front of an audience of 7,500 guests at a packed Paul VI hall, used by Pope John Paul II for indoor public audiences.
“I’m not here to celebrate, like you, the birth of Christ, but to ask you why you are not in mourning for his death in this place,” Hill said, reading from a prepared statement as she came on stage for her performance as part of a all-star gala concert.
“Holy God has witnessed the corruption of your leadership, of the exploitation and abuses which are the minimum that can be said for the clergy,” she added, calling on the hierarchy to “repent”.
Stunned hierarchy in the front row at Saturday night’s concert included one of the most senior figures in the church, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, who is head of the Italian bishops conference.
An aide to Ruini, Bishop Rino Fisichella, described the singer’s speech as “a rash outburst. An uneducated act showing a lack of respect for the place she was a guest and for those who invited her.”
The Holy See has been widely accused of failing to respond adequately to a pedophile scandal involving priests, particularly in the United States.
The US church has been under intense fire over the policy of some archdioceses of moving known child-abusing priests from parish to parish over decades.
Hill, a former member of The Fugees and winner of five Grammy Awards, said she was not speaking as a representative of any religious organisation.
Italian press reports today said her attack was unlikely to be included when the concert is broadcast on Italian television on December 24, Christmas Eve.
Other artists performing at the event, now in its 11th year, included Ronan Keating, Khaled, Randy Crawford, Solomon Burke, Kelly Joyce, Polish singer Natalia Kukulska, and American Gospel and Italian choirs.
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