More on the Empire State Building’s snubbing of Mother Teresa

Last night the Empire State Building was illuminated with what I am guessing were the colors of the Brazilian flag, because of a game.

From CNA:

Other Mother Teresa birthday plans on offer after Empire State Building refusal

New York City, N.Y., Jun 13, 2010 / 05:49 pm (CNA).- Other activities to honor Mother Teresa in New York City are being planned after the Empire State Building operators said they would not light the building in the blue and white of the Missionaries of Charity on the religious sister’s 100th birthday. The Catholic League continues to question the consistency of the policy and plans a protest.

The Catholic League had asked the Empire State Building’s management to light the building on August 26, but the request was declined.

According to a statement on the building’s website, its guidelines do not accommodate requests for “religious figures” or requests by “religions and religious organizations.” It claimed all organizations agree to these guidelines upon submitting a lighting request. [Read on!]

The official Empire State Building Lighting Partner program was established in August 2006 after prior management was replaced.

However, in a June 11 statement, Catholic League president Bill Donohue noted that on April 25 last year the towers were lighted with blue and white on honor of the Salesian sisters.

He also claimed that there was “no such guideline that I had to agree to up front.”

“Indeed, if there had been such a rule, I would never have bothered to fill out the application.”

Donohue, who provided a copy of his application for a lighting scheme request, charged that the policy was being “made up” because the building management is “on the run.”

[Therefore…] “So they not only refuse to honor Mother Teresa, they are lying about their indefensible decision,” he charged, announcing that a planned protest at the building will go forward.

Many New Yorkers had critical reactions to the building’s decision.

"They are stupid to deny her the lights. They’ll regret it in the afterlife. It’s dumb, dumb, dumb," commented former Mayor Ed Koch, according to the New York Post. "Mother Teresa deserves the highest honors. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus — all of us think she’s a saint.”

The former mayor fondly recalled meeting Mother Teresa at Gracie Mansion, the Post reports.

Gov. Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg declined to comment, [sheesh] but Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio criticized Empire State Building owner Anthony E. Malkin.

"The fact that the Empire State Building Lighting Partners has honored others, including an oppressive Chinese regime, but refuses to do so for a compassionate humanitarian like Mother Teresa is stunning,” Lazio commented, referring to the building’s red and yellow lighting scheme which marked the 60th anniversary of the Communist revolution in China.  [I saw that.  It was really annoying.]

A statement on the Empire State Building’s website said “We are saddened by the hateful words and messages being generated both for and against lighting for Mother Teresa’s 100th birthday.”  [Awwww…. ]

The building management said emotions should be directed towards community service and those who are opposed to the decision should be “dignified and respectful in their dialogue.”

The New York City Council is offering a day of service for August 26 to honor Mother Teresa’s legacy. Mayor Mike Bloomberg and others are planning to do volunteer work.

City Council president Christine Quinn has called on New Yorkers to put blue and white battery-operated lights in their windows and the city’s borough halls are planning to show the colors, Fox News reports.

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  1. Jane says:

    The refusal to honour Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, probably highlights her greatness. She has to be ignored because she is too good!

  2. Theodorus says:

    “We are saddened by the hateful words and messages….”

    Oh really? How could they feel sad while their hearts are no less hardened than the Pharaoh’s? Can they say something that isn’t a lie?

  3. adeodato says:

    The Empire State Building is making the right decision here — if one religious figure is given deference, where will it stop? Green for Muhammad’s birthday? Multi-color for Bahai days. Of note, the empire state building keeps its green/red Chirstmas colors for the full 12 days!

  4. wanda says:

    But it’s perfectly fine to light up the building to honor the brutal Communist regime of China, responsible for murdering at least 50 million people? Oh, and it must be ok to light up the building to celebrate gay pride, etc. in rainbow colors? Ooops, sorry for the hateful words and messages.

    Here is my guess about why Blessed Mother Teresa is being snubbed… she resoundingly and un-equivocally spoke out always and everywhere that ABORTION IS MURDER. The liberals, the pro-aborts simply will not have her be honored. Period.

