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The passions of Mother Teresa

She is revered the world over for her work with the poor, her love for the sick and her apparent humility, by people of any religion. She was called a “messenger of the love of Christ,” awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and the Vatican is getting ready to canonize her. Her name, in pop culture, has become a synonym for the saintly, the pious and the virtuous. Even the non-religious feel the need to appreciate her opus in Calcutta, treating the “poorest of the poor” in her clinics.

Her reputation, though, has started to deteriorate after several documentaries, books and studies that took a closer look on her image, which is now tainted by financial scandals, her support of dictators, indifference for her charges and evidence of a fundamentalist mentality.

Saint or fraud? (source)
Saint or fraud? (source)

It’s well known that she took money for her charity from the dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier, president of Haiti, when she visited the country and accepted the “Legion D’ Honeur” award. She reciprocated by saying, about Madame Duvalier, that she had “never seen the poor people being as familiar with their head of state as they were with her. It was a beautiful lesson for me.” But the money she took was already stolen from a very poor population, something that didn’t stop her from taking it. Five years later, the people of Haiti turned against their very familiar head of state in an uprising, forcing the Duvaliers to flee from the country with the Natural Treasury in their luggage. She also showed her support for Enver Hoxha’s regime in Albania, meeting with several government officials during her visit to the country, avoiding criticizing the regime even for its brutal suppression of religion.

Mother Teresa with Michele Duvalier, wife of the ruthless dictator “Baby Doc” (source)
Mother Teresa with Michele Duvalier, wife of the ruthless dictator “Baby Doc” (source)

In 1991, Charles Keating was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for committing financial fraud, luring deposits from American small investors. His victims constituted both wealthy and well-educated people, and people of modest means; including a poor carpenter who didn’t speak English and had his life savings stolen by Keating. Mother Teresa wrote to the court throughout his trial supporting Keating, seeking leniency on his account. It turns out that she had received 1 million dollars from him in the form of donations. Paul Turley, a co-prosecutor, wrote back to her, pleading her to return the loot, letting her know who exactly were his victims, urging her to ask herself “what would Jesus do if he were in possession of stolen money?” She didn’t reply and she didn’t return the money. Even knowing that he was an embezzler and a liar, even after the court convicted him of fraud, even after finding out who Keating’s victims were, she didn’t change her tune and she didn’t return the donations she knew were stolen and were now in her own bank accounts.

Mother Teresa with Charles Keating, a convicted conman (source)
Mother Teresa with Charles Keating, a convicted conman (source)

One might say that it was all, at least, for a good cause. There is in fact no account for most of the money her foundation (Missionaries of Charity) raised through decades of collections. In a study of Canadian academics in March 2013, it was illustrated that until 1980 she had raised almost $100 million of which only 7% had been spent for actual charity work. The rest of the used funds were used to build houses for missionaries. Since then and up to her death she had raised several hundreds of millions and there is no indication that she did any better.

An investigation into the quality of medical care at her ‘home for the dying’ in Calcutta by Robin Fox for the Lancet medical journal and an article for the New Statesman by Donald MacIntyre on her care homes, illustrate the despicable conditions in which desperate people in search of medical care were, instead, left to die in filth and pain. The reports speak of absence of doctors and trained nurses, with nuns playing the nurse’s part, being unable to distinguish between curable and incurable diseases. They would pack large rooms with people with terminal cancer along with carriers of contagious illnesses. Pain medication was non-existent or, elsewhere almost non-existent. Lack of hygiene and unfit conditions were evident. Crippled children were found tied up, young boys left to urinate on themselves while being strapped on their beds and disabled people tied to trees. Bear in mind, it is neither the case that she didn’t have the funds to acquire the necessary equipment and capable personnel nor that she had lost control of the many “clinics” she had opened around the world (she took pride in founding 517 missions in more than 100 countries). While doctors and specialists wondered about the reasons for this dereliction and offered her advice for improvement, she would say things like this:

“There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering.”

Mother Teresa was opposed to the use of painkillers, since she thought that pain brings us closer to God. She once told a story of a man suffering the terrible pains of the last stage of cancer. She leaned to him and said «You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you». She went on to render his reply: “Then tell him to stop kissing me”, he said. It seems that any irony in that reply escaped her completely.

Robin Fox reports that “systematic approaches are alien to the ethos of the home. Mother Teresa prefers providence to planning; her rules are designed to prevent any drift towards materialism.” Can a place without doctors or nurses be called a “clinic”? Shouldn’t we call them exactly what they are (“poor-houses”)? When Mother Teresa herself got ill, she would prefer the modern establishments of American and European hospitals.

