Bill Donohue defends Mother Teresa

[caption id="attachment_9775" align="alignleft" width="639" caption="Headliner: Jackie Mason at Empire State Building protest."]Headliner: Jackie Mason at Empire State Building protest.[/caption]About a thousand people attended today's Catholic League demonstration against the owner of the Empire State Building for his refusal to illuminate the skyscraper's famous spire in honor of Mother Teresa's centennial. I was impressed by the attendees' courtesy, attention, and overall calmness. And plus, people looked good in the light-blue and white colors Catholic League President Bill Donohue asked people to wear in Mother Teresa's honor.I can't give such high marks, though, to the long line of speakers who addressed the crowd from atop a flatbed truck parked on 34th Street across the street from the Empire State Building. There were high points, of course - my heart melts every time I see Detective Steven McDonald, the paralyzed cop who forgave the assailant who shot him.But a lot of the sentiments expressed in Mother Teresa's behalf were hardly worthy of Mother Teresa. This explains why no bishop or even a priest could be found among the speakers. Nor did anyone from Mother Teresa's order, the Missionaries of Charity, take part.That is just as well because if they had come, they would have heard comedian Jackie Mason, the first speaker. "If she was a Muslim, they would put up a mosque in her honor," he shouted. He added: "Where is the schmuck?" apparently referring to the building's maligned owner, Anthony Malkin. "Where is the f______ ... who is against Mother Teresa?" He proceeded to attack Mayor Michael Bloomberg for supporting construction of an Islamic community center near the World Trade Center but not showing up at the Mother Teresa demonstration.Mason got rousing applause, and I heard someone in the crowd add, "Amen."Celebrity divorce attorney Raoul Felder noted that the Empire State Building has suffered through some bad news this week - a report about bedbugs, a City Council decision to allow a skyscraper that will block its view, and now this. "The moral of this is don't mess with Mother Teresa," he said. To which Donohue added, "If you don't believe in Divine Providence after this, Anthony Malkin, I don't know what it takes."Now that it was established that the beloved nun brings divine retribution on those who won't honor her, another speaker, State Sen. Ruben Diaz, prompted the crowd to a chant of "Shame, shame, shame, shame, shame."A man named Lionel spoke a possible word of truth when he said that the reason the building's owner wouldn't light up the tower for Mother Teresa - when he had previously honored the Salesian Sisters - was his "deep seated enmity for this man." He gestured at Donohue, who laughed heartily.Beth Gilinsky, founder of the Jewish Action League and one of the leading opponents of the Islamic center, returned the focus to the so-called Ground Zero mosque - oddly, since Mother Teresa might better be remembered by quotes like this: "There is only one God and He is God to all; therefore it is important that everyone is seen as equal before God. Ive always said we should help a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Muslim become a better Muslim, a Catholic become a better Catholic."Gilinsky coupled the refusal to honor Mother Teresa and the plan for the Islamic center in lower Manhattan and declared, "We are not going to let the ruling class smash everything we hold dear.""She's a firebrand, isn't she?" said Donohue, who praised her effusively.It went on like this, sometimes with nasty attacks on Malkin's character. In the end, Donohue declared victory over Malkin. "We won this war, people," he said. "He lost the PR war."Afterward, I asked Donohue why no high-ranking church officials took part in his rally - he is always fond of listing the bishops who support him. He pointed out that one of the speakers was a deacon (and principal of Xaverian High School in Brooklyn).What about bishops or priests? I asked. I had seen extremely few priests even in the crowd."Do bishops really belong in a setting like this?" he responded. "The bishops have more of a holy role to play."He also acknowledged that the Missionaries of Charity did not want to take part.One of the TV reporters asked what Mother Teresa would have wanted. "I understand her humbleness, but frankly," Donohue said, "this goes beyond Mother Teresa."Indeed.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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