  5. therecusant says:


    you miss the point entirely. in the first place, the celebration is for her 100th birthday. it would not be an annual event, so there is no comparison to “Bahai days” or other yearly non-Christian celebrations.

    secondly, she wouldn’t be honored as a religious figure. she is a religious figure who would be honored for her legendary work caring for the poor.

  6. wanda says:

    If anyone wishes, you may visit the Catholic League Web-site to find contact information for the buildings owner, Michael Malkin and an email contact for the ‘PR genius’ as Bill Donohue called him, who manages the building.

  7. ipadre says:

    What else can we expect in a pagan society!

    I wonder what Anti-Catholicism will look like in another year or two. We think it’s bad now. I think we will need to hold on to our hats and put our seat belts on in the future. All for the glory of God!

  8. Leonius says:

    “The building management said emotions should be directed towards community service and those who are opposed to the decision should be “dignified and respectful in their dialogue.”

    ie, you all need to shut up.

    PR speak makes me want to vomit.

    Our emotions are going to continue to be directed towards your insult the memory of a woman who is in the dictionary under the definition of community service.

    “The Empire State Building is making the right decision here—if one religious figure is given deference, where will it stop?” ~ adeodato

    How about her been honoured as a great humanitarian and Noble prize winner? Who also happens to be Catholic, but no we cant have anyone learning that Catholics are actually good people sometimes, can’t let the masses hear about that oh no they must be told all Catholics are evil and will hurt your children, you must hate the Catholics they are eviiillll…

  9. adeodato says:

    I am not missing the point at all! NYC is comprised of millions of people, all of differnt faiths, cultures, langauges, etc. Allowing the colors to change for one indivdual, of a particular faith, at one particlar occasion would be a troublesome precedent for the management of the ESB.

    Secondly, the significance of the color change would be lost on many — the ESB is blue and white for almost every Israeli/Jewish holiday!

  10. I do not doubt that Bill Donohue’s heart is in the right place. I must add that I find no evidence of good judgment in the battles he chooses, and I abhor his tactics.

    I really do believe that he has the best interests of the Church at heart, but I am also thoroughly convinced that his helmsmanship at the Catholic League has done and will continue to do a real disservice to the Church.

    I am frankly appalled at the use of so great a figure as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta as, to adapt a phrase inspired by Mark Shea’s pithy take on the situation (and let me say this is the first time I can remeber that I find myself agreeing with Mark on, well, anything), a trope.

    I am especially disgusted by the use of this holy woman’s memory in order to engage in uncharity – the only adequate word that I can find for Donohue’s attempt to take an eminently defensible decision by ESB management, and impugn it as biased on its face, in an attempt to force ESB management into making some public statement that will be plausibly colored as anti-Catholic.

    I am very sensible, indeed, of the need for clear and uncompromisingly Catholic presence in the public square. I cannot, however, reconcile Donohue’s tactics with the requirement placed on us in 1 Peter 3:15-16.

  11. kradcliffe says:

    I agree with Chris. I think this is a stupid thing to protest about, and no real good will come of it.

  12. ErnieNYC says:

    THe colors were not for Brazil, or the world cup…they were for Caribbean Tourism week, according to the lighting schedule. Stay tuned for Lavender for Gay Pride Week next week. A few years back, it was yellow to celebrate Snapple beverages.

    Yet somehow, Blessed Mother Teresa is an inappropriate honoree? Deplorable.

  13. Charivari Rob says:

    I really wasn’t that bothered when it came out that ESB people wouldn’t schedule the lighting event. It’s their building, after all. It would be nice if they did, of course.

    I can see, however, how most of their recent lighting theme selections (as seen on their website) demonstrate a certain emphasis on New York area events, New York connections, or how national and world events are viewed through a New York area lens. This points to a possible answer to the “But – They recognized the Salesians last year!” argument. The Salesians had just marked the centennial of their arrival in the area. Mother Theresa’s order has had a presence in the area for a couple of decades, at least, but she herself spent little of her time in New York.

