Cher has upset Catholics with a song on her upcoming album Not.Com.mercial that refers to nuns as "daughters of Hell" and "masters of pain."
"Sisters of Mercy," which Cher wrote about her brief stay in a Catholic orphanage as an infant, is "extremely inflammatory" toward nuns and the Catholic Church, a spokesperson for a Catholic anti-defamation organization said.
"She's basically calling this order of nuns satanic," Patrick Scully of the Catholic League said.
Cher, 54, said her mother put her in a Sisters of Mercy-run orphanage while working at an all-night diner, intending it only as a temporary arrangement. But when she came to take her back, the singer/actress claims, the order told her mother to put Cher up for adoption because she was unfit to raise her. Cher said it took her mother six months to get her back.
"In God's house she's held a hostage by a cruel and heartless mob," Cher sings in the song. "Sisters of Mercy, daughters
of hell, they always weave the web of lies and wrap you in their wicked spell. Sisters of Mercy, masters of pain, they try to crucify your innocence and do it in God's name."
The song, which Cher penned in 1994, appears on the singer's new Not.Com.mercial CD, which will be sold beginning Wednesday only via cher.com. Cher also refers to nuns as "mothers of shame," "twisters of truth" and "daughters of war" in the tune, and calls the orphanage "a dark and dangerous place."
"Cher is apparently, whether for publicity or for her personal catharsis, wrestling with some ancient demons and putting them out in public with the Sisters of Mercy as her target," said Sister Camille D'Arienzo, president of the Brooklyn regional chapter of the Sisters of Mercy.
"While we have to take responsibility for the small minority of us who might not have been kind, I think Cher, as a person with a lot of talent and influence,
has to take responsibility for the effect of her charges on the good work that the Sisters of Mercy do."
The Sisters of Mercy serve poor and sick people, with a focus on women and children, according the to order's Web site at www.sistersofmercy.org.
D'Arienzo said if Cher's recollections are accurate, "every one of us would feel tremendous sadness on her behalf."
"I'm not about to judge her or argue with her, but she's also a creative artist, and sometimes a person's artistic ability makes the truth a little bit illusive," she continued. "What I know from 49 years as a Sister of Mercy is that the vast majority of us approach those in our care with a sense of sacred trust. We give our lives to this."
D'Arienzo said she hoped Cher would consider speaking with the Sisters of Mercy about her time at the orphanage.
Scully said that if Cher's account is true, her bitterness is "ridiculous."
"If she had a problem with a gay person when she was little, does that mean she can gay-bash 50 years later?" he said. "If she had a problem with a minority, does that mean she can be a racist 50 years later?"
Cher issued a statement on the criticism Friday (November 3), saying, "This is not an apology, it is an explanation. The song in question is about a specific incident in my mother's life, when she felt desperate and helpless against an establishment. This is not a condemnation of the Catholic Church."
Cher added that she wanted to be a nun when she attended Catholic school as a child, and said she has known "many wonderful and loving nuns in my life. I don't mean to be disrespectful to any religion. I try never to be intolerant. As a matter of fact, if you listen to the last line of 'Sisters of Mercy,' it says 'God waits for us all.' "
"Sisters of Mercy" was one of the first songs Cher offered as a free sample from Not.Com.mercial on her Web site
in advance of the album's release.
"To be honest with you, I think she needed an angle to sell her CD," Scully said. "Let's face it, this is a Cher CD it's not exactly Sgt. Pepper's. This is another instance of Hollywood and the entertainment industry using Catholic imagery in a negative way to try and sell their [work]."
In an interview Tuesday, Cher said she wrote the song for her mother.
"My mother felt so helpless, and helplessness is a terrible thing," she said. "I haven't spent much time being helpless, but the times I've been helpless, it's really rubbed me the wrong way. And I think too many people in our country feel that way. I feel it's important to write about things that hurt you or bother you that could be hurting other people."
Not.Com.mercial comes with a warning label that its contents are not suitable for children. "I just think it's my responsibility to let people know that this is darker material with more
adult themes and language, and I just don't think kids should have it," Cher said.
Cher also said she gave the LP a warning label because she didn't want the album to be taken as the "official" follow-up to her 1998 LP, Believe. She is in the midst of recording a dance-oriented album for release next year.