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Mother Teresa should not be made a saint and here’s why.
Mother Teresa is on the verge of being canonised by the Vatican. Some might wonder why it’s taken this long – after all, most of us have grown up with tales of her fight against poverty and her general air of ‘goodness’.
However, academics at the University of Montreal suggest things are not as they seem.
After analysis of a vast amount of papers about the woman born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in Macedonia in August 1910, Serge Larivée and Genevieve Chenard came to the conclusion that Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was ‘anything but a saint’, with ‘her rather dubious way of caring for the sick, her questionable political contacts, her suspicious management of the enormous sums of money she received, and her overly dogmatic views regarding, in particular, abortion, contraception, and divorce.’
They are far from the first to criticise the saint-in-waiting’s works.
Christopher Hitchens published ‘The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice‘ in 1995 and to say he held negative views about his subject is an understatement, to say the least.
He wrote: ‘she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan.
‘Where did that money, and all the other donations, go?
‘The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had been – she preferred California clinics when she got sick herself – and her order always refused to publish any audit.
‘But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility?’
So what other reasons are there to argue against this imminent sainthood?
Secret baptism of the dying
Mother Teresa believed it a duty to baptise the dying, regardless of their religious beliefs.
Susan Shields, a former member of the Missionaries of Charity, was quoted by Hitchins as saying: ‘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 that she was just cooling the patient’s head with a wet cloth, while in fact she was baptising him, saying quietly the necessary words.
‘Secrecy was important so that it would not come to be known that Mother Teresa’s sisters were baptising Hindus and Muslims.’
Her perception of the poor
Mother Teresa apparently believed that suffering was ‘a gift from God’.
‘The problem is not a lack of money – the Foundation created by Mother Teresa has raised hundreds of millions of dollars – but rather a particular conception of suffering and death.
‘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,’ was her reply to criticism, cites Hitchens.
‘Nevertheless, when Mother Teresa required palliative care, she received it in a modern American hospital.’
Politics and use of charity funds
Aroup Chatterjee’s book Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict will also make surprising reading for those who see the missionary as the epitome of goodness.
In it he explains that Mother Teresa’s friendship with Indira Gandhi and the Congress Party was widely believed to have been behind such assertions as ‘People are happier. There are more jobs. There are no strikes.’
This was after the suspension of civil liberties in 1975.
From the Montreal paper: ‘Mother Teresa was generous with her prayers but rather miserly with her foundation’s millions when it came to humanity’s suffering.
‘During numerous floods in India or following the explosion of a pesticide plant in Bhopal, she offered numerous prayers and medallions of the Virgin Mary but no direct or monetary aid.
‘On the other hand, she had no qualms about accepting the Legion of Honour and a grant from the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti.
‘Millions of dollars were transferred to the MCO’s various bank accounts, but most of the accounts were kept secret,’ Larivée says.
‘Given the parsimonious management of Mother Teresa’s works, one may ask where the millions of dollars for the poorest of the poor have gone?’
The dubious matter of the ‘miracle’
Quoting the Montreal paper again:
‘The miracle attributed to Mother Theresa was the healing of a woman, Monica Besra, who had been suffering from intense abdominal pain.
‘The woman testified that she was cured after a medallion blessed by Mother Theresa was placed on her abdomen.
‘Her doctors thought otherwise: the ovarian cyst and the tuberculosis from which she suffered were healed by the drugs they had given her.
‘The Vatican, nevertheless, concluded that it was a miracle.’
Interestingly, Mother Teresa herself had issues with her own faith.
This from a posthumous collection of her personal papers (her request to have them destroyed after her death was roundly ignored). Emphasis is mine:
‘Lord, my God, you have thrown [me] away as unwanted – unloved,’ she wrote in one missive.
‘I call, I cling, I want, and there is no one to answer, no, no one. Alone. Where is my faith? Even deep down right in there is nothing. I have no faith. I dare not utter the words and thoughts that crowd in my heart.’
Some might say that Mother Teresa was simply following the tenets of her religious beliefs and this is a valid point, although one could argue that other religious figures have managed to do with it in a more sensitive fashion.
When I spoke with Catholic friends about writing this piece, they were already well aware of the issues surrounding the potential canonisation and suggested that if they were to choose a candidate of their own it would be Óscar Romero, whose story is well worth investigating.
Even the Montreal academics admitted that ‘If the extraordinary image of Mother Teresa conveyed in the collective imagination has encouraged humanitarian initiatives that are genuinely engaged with those crushed by poverty, we can only rejoice.
‘It is likely that she has inspired many humanitarian workers whose actions have truly relieved the suffering of the destitute and addressed the causes of poverty and isolation without being extolled by the media.
‘Nevertheless, the media coverage of Mother Teresa could have been a little more rigorous.’
So Mother Teresa’s existence as an icon may well have led to others helping where it is needed, and that can only be a good thing.
But whether she is deserving of sainthood is another matter entirely.