    I do think they do themselves a disservice the more they say, though. They would have done better to stick with “request declined, thank you”, “no comment”, and eventually posting what they do have scheduled for that date at their normal advance-notice interval.

    I really wonder at the fight Mr. Donohue is picking on this issue. I also recall his recent, moderately indignant defense of his compensation package. I hope he’s not pursuing this on “company time”.

  14. therecusant says:


    by your logic, no individual could ever be recognized for anything. every person either claims a particular religious faith or rejects religious faith. your logic dictates that lighting the empire state building is tantamount to endorsing their belief (or unbelief). pluralism run amok leads to a naked public square.

  15. Leonius says:

    “I am very sensible, indeed, of the need for clear and uncompromisingly Catholic presence in the public square. I cannot, however, reconcile Donohue’s tactics with the requirement placed on us in 1 Peter 3:15-16.”

    Well Mr. Altieri if you will read protestant versions of the bible which the NIC is then of course you won’t understand things correctly.

    “15 But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you.

    16 But with modesty and fear, having a good conscience: that whereas they speak evil of you, they may be ashamed who falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.” 1 Peter 3:15-16.

    I see nothing in that scripture which condemns Mr. Donohue.

    As for Mr. Donohue’s leadership of the Catholic League his record speaks for itself and I utterly reject your uncharitable judgement of him and his work, he does far more for the Chruch and for Catholics than you or me and before you start talking about charity it would do you good to actually know what it means, it dos not mean always been nice and polite.

    Christ was no less charitable when accusing the Pharisees of been the sons of Satan or of being a nest of Vipers He was still practising charity even when raging at the money lenders in the temple and physically attacking them. Is your idea of what charity is compatible with such actions of Christ I ask you? Because I tell you Christ was perfect charity and yet He did things your current definition of the word would seem to condemn.

    It is charitable to defend the Church against those who oppose her and to seek to honour people like Mother Theresa who deserve all the accolades we can give her. In doing what he is doing Mr. Donohue is practicing charity in several ways.

    It is charity to the Chruch in defending her right to honour her great saints on an equal level as secular heroes are honoured. It is charity to Catholics who lack the ability to make their own voices heard. And it is charity to the whole world by making them aware of this great catholic woman who is worthy of imitation and whose imitation would make this world a much greater place for all of us.

    Frank Sinatra has been honoured, Mariah Carey has been honoured Mother Theresa is not been honoured solely on the grounds of her religious affiliation, if she had not been Catholic they would have honoured her, that, Mr. Altieri is blatant religious discrimination of the most obvious kind and is exactly what the Catholic League exist to combat, and it must be combated.

  16. Dear Leonius,

    If you must know, it is Dr. Altieri.

    I read the Bible in Latin, mostly.

    It rarely happens that I need to have recourse to the Greek NT, but I do alright when it does.

    For Hebrew questions, I generally consult with and defer to my friends at the Biblicum.

    When I made the link, I did not even look at the version, truth be told. It was hardly the point.

    I am reasonably familiar with the history of the Church’s reflection on the nature of charity, having written a book-length essay on the nature of virtue in the two cities of Augustine’s De civitate Dei (my Ph.L. thesis at the Pontifical Gregorian University), among other things.


  17. Leonius,

    I did not offer any definition of charity. You have foisted a scritpurally inadequate and even silly definition upon me, but it is not mine: I do not own it.

    As a matter of fact, I agree with everything you say about Jesus practicing perfect charity. He is the incarnation of perfect charity.

    I am, however, at a loss as to how the following is pertinent:

    He was still practising charity even when raging at the money lenders in the temple and physically attacking them.

    Jesus, like the ESB operators, owned the building.


  18. TJerome says:

    I like Bill Donohue’s New York feistiness. He’s no diplomat, but you know where you stand with him. We have enough wimps – they’re generally called bishops in the US (I apologize to the few who aren’t)

  19. Leonius says:

    Mr. Altieri you did not offer a definition but you are working from one, one which can be deduced from what you do not consider charitable.

