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The Empire (State Building) Strikes Back: Cutting Bill Donohue's King-Kong-Sized Ego Down to Size

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The somewhat inexplicable furor over whether to light the Empire State Building up in blue and white lights on August 26 has rumbled on for months. It started when the president of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue, submitted an application to have the Empire State Building lit up in blue and white lights to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mother Teresa.

The ownership of the Empire State Building demurred. End of story, one would think. Well, only if you don't know Bill Donohue. In Donohue's own words, the Catholic League specializes in "public embarrassment of public figures who have earned our wrath." In addition to embarrassment, the organization uses intimidation, bullying and distortion to get its moment in the media spotlight, claiming to be defending a Catholic Church under siege. In three months, he has sent out some 80 press releases about this latest so-called controversy, and perhaps his most concise fundraising letter in a decade. Never let it be said that he doesn't have terrier-like qualities.

Several progressive Catholic organizations, including Catholics for Choice, wrote to the management company of the Empire State Building supporting its decision not to accede to Donohue's demands. The letter to the Empire State Building's management noted that "despite what Mr. Donohue says, his views do not represent those of the majority of Catholics nor are his beliefs indicative of Catholic teaching." It continued, "Mr. Donohue dishonestly claims to represent Catholics, asserting that he is a defender of the church whenever and wherever he perceives a slight. In fact, all that usually happens is that Mr. Donohue uses the opportunity to get his name in the news."

A conclusion of rampant anti-Catholic bias in America, where the highest court in the land counts six Catholics among its nine members, could reasonably be described as a figment of somebody's over-hyped imagination. But Donohue, whose organization was set up to counter alleged incidents of anti-Catholic bias, needs to find incidents of anti-Catholic bias to justify his job. Ergo, he continues to find hundreds of such incidents every year, including this decision by a private organization not to decorate a building in a certain manner on a certain date.

In a report we did on the Catholic League, we enumerate the key tactics that the organization uses: It manufactures controversy (often out of nothing); overstates its constituency (counting any contribution received as one and one half "members"); seeks to intimidate the "enemy"; bullies any opposition; complains early and often; attacks popular culture and silences the loyal opposition. His campaign against the Empire State Building has followed this MO to a T. However, Catholics have historically been disinterested in Bill Donohue and shunned his antics. There is no reason to believe that anything has been changed by the latest campaign.

Despite his claims to want to honor her, Bill Donohue has been ignoring Mother Teresa's legacy at every turn. Mother Teresa specifically opposed the use of her name for fundraising efforts or as part of any celebration. Mr. Donohue has used it for both. When she won the Nobel Prize, she only agreed to accept the award in person if the customary dinner were cancelled and the money given to charity. It was the only time that a celebratory dinner was not held. Not only is Donohue calling for a significant celebratory acknowledgment of Mother Teresa, he is also using this campaign to raise funds for his organization. Bill Donohue is a disgrace.

The letter from Catholics to the building management concludes:

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

Bill Donohue may have a King-Kong-sized ego, but it looks like the Empire State Building will survive this latest assault.

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