Just put the lights on, for Mother Teresa’s sake

I don’t know much about Anthony Malkin other than that he must be a very rich man.

He is the president of a company started by his grandfather that owns about 10 million square feet of commercial property in the New York area.

Including the Empire State Building.

You may have heard during the last 24 hours that the Catholic League would like to see the Empire State Building lights turn blue and white on Aug. 26 to mark the 100th anniversary of Mother Teresa’s birth.

The Empire State Building denied the request and the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue blew another casket. He’s planning a demonstration outside the ESB on Aug. 26 instead.

“Malkin has made his decision to stiff Catholics,” Donohue says.

In a statement, Malkin says: “The Empire State Building celebrates many cultures and causes in the world community with iconic lightings, and has a tradition of lightings for the religious holidays of Easter, Eid al Fitr (marking the end of Ramadan), Hanukkah, and Christmas.

He adds that the privately owned building “has a specific policy against any other lighting for religious figures or requests by religions and religious organizations.”

The thing is, the ESB lit up in honor of Cardinal O’Connor when he died in 2000 and in honor of Pope John Paul II when he died in 2005.

So the building’s ownership has a history of honoring religious figures and of not stiffing Catholics.

The picture shows the building lit up in 1995 to mark the 80th birthday of Frank Sinatra (who, by most accounts, was not as nice a person as Mother Teresa).

In a brief Q&A with the NYT in September, Malkin suggested that lighting decisions are informal and not taken all that seriously. Here’s the key part:


Q. One thing about the Empire State Building that isn’t changing is the night lighting that makes the building a distinctive part of the city’s skyline. Who decides the tower light colors?

A. Our brand manager. We get hundreds of requests a year.

We try to use the lighting to celebrate everybody who thinks highly of the building. We do important Western holidays, we have fun with the Mets versus the Yankees or the Jets versus the Giants. We also are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. And we use light to celebrate Id al-Fitr, the festivities at the end of the Ramadan fast.

Q. And the newest celebration?

A. The 40th anniversary and the grand reopening of El Museo del Barrio. It’s going to be on Oct. 14. All yellow.


The People’s Republic of China? The reopening of the El Museo del Barrio?

So why not light up for Mother Teresa?

Make everyone happy and end the controversy. It makes sense. It’s good business. Who would disagree (other than Christopher Hitchens)?

Your grandfather would probably be proud, Mr. Malkin.

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

On the wrong side of the Catholic League

Way back in ’97, I profiled Bill Donohue, the new boss of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, who was getting a lot of press for going after a TV show called “Nothing Sacred” (which went off the air soon after).

billdonhue.jpegAt the time, Donohue told me:

Many Catholics tend to be more passive, more diplomatic. I have declared that this organization will be responsibly aggressive. If we’re Catholic, we have to be responsible. But if we’re a civil rights organization, we have to be aggressive. I’m tired of the namby-pamby Catholic approach – turn the other cheek; don’t rock the boat. Not us.

In recent days, Donohue’s aggressiveness has been aimed here at the Journal News/LoHud.

Some background: For months now, I’ve been doing advance coverage of the papal visit. We have a website with several videos about the pope, graphics and articles. In addition, of course, I’ve written several articles for the newspaper. And I blog about the pope just about daily.

We have plenty more coverage planned. I’ve already completed an article about Pope Benedict XVI’s concerns about religious and moral relativism, which will run any day now. And we have a bunch of other articles in the works.

One of those articles — one — is about lapsed Catholics. The fact is that there are a lot of lapsed or former or non-practicing Catholics in New York. Everybody knows a few or even many. So what does the papal visit mean to them? Do they miss having a sense of connection to the Catholic community? How do they relate to the pope?

The idea is not to give people an open forum to criticize the pope, but to recognize a sizable group of people. Again, it’s one article out of dozens.

The reporter working on this story, Ernie Garcia, decided to put a message out on LoHud asking “lapsed Catholics” who might have something to say about the pope to contact him. This is an example of what’s called “crowd-sourcing,” a popular journalistic convention these days that basically seeks to have people come to us instead of us always going to them.

The Catholic League somehow came across Ernie’s message. Bill Donohue put out a response that is difficult to summarize, so here it is:

This is a gift the pope will surely cherish—knowing how ex-Catholics feel about their former religion. We’d like to return the favor and that is why we have secured the e-mails of 134 Journal News employees, ranging from the Publisher, Michael J. Fisch, to the Gardening & Horticultural Editor, Gayle Williams (sorry, Gayle, but someone has to be last). We are sending them the following survey:

Protestants: Given that no religious group switches denominations more than Protestants, can you tell us what it feels like to bounce around from one contiguous neighborhood to another in search of the ideal church.

Jews: Given that the vast majority of Jews do not attend synagogue and that 52 percent of them intermarry, can you tell us what it feels like to be a non-Jewish Jew.

Muslims: Given that Muslims who convert may be murdered, can you tell us if you’ve at least fantasized about converting.

“Please vet your remarks by first reporting to Ernie Garcia. We have appointed Ernie The Journal News liaison to the Catholic League.”

We all got a chuckle out of it.

Bob Fredericks, who is the deputy managing editor for local news here, sent an email to a communications person for the Catholic League, suggesting that they take a look at our overall pope coverage. He didn’t get a response, so he called the office yesterday.

He was told that the Catholic League was not interested in anything but the “lapsed Catholic” message.

This morning, Donohue was on “Fox & Friends” on Fox TV, and I’m told that he singled out the Journal News for criticism.

So there you go.


What happens when you accept an endorsement from an anti-Catholic pastor?

As soon as I say that faith has been cut out of the presidential race (see post below), it’s back. Sort of.

John McCain’s enthusiastic acceptance of an endorsement from fundamentalist pastor John Hagee is being criticized from numerous sides.

tjndc5-5ix47gpwemgrx5rocb5_layout.jpgHagee, who pastors a huge church in San Antonio and is at the forefront of evangelical support for Israel, happens to have a history of attacking the Roman Catholic Church.

You can hear Hagee “explain” his theories on YouTube.

The Catholic League, not surprisingly, does not appreciate McCain’s eagerness to fly to San Antonio to stand by Hagee’s side. Or Mike Huckabee’s disappointment at not getting Hagee’s endorsement.

The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue:

If Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama were fighting over the support of Louis Farrakhan, we’d say they’re nuts. So what are we to conclude about McCain’s embrace of Hagee, and Huckabee’s lament for not getting the bigot’s endorsement?

ADD: McCain just sent out this statement:

Yesterday, Pastor John Hagee endorsed my candidacy for president in San Antonio, Texas. However, in no way did I intend for his endorsement to suggest that I in turn agree with all of Pastor Hagee’s views, which I obviously do not.

I am hopeful that Catholics, Protestants and all people of faith who share my vision for the future of America will respond to our message of defending innocent life, traditional marriage, and compassion for the most vulnerable in our society.

(Photo: AP/Gerald Herbert)