    In your definition what Mr. Donohue is doing does not qualify as charitable, however I suggest Mr. Donohue is not doing anything against Christian Charity and suggest your definition of charity and Christian charity are different things. It is Christian charity that we are called as Christians to practice, and in Christian charity the first consideration must always be the rights of God.

    “Jesus, like the ESB operators, owned the building.”

    Ah a misdirection rather than answer, you can win arguments with such tactics but you will not find the truth of a matter. Was Christ acting charitably when He destroyed the stalls of the money lenders and attacked them with a scourge according to what you understand charity to be Mr. Altieri? If your understanding of charity requires you to answer no then you can be sure your understanding of charity is not lacking.

  20. irishgirl says:

    I like Bill Donohue’s feistiness, too-he’s an Irish pit bull!

    I’d rather see Blessed Mother Teresa honored at the ESB than the Communist Chinese.

  21. Leonius says:


    Your understanding of charity would be lacking.

  22. Gail F says:

    The thing that gets me is that they lit the building to recognize the 60th anniversary of the Chinese revolution. Recognize religious figures or don’t recognize them — as long as you do it consistently, which they don’t seem to have done — I really don’t care. But it is disgusting that any American property would “honor” a revolution that killed and enslaved millions of people and that has a government that still oppresses more than a billion people. So IMHO, having done that, they don’t have much to defend about their supposed “policy” on who gets recognized. China is okay but Mother Theresa isn’t?

  23. Supertradmum says:

    Mother Teresa is in Heaven and Mao is one of the biggest murderers in the last century. How did our culture get to this idiotic stage of not honoring true heroes? Mother Teresa, pray for us and ask God to have mercy on America.

    None of us should be wimps anymore.

  24. Supertradmum says:

    PS for those who do not like the protest. If we do not stand up for truth in the marketplace, no one else will. If we do not try to change the culture, it will get worse. Iceland has a gay president and just passed universal gay marriage for the country. Do you want America to follow? There is a connection between the silence of those who object and the arrogance of the loud minority in these cases. Lights for Mother Teresa vs. lights for Gay Day? Anyone who does not think these symbolic actions are important are doomed to live in a tyranny where Catholicism will be openly persecuted. Symbols mean something-even white and blue lights. Symbols change people’s minds and are part of propaganda as well as religion….

  25. wanda says:

    Hoo-rah, Supertradmum! All it takes for evil to prosper is for good (Catholic/Christian) people to do nothing, sit-down and shut up.

    Not anymore.

  26. Supertradmum says:


    gratias, and I am sure you agree with me that we do not want concentration camps for Catholics in our future.

  27. John 6:54 says:

    1. Put some pressure on the tenants, you know the ones who pay the bills.

    2. Rent some flood lights and blast the Empire State building with blue and white lights until they change their mind. There is plenty of time to get this done.

  28. elmo says:

    I am grateful to Dr. Altieri for his comments and am glad that somebody had the nerve to say what I have been thinking about this entire non-issue. To me the spectacle of Catholics demanding that Caesar’s building (it is called the EMPIRE state building) honor Mother Teresa is nonsensical. Christians are never more away from the gospel than when we are trying to grab power and never closer to Christ than when we allow ourselves to persecuted by the powers of the world. Catholics everywhere should stand up and assert our rights as citizens in the public square but that doesn’t mean we have any right to impose ourselves on the private property of others.

    The irony is Mother Teresa would never have wanted Christians to remember her in such a way. I would think that she would much prefer that we honor her by loving the poor and the sick and needy in our midst, especially in our families, and loving our enemies, as she did, as Christ did.

  29. Leonius says:

    Elmo we have a right to not be discriminated against because of our religious beliefs according to the US law, and US law applies no matter who owns the property.

    This action in no way prevents Catholics from loving the poor and the sick and the needy nor does it stop us from loving our enemies, it is in the best interests of the Empire State building to respect God and His servant Mother Teresa. Saints never want to be declared saints but not their will but Gods be done and if through them God is glorified I doubt they would object to that.

