Sabrina Carpenter Ruffles Catholic Feathers In New Church Video

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(ANALYSIS) Religion and pop culture frequently intersect and this can create some rather strange bedfellows.

Can we see this in the news? Well, the mainstream media is largely a secular place, but pop-culture reporting — especially when it comes to celebrities — may be the most-secular niche of them all.

This brings us to recent headlines. The name Sabrina Carpenter may not mean anything to anyone over 25, but she was at the center of a major religion story just last week. Search the name “Sabrina Carpenter” and the word “church” in News Google and you’ll see what I’m referring to. The pop singer made news — and not just for her music — after her latest music video “Feather,” which was filmed at the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Brooklyn, New York.

The video shows Carpenter in an outfit not suitable for church as several men fight over her. It also shows her attending their funerals at the church with candy-colored coffins. One off those coffins includes the inscription “RIP B——.”

There was fallout. This is what Fox News reported on its website once church officials in Brooklyn caught wind of what had happened:

“The parish did not follow diocesan policy regarding the filming on Church property, which includes a review of the scenes and script,” the statement read.

While the parish initially claimed that the video’s production company “failed to accurately represent the video content,” an investigation into the matter concluded that documents given to the parish “while failing to depict the entirety of the scenes, clearly portray inappropriate behavior unsuitable for a church sanctuary.”

As a result, Brennan announced that the parish’s vicar, Monsignor Jamie Gigantiello, was relieved of his position and temporarily replaced with Auxiliary Bishop Witold Mroziewski, who took over all administrative responsibilities.

John Notaro, executive director of the Catholic Foundation of Brooklyn and Queens and Futures in Education, has also taken over Gigantiello’s administrative responsibilities for those respective organizations. Gigantiello, however, will still remain in the church as a pastor.

Prepare for a very important detail of a liturgical nature.

Following the announcement, Brennan and Monsignor Joseph Grimaldi celebrated a Mass of Reparation where the bishop blessed the altar with holy water.

Before this controversy made national news, it was a big story locally — where the Brooklyn diocese’s own newspaper The Tablet reported on the story, then provided a follow up. Here’s how that second piece opened:

On Saturday, Nov. 4, Bishop Robert Brennan presided over a Mass of Reparation at Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, after the desecration of the church during the filming of a music video.

Pop musician Sabrina Carpenter released a music video to her song “Feather” on Oct. 31, which includes scenes of the singer dancing and performing, sometimes provocatively, inside and outside the Brooklyn church, including in the sanctuary where the altar is located.

In the video, the sanctuary is also decorated with props, including different colored coffins scrawled with profane language, as well as candles, crosses, and a glass jug filled with a blood-colored liquid that bore the letters “RIP” on the front.

Bishop Brennan, aided by Msgr. Joseph Grimaldi, vicar general for the diocese, restored the sanctity of the church and repaired the harm during the Mass of Reparation.

The diocese’s TV channel, called Currents, was all over this story. While this was clearly a religion story, was it also a “celebrity” story? Of course, it was. While debates here at GetReligion often center on mainstream-media professionals missing a religion story, this could be a rare case of them missing both a religion story and a celebrity one.

Why? Well, it’s not every day that TMZ or People magazine have to handle a tricky liturgical topic such as a “Mass of reparation.”

Nonetheless, it would have been a wonderful chance for them — and the rest of the mainstream press — to do so. Instead, this was — once again — a story relegated to the Catholic press to explain the basic, relevant facts. It was subsequently picked up by the right-wing political press, as in Fox News.

Don’t get me wrong. The entertainment media did do the story — but not in a way practicing Catholics would have liked and lacking the broader context such an account needed.

People magazine reported the story with the headline, “Sabrina Carpenter’s ‘Feather’ Music Video Filmed in NYC Catholic Church Leaves Brooklyn Diocese ‘Appalled.’”

OK, that’s one way to put it. Another would have been, Sabrina Carpenter’s Sacrilegious ‘Feather’ Music Video Offends Catholics.” This was how the People story opened:

Sabrina Carpenter’s music video has ruffled some feathers.

Two days after the pop star, 24, released the music video for her hit song “Feather,” a Catholic bishop is taking issue with the fact that she filmed part of the visual in and outside of a church in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

OK, a feather pun. Nothing against that. I am, after all, a former New York Post reporter — a newspaper known for its clever, blunt tabloid headlines regarding everyone from disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner to former President Donald Trump.

But let’s talk about basic journalism. It’s the rest of the story that’s an issue. There is no reporting in this “report” at all. In fact, the entire story is a pick-up taken from the Catholic News Agency.

It should come as no surprise. The internet and its business model around clickbait has made such a practice commonplace over the past decade (and AI rewrites loom in the future).

In the meantime, the CNA story did have plenty of reporting in it and context. It even had a history of the church in question. Pop Buzz covered the story, but gave ample space to tweets from X users praising the singer. They also used “resanctifies” in the headline, which was a bit of a surprise, but then reported the following:

While the Catholic Church may be upset, Sabrina’s fans have celebrated the news and compared Sabrina to huge stars like Madonna and Lady Gaga who’ve previously upset the church with their antics. One person tweeted: “sabrina carpenter angering the catholic church…. main pop girl behavior i must say.”

Another wrote: “the church she filmed this in is trying to sue her omg REAL pop stars are back.”As it stands, Sabrina is yet to address the controversy. We shall update you if she does.

I understand getting both sides, but quoting fans who said good things about such an act was strange, but certainly satisfied the urges of both the editors there and the site’s readers. It’s kind of surprising that they didn’t seek out a reaction quote from Madonna.

Would the story done the same had this been a temple? A mosque? Any other house of worship belonging to a faith tradition outside Christianity? I don’t have the answers to that theoretical question, but it should certainly be one editors and reporters ask themselves when approaching such a story.

This originally ran at GetReligion.





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