Irish singer Sinead O'Connor provoked national furor Monday after ripping up a picture of Pope John Paul II on a national TV show and calling him "the real enemy."
The incident on Saturday Night Live left the studio audience stunned.
From the show's conclusion through Monday, the network received more than 900 calls from people who didn't like the show _ and seven who did.
Since the incident, hundreds of other protests have been received and spokesmen for various Catholics groups have denounced her, saying she needs spiritual and professional help.
The New York Daily News called her a "Holy Terror" in its Page One report on the incident Monday.
The furor threatens to become greater than the protests two years ago when the nearly bald 25-year-old singer threatened to cancel a concert in New Jersey if the U.S. national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, was played. The show's organizers acceded to her demand, fearing a riot from thousands of fans if they did not.
NBC spokesmen said the insult to the pope was not scripted and took everyone at the show by surprise. "I want to emphasize it was a spontaneous act on her part and unauthorized," NBC spokesman Curt Block said.
"I was offended; the executive producer, Lorne Michaels, likewise was offended and surprised," Block said.
The gesture came at the end of O'Connor's performance of War, a song by the late Jamaican performer Bob Marley, who also was a critic of Catholicism. After she sang the lyrics, "We have confidence in the victory of good over evil," she raised a picture of the pope and tore it in two while turning to the TV camera and saying, "Fight the real enemy."
At the dress rehearsal Saturday afternoon, O'Connor tore up a picture of a child. "While that might be offensive to some viewers, we could allow that to go on the air," Block said.
That night, "when she went to the stage with a picture in her hand, no one thought anything of it," he said.
After the number, O'Connor went to her dressing room, reappeared for the "goodnight" segment, then left the building within 10 minutes.
A spokeswoman for O'Connor said the singer had returned to Ireland and would not comment.
Educated by Catholic nuns, O'Connor is opposed to church teachings on abortion, marriage and other social issues and is reported to have had two abortions in the past two years.
"It is a pity she embarrassed herself that way," said Frank DeRosa, a spokesman for Brooklyn Bishop Thomas Daily, of the incident. He added, "She needs some professional help _ and spiritual help wouldn't hurt, either."