  30. Supertradmum says:

    Mother Teresa won a Nobel Prize from a secular institution. She was and is not only a spiritual figure, but a global person of charity and leadership for the third world. We Christians are not trying to grab power, but be recognized as others are recognized. Again, as I said above, the symbolism of the rebuke, and the contrast of the honoring of murderers, tyrants and those who live in lifestyles contrary to the Catholic faith, cannot be overlooked in a democracy. Either we stand up for reality or we shall lose all respect. If we lose respect as a Church, there will be persecution. Little things like lights may seem trivial, but the symbolism shouts across America. I suggest reading St. Augustine’s City of God, as a view that the two cities, the secular and the spiritual, reside together, and that the spiritual city has a place in the material world.

    If we get too Platonic or unreal about our religion, we are not Incarnational, to use a great post-Vatican II phrase.

    This is discrimation against a pro-life person, and a hit against the Catholic Church. Period.

  31. elmo says:

    Leonius: Private institutions may in fact “discriminate”. People complain about the Catholic Church not ordaining women saying it is discrimination. The archdiocese of D.C. recently chose not to work with the government there because of new anti-discrimination laws that would have forced the archdiocese to hire practicing homosexuals. Do you really want the Law to force a private entity to not discriminate against us? That’s a two-edged sword one that is bound to come back and slice our own necks. Yes, it is in the best interests of the ESB to love God and his saint, but God has given us the freedom not to love him if we choose to. It’s sad but it is their choice. We can’t force it on them.

    Supertradmum: Yes, Mother Theresa commands respect globally–even from secular institutions. Even the Clintons honored her and got a nice prolife earful from her in return! Of course the ESB would honor what the world honors instead of a humble Christian! It’s what the world does! Jesus told us this would happen. We should rejoice that we are so close to Christ and at the same time redouble our rights as Christians to have a voice in the public square. Unfortunately, the ESB is not public. They have their rights to not respect us. Understand that I am not saying Christianity does not have a place in the public square. What I am saying is that the ESB in this case is not the public square. As I said to Leonius, this may be discrimination but it is legal. Is it in our best interest to try and force a private institution, one not affiliated with the Church in any respect, to honor God the way that some Catholics would like? I think such behavior is bound to bite us back. And this light thing is so trivial — it is not like that Hyundai ad where blasphemy was being broadcast into our living rooms through the public airwaves. It is a really dumb move to make a national issue out of something so small and local as to whether to turn on the lights for Mother Theresa’s birthday, that I can’t believe that the Catholic League is beating this drum. Donohue’s inability to choose his battles wisely is ultimately a disservice to the Church.

  32. Leonius,

    Once again, and for the last time, I agree with everything you said about Jesus’ practicing perfect charity – even and especially in the temple.

    You are failing to see that it is not charitable to speculate, much less to attribute, ignoble motives to people without the most incontrovertible evidence. Bill Donohue has no such evidence. He called ESB managsment “Liars,” without a shred of evidence to support the claim and without any consideration of the context and circumstances in which abd about which ESB mamnagement made its remarks.

    That is no way to treat people, even when they are clearly in the wrong – but refusing to illuminate the ESB for this or that group is not wrong on its face, and there is nothing except Bill Donohue’s morbid fantasy to suggest that ESB management acted out of anti-Catholic bias in coming to its decision in re

    So Donohue’s behavior is doubly indecent.

    You also misapply the money changers episode: analogical precision would have the ESB ownership in the position, not of the money changers, but of Our Lord, whose “ownership stake” in the Jerusalem temple gave him standing to act as he did.


  33. bookworm says:

    To me the question is simple: would Blessed Mother Teresa have wanted this? Would she think that making a huge stink over lighting up the Empire State Building for one evening in her honor was a good way to honor Jesus or advance the good of His Church?

    I also believe Bill Donohue’s heart is in the right place but I also think that he goes way overboard at times. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

  34. MichaelJ says:

    How would you characterize the statement that ” guidelines do not accommodate requests for “religious figures” or requests by “religions and religious organizations.” ” and that “all organizations agree to these guidelines upon submitting a lighting request” ?