Author and journalist Elgy Gillespie, who spent time at Mother Teresa’s San Francisco hostel for people with AIDS, reports that “the ones who weren’t very sick were extremely depressed, because they were not allowed to watch TV, or smoke, or drink, or have friends over, even when they’re dying”.  Some, who had come home in drag, were thrown out! Mother Teresa has said that AIDS is “a just retribution for improper sexual conduct”.

This is from an interview with Malcolm Muggeridge, from his book ‘Something Beautiful for God’:

“There is always the danger of becoming only social workers or just do the work for the sake of the work…It is a danger; if we forget to whom we are doing it. Our works are only an expression of our love for Christ.”

“Only social workers”? Surely one should help the helpless on their own merit, not as a way of showing adulation to a deity. She obviously sees humanism and altruism as seductive dangers one must avoid. Mother Teresa clearly was driven by dogma, as a fundamentalist is, not inspired by humanistic notions of morality. Several nuns have reported to leave the order due to Mother Teresa’s hindering of their efforts to educate themselves in nursing schools, as this would imply a departure from relying to providence.

Mary Loudon, a Calcutta volunteer, who has written extensively on the life of a nun, has told a story of a 15 year old boy who came to Mother Teresa’s poor-house with a simple kidney problem that could have been easily remedied with antibiotics.  An American doctor there at the time was trying to treat him, and was begging the sisters to let the boy be taken to a hospital.  But this was against their philosophy, so the frustrated and resigned doctor watched the boy slowly dying.

Susan Shields, who for nine and a half years worked as a member of Mother Teresa’s order, only to quit because of the deceit and hypocrisy, says:

“For Mother, it was the spiritual well-being of the poor that mattered most. Material aid was a means of reaching their souls, of showing the poor that God loved them. In the homes for the dying, Mother taught the sisters how to secretly baptize those who were dying. Sisters were to ask each person in danger of death if he wanted a ‘ticket to heaven’. An affirmative reply was to mean consent to baptism. The sister was then to pretend she was just cooling the person’s forehead with a wet cloth, while in fact she was baptizing him, saying quietly the necessary words. Secrecy was important so that it would not come to be known that Mother Teresa’s sisters were baptizing Hindus and Muslims.”

This is not caring for the sick. This is religious campaigning.

Therefore, by strong testimony and by Mother Teresa’s own words, it is made clear that it is not the poor that she loved, but poverty. Not the diseased, but sickness and suffering. She called her charges “victims of God’s love”; indicative of her attitude of accepting poverty rather than trying to overcome it.

In effect, she made life worse for the people she was supposed to care for, actively discouraging the use of prophylactics in parts of the world where her missions are some of the few samples of advanced civilization and where AIDS and other STDs were and are rampant.

Mother Teresa with Father Donald McGuire, a convicted child molester (source)
Mother Teresa with Father Donald McGuire, a convicted child molester (source)

To add to the list of discrepancies, in 2012 her involvement in a child rape scandal was revealed. Documents obtained by SF Weekly suggest that Mother Teresa knew one of her favourite priests was removed from ministry for sexually abusing a Bay Area boy in 1993, and that she nevertheless urged his bosses to return him to work as soon as possible. The priest resumed active ministry, as well as his predatory habits. Eight additional complaints were lodged against him in the coming years by various families, leading to his eventual arrest on sex-abuse charges in 2005.

The list of contradictions goes on:

In 1979 she received the Nobel Peace Prize (and it should be explained to us what it was she ever did for peace). During her speech she said, to what must have been a perplexed audience, “I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion”. It seems that in her mind abortion ranks higher even than child rape.

When asked in an interview “With whom would you have sided between Galileo and the Church?” it did not take her even a split second to say, “With the Church.”

She was also strongly against divorce, even trying to keep it banned (along with remarriage) in the 1995 referendum to change Ireland’s constitution, which prohibited the dissolution of marriage. A year later, though, when her dear friend, Princess Diana, got a divorce, she consented because the marriage had obviously been an unhappy one (interview in Ladies Home Journal).

All these contradictions and hypocrisies have been neglected by the non-rigorous media which adored the humble looking nun. She has had it easy for many decades; it is a nice feeling for us to believe that someone, somewhere, is doing something for the Third World. It is nice to think that you can give a few euros and the responsibility goes away, the problem is being taken care of. Along with other celebrities, Mother Teresa played the role to the letter. I guess it is as ironic as it suits us that, in fact, her legacy is not one of humility and good deeds, but one of unnecessary suffering for anyone with the bad luck to fall under her power.

Cover of SF Weekly (source)
Cover of SF Weekly (source)

P.S.: Additional source concerning Teresa’s view on the use of painkillers from Sanal Edamaraku, President of Rationalist International:

“One can hear the screams of people having maggots tweezered from their open wounds without pain relief. On principle, strong painkillers are even in hard cases not given. According to Mother Teresa’s bizarre philosophy, it is “the most beautiful gift for a person that he can participate in the sufferings of Christ”.”

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