Saturday's edition of the Vatican's official newspaper absolves John Lennon of his notorious remark, saying that "after so many years it sounds merely like the boasting of an English working-class lad struggling to cope with unexpected success".
In a lengthy editorial marking the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' famous White Album, L'Osservatore Romano heaps lavish praise on the British band.
"The talent of Lennon and the other Beatles gave us some of the best pages in modern pop music," said the newspaper, which has recently tried to shake off its stuffy image by covering popular culture events such as the Oscars and inviting articles from Muslim and Jewish contributors.
Only "snobs" would dismiss the Beatles' songs, which had shown "an extraordinary resistance to the effects of time, providing inspiration for several generations of pop musicians", said the newspaper, regarded as the Vatican's official mouthpiece.
It was in March 1966 that Lennon made his infamous claim.
"Christianity will go," he told a reporter from the Evening Standard.
"It will vanish and shrink We're more popular than Jesus now - I don't know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity. Jesus was alright, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me." T
he boast provoked outrage, particularly in the United States, where conservative Christians burned piles of Beatles albums. The band received death threats and radio stations, particularly in the South, stopped playing Beatles records.
More than a decade later Lennon said he was glad of the furore he had caused. "My life with the Beatles had become a trap," he wrote in 1978.
"I always remember to thank Jesus for the end of my touring days; if I hadn't said that the Beatles were 'bigger than Jesus' and upset the very Christian Ku Klux Klan, well, Lord, I might still be up there with all the other performing fleas! God bless America. Thank you, Jesus."Original here