    In light of the fact that on April 25 last year the towers were lighted with blue and white on honor of the Salesian sisters, and that the Catholic League was not required to agree to any guidelines, the statements are certainly false. Given also that the statements were issues by the building management, and that there is no way that they could resasonably not know what is in their own guidelines, I know of no way to characterize it except as a lie.

  35. I might characterize it as a hasty, and possibly poorly considered (it certainly strikes me as ill-advised) statement issued in response to unexpected and unusual public vitriol from someone they do not believe they have wronged in the first place.

    I do not know what their guidelines say. It would not surprise me to learn that they got lawyered into writing an endless and labyrinthine set of “guidelines” to which all applicants must “agree”, in the middle of which is buried a clause known as the “It’s our stuff and we’ll do as we please with it” clause. It usually reads something like:

    All decisions are at the sole discretion of management. All decisions are final and unappealable.

    That is the bottom of it, anyway, isn’t it?

    It is their stuff, and they will dispose of it as they please. I may walk by and see, as our host, Fr. Zuhlsdorf did, the building lit with the colors of red China. Then I might think(as I did when I read about it), “Golly, they really are a bunch of four-flushers.”

    That is it – and that’s all of it.

    If you are interested, I am going to have a post up at mine, a little later, explaining why I think the Catholic League’s engagement in this public controversy is not in keeping with the purpose for which the League was founded.

  36. MichaelJ says:

    I am not debating that the ESB should illuminate lights in honor of Mother Theresa. Neither am I debating whether the Catholic League should or should not have taken up this issue.

    But you took Bill Donohue to task for (among other things) calling the building management “Liars”. You were incorrect (and might I say, a bit uncharitable) for doing so.

    I do not know what motivated the ESB to issue the statement that they did. The fact remains, however, that they deliberately and knowingly said something that was false. Under what conditions is it morally acceptable for an individual to say something that they know is false? The only time that I am aware of is under the category of “Broad mental reservations”. Unless you are willing to suggest that those who are making a request to have the ESB lit or those who have been denied such a request have no right to know the building management’s requirements, it seems inescapable that the ESB management did, in fact, lie.

  37. AnAmericanMother says:


    The problem with relying on a document full of gobbledegook is the legal principle: if you don’t apply that document evenhandedly to all comers, it’s a dead letter.

    Classic example is the landlord whose lease says payment must be made by the 5th of the month or you will be declared in default and evicted — but for three or four months he accepts late payments. He just busted his own lease.

    Sounds like the ESB management is using their “agreement” selectively. In that case, it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.

  38. Dear American Mother,

    Legal docs are always full of gobbledegook. That is why I cut to the chase: the legal principle, as you call it, is known in the trade as an “operative sentence” or “paragraph” or “clause”. In this case, the operative clause usually reads something like this: All decisions are at the sole discretion of management. All decisions are final and unappealable.

    Also, your landlord/tenant example is not pertinent.

    It is true that selective enforcement of a contract can change the nature of the obbligations under said contract.

    This does not have anything to do with company discretion in entering into contractual obligations.


  39. Charivari Rob says:

    On a slightly related note…

    Blessed Mother Teresa Parish to Welcome Mother Teresa Relics

    On Friday, June 18th, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Dorchester will welcome the relics, crucifix, rosary and sandals of Mother Teresa. The public is invited to visit the Church for the veneration of these important items from the life of Mother Teresa. This time of prayer and veneration is being coordinated by the Missionary Sisters of Charity, which was founded by Mother Teresa in 1950.

    “Mother Teresa continues to inspire millions of faithful Catholics around the world,” said Right Rev. Jack Ahern, pastor of Blessed Mother Teresa. “Her presence is felt as much today as it was in life in the many good works of charity we see exhibited here in the Archdiocese and throughout the universal Church. The parishioners are honored that the Sisters of Charity have helped to bring these very important items from Mother Teresa to our Church so that the Catholic community can pray to her that her contributions to our people will continued to be shared forever.”

    When: Friday, June 18, 2010

    Open to the public: 11am-4:45pm

    Mass: 5pm, celebrated by Fr. Ahern

    *Media is invited to attend. No interviews are to be conducted inside the Church during the veneration of the sacred relics.

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