DignityNY on the Catholic League Empire State Building Controversy

As the centennial of Mother Teresa's birth is marked on August 26, 2010, DignityNY wishes to clarify its position on the Empire State Building controversy.

DignityNY and a number of other progressive Catholic organizations have joined in condemning the Catholic League's tactics of intimidation and bullying the Empire State Building's management company. The League requested that the building be lit in blue and white to honor Mother Teresa's centennial day. The management company, in accordance with longstanding policy that prohibits recognition of religious figures, denied the request. The League and its president, William Donohue, then threatened boycotts, demonstration and negative publicity, calling the company's actions "anti-Catholic."

While we certainly honor the good works the Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity have performed, we also respect private companies' right to manage their businesses in ways they deem appropriate. Even-handed application of standing policy should be respected, and not seized upon to make a media moment for any group.

Below is the text of the letter on which DignityNY is a co-signer.

Dear Mr. Malkin,

We, the undersigned progressive Catholic organizations, urge you to continue to withstand the bullying tactics and intimidation that are the hallmark of Bill Donohue and his organization the Catholic League. His views do not represent the vast majority of Catholics nor Catholic teachings.

As is often the case, Bill Donohue has manufactured a controversy out of nothing. The 100th anniversary Mother Teresa’s birth has provided him with the perfect opportunity to demonstrate his tactics and is a classic example of how he operates.

The Catholic League serves as an attack dog for the radical right, helping it to promote its misogynist and homophobic agenda. He dishonestly claims to represent Catholics, presenting himself as a modern day Crusader defending the church in order to make the organization seem legitimate, when in fact usually all that happens is Bill Donohue finds another opportunity to get his name in the news over some spurious slight.

In fact, as he has noted himself, the Catholic League specializes in “public embarrassment of public figures who have earned our wrath.”It is telling that one does not have to have actually done anything wrong to earn his wrath. We are not alone in our view of Bill Donohue. Mark Silk, the director of Trinity College’s Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life noted, Donohue is “a thug. He reverts to bullying because he thinks that’s what the job entails.” We agree.

Catholics in the United States support pluralism, diversity and the freedom to criticize important and powerful institutions including the Catholic hierarchy. Most U.S. Catholics realize that the days of outright anti-Catholic bigotry are long gone and are willing to allow their religion and church to be fairly critiqued in art, politics and the media. When people listen to the Catholic League, they are listening to a radical voice from the far right with an agenda that is not in keeping with the values of U.S. Catholics.

Donohue is only effective when fear or ignorance is allowed to trump common sense and freedom of expression.  His organization’s impact would be muted if those caught in its snare would take a moment, as you have done, to examine the charges, rather than react rashly for fear of offending some nonexistent constituency that Donohue claims to represent.

As progressive Catholic organizations, we say, enough. As those who know her work have attested, Mother Teresa rarely celebrated herself, and would, we are sure, be appalled to hear that this anniversary of her birth had created such a storm. There are many ways to mark the life of Mother Teresa, and true to form Bill Donohue has chosen the wrong one. We urge you to stand firm and withstand whatever vitriol that comes your way from the Catholic League.


Call To Action
Catholics for Choice
Chicago Women-Church
Dignity/New York
FOSIL (Faithful of Southern Illinois)
National Coalition of American Nuns
New Ways Ministry
Roman Catholic Womenpriests-USA 
Take Back Our Church
Women-Church Baltimore
Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual
Women's Ordination Conference