Tom Petty Isn't 'Playing Dumb' About Church Sex Abuse Scandal on New Song

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Tom Petty headlines Day 4 of Bonnaroo

In a new track — and a blunt conversation — Petty won't back down when asked about a religious scandal

During his hard-fought, ascendant career, Tom Petty has often been labeled as intense. The artist wouldn't disagree — and a corrosive new track called "Playing Dumb" won't change anyone's mind. Though the song didn't make the new album — it was hard to sequence with the rest of the tracks, says Petty — it will be included as a bonus cut on the accompanying vinyl release.

Tom Petty: The Billboard Cover Story

Petty hitches back in his seat when "Playing Dumb" comes up. In the lyrics, he proposes lighting a candle "For every confession that wasn't on the level/For every man of God that lives with hidden devils."


The song mourns the victims of sex abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy, and takes aim at the controversial financial settlements the church eventually made. This is not a love song.

When asked about "Playing Dumb," Petty arches an eyebrow at the digital recorder before him. "Catholics, don't write me," he says. "I'm fine with whatever religion you want to have, but it can't tell anybody it's OK to kill people, and it can't abuse children systematically for God knows how many years."

Petty pauses, as if he's momentarily reluctant to continue. "If I was in a club, and I found out that there had been generations of people abusing children, and then that club was covering that up, I would quit the club. And I wouldn't give them any more money.

"I just felt that I was being asked to play dumb," says Petty, describing how the song emerged. "That, 'OK, well, they paid some money, so it's all over.' I don't trust that.

"Religion seems to me to be at the base of all wars," continues Petty, who was raised, unconvinced, among Southern Baptists. "I've nothing against defending yourself, but I don't think, spiritually speaking, that there's any conception of God that should be telling you to be violent. It seems to me that no one's got Christ more wrong than the Christians."