Anger over Sabrina Carpenter's music video reveals the Catholic Church's broken priorities
The pop star's provocative video led to a punishment for the priest who approved the filming
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What the hell did the Catholic Church think was going to happen when representatives of a young female pop star asked to rent out one of their buildings to film a music video?
24-year-old actor/singer Sabrina Carpenter made the video for her song “Feather” at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel-Annunciation parish in Brooklyn, and the release of the video on Halloween ruffled all kinds of feathers within the Diocese of Brooklyn, which, days later, relieved the priest who allowed the filming to take place of his administrative duties.
The church’s pastor, Msgr. Jamie J. Gigantiello, gave Ms. Carpenter’s team permission for the filming, but the diocese said that he had not followed “diocesan policy regarding the filming on Church property, which includes a review of the scenes and script.”
In response to the video, Bishop Robert J. Brennan celebrated a Mass of Reparation, which the diocese said “restored the sanctity of this church and repaired the harm.”
Not long afterward, Bishop Brennan relieved Monsignor Gigantiello of his administrative oversight of the parish.
If saying some magic words is all it took to fix the supposed damage, then it’s hard to understand why the priest got in trouble or why Church officials are flipping out. After all, of all the horrible things to happen inside the Catholic Church, the filming of a provocative music video has to be near the bottom of the list.
(In case you’re wondering, the Diocese of Brooklyn faced nearly 600 lawsuits after the state passed a law in 2019 giving survivors of childhood sexual abuse more power to seek justice against their alleged assailants. Those lawsuits named 230 clergy members.)
The song itself is about breaking up with guys who don’t put any effort into a relationship (“I feel so much lighter / Like a feather / With you out my life”). The video shows a bunch of men fighting over Carpenter—literally; there’s a bloody fight in which no one involved survives. Some of the men sexually harass her; they’re not spared either. The final 45 seconds feature Carpenter in a skimpy dress, dancing around the altar, with a crucifix around her neck, surrounded by pastel-colored coffins of the men who wronged her.
There’s nothing explicitly anti-Catholic in this video unless you count using the sacred environment in a distinctly un-Catholic way… to bring joy to people. Church officials seem to be most offended that one of their buildings was tarnished by someone popular using it as a scenic backdrop for a song you’d never hear in church.
A Nov. 2 statement from the Diocese of Brooklyn to CNA said that Bishop Brennan “is appalled at what was filmed at Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Brooklyn.”
“The parish did not follow diocesan policy regarding the filming on Church property, which includes a review of the scenes and script,” the statement said.
The parish reportedly told the diocese that the production company “failed to accurately represent the video content,” with the diocese adding that Brennan “is taking this matter seriously and will be looking into it further.”
While it’s unclear what the production team told the church, I still wonder what officials thought this video would be about. On November 6, Gigantiello posted an apology on Facebook saying that he agreed to let the filming occur in September after “a general search of the artists involved did not reveal anything questionable.” What did he Google?! Her videos are exactly what you’d expect from a former Disney child star-turned-pop princess. They’re more interesting—and more risqué—than your standard church fare. She’s also been openly supportive of LGBTQ people, unlike the Catholic Church. Even if the filming, as he says, was mostly supposed to take place “outside, near the church, which it was,” the substance doesn’t change. Did he think her team wanted to use the building for a prayer session?!
As to why this was filmed in a Catholic church, the answer seems fairly obvious: It’s most familiar to casual viewers. Say what you will about Catholicism, but its iconography is famous enough that artists have been making references to it for centuries. To those who imply this would never have happened at a mosque… well, yeah. Most people aren’t familiar with Islam, so the impact of the scene would’ve been negligible. That’s the price Catholics pay for being part of a religion with distinct churches and massive reach.
The irony is that Gigantiello said he approved the project “in an effort to further strengthen the bonds between the young creative artists who make up a large part of this community and the parish.” Church officials could have turned this video into a recruiting tool—or at least a tourist hotspot for a few months. Instead, they’re acting like victims even though a popular singer gave them free publicity. It’s a controversy of their own making. I doubt anyone watching this video came away from it with any new negative thoughts about the church. It’s the Diocese leaders who turned this a bigger deal than it actually was. (I don’t say this often, but they should’ve followed the example of the Mormon Church.)
While the New York Times reports that some of the people who attended the “Mass of Reparation” were “visibly upset by what had been filmed inside their church,” it seems like actual parishioners there don’t seem to care. They’re fully in support of their leader regardless of how they feel about the video.
As it stands, the only thing the Catholic Church has accomplished by complaining about this video and punishing the pastor is introducing Carpenter to new fans.