The Vatican's newspaper, Osservatore Romano, has come out lauding the Beatles while forgiving a remark by John Lennon declaring the Fab Four more famous than Jesus Christ.

The article, published this weekend, commemorates the 40th anniversary of the Beatles'  White Album. It also references a major controversy that blew up in the Beatles' faces.


The Beatles are seen performing on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York in this Feb. 9, 1964, photo. ((Associated Press))

Back in 1966, the Evening Standard in England published an interview with Lennon in which he was quoted as saying:

"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that. I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first — rock 'n' roll or Christianity."

Five months later, an American teen magazine called Datebook reprinted part of the quote on its front cover, sparking widespread protests in the American South and public burnings of Beatles records.

Lennon, who was killed in 1980, was shaken by the reaction and addressed the controversy in a news conference in Chicago on Aug. 11, 1966:

"I'm sorry I said it, really. I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious thing. I apologize if that will make you happy. I still do not know quite what I've done."

The Vatican accepted the apology.

In the Osservatore article, the writer says Lennon's comment now "sounds only like a 'boast' by a young working-class Englishman faced with unexpected success after growing up in the legend of Elvis and rock and roll."

The article goes on to hail the group as a force in musical history.

"The fact remains that 38 years after breaking up, the songs of the Lennon-McCartney brand have shown an extraordinary resistance to the passage of time, becoming a source of inspiration for more than one generation of pop musicians."