Unmasking Mother Teresa
You think Mother Teresa was a saint, right? Perhaps you also believe she lifted millions of poor people around the world out of poverty. Think again.
Teresa was no saint. She was no friend of the poor either. On the contrary, the Albanian nun celebrated poverty and suffering, and refused to give medicines to the inmates under her care, in the process allowing them to die painful deaths.
A new study by Canadian researchers backs up what rationalists and neutral observers - like Britain's Christopher Hitchens - have long held: Teresa only cared about poverty and not the poor. Researchers Serge Larivee and Genevieve Chenard from the University of Montreal and Carole Senechal of the University of Ottawa argue that Teresa was a saint of the media, not the gutters.
The Canadians analysed over 500 published writings about Teresa and conclude that her hallowed image, "which does not stand up to analysis of the facts, was constructed, and that her beatification was orchestrated by an effective media campaign". Over 50 per cent of the books and articles were hagiographies, they say. The controversial study, to be published this month in the journal of studies in religion and sciences called Religieuses, says Teresa actually felt it was beautiful to see the poor suffer. According to the study, the Vatican overlooked the crucial human side of Teresa - her dubious way of caring for the sick by glorifying their suffering instead of relieving it.
Most people will find this hard to believe all this because the media has painted this lovely picture of a caring mother who dedicated her life to charity. But where she went wrong was in believing suffering was good for the people. She believed in her cause but she had no idea what effect it had on the poor and sick people under her care. A fawning media, idiotic politicians and countless donors have overlooked these aspects. But facts are humbling so let's look at Teresa's history - the uncensored bits, that is.
Remember Charles Keating? An investment fraud artist, he was the chairman of the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, which was the target of a federal investigation after the 1989 savings and loans collapse, which wiped out $160 billion in savings. Many of those affected were ordinary Americans, mostly retirees.
Keating it was discovered, had given more than US$1 million to Teresa and flew her around in his jet. During his trial for fraud, Teresa wrote to the judge, telling him what a good guy Keating was and asked for leniency in sentencing. She advised him to do what Jesus would do.
What Jesus would have done is debatable, but the judge gave Keating 10 years for fraud.
The scene now gets murkier. According to Dr Don Boys, author and former member of the Indiana House of Representatives, ''Teresa received a letter from the Deputy District Attorney telling her that the money Keating had given her was stolen from hard working people and suggested that she return the money. I would have suggested, after all, that is what Jesus would have you do. The good nun never answered his letter (nor returned the stolen money). After all, it was for the 'poor'."
Dr Boys says Teresa or her handlers were very astute in using the media for her own end, raising money for her cause of adding members to the church. ''Some of the sugar daddies she fawned over were disreputable, unscrupulous people such as the bloody Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier (who plundered Haiti), the Communist Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha, Charles Keating, and other scoundrels," he says. Taking money from Duvalier, one of the most vicious tyrants to walk the earth, would have been enough to subpoena Teresa. But she didn't stop there.
One of the characters in her inner circle was Jim Towey, who became her legal counsel in the late 1980s. In February 2002, President George W. Bush violated both the letter and the spirit of the American constitution by setting up the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to further the cause of fundamentalist churches and religious conversions. Towey was appointed director of this office.
Teresa was a faithful servant of the Vatican. In an article on Slate.com, author Christopher Hitchens says, ''During the deliberations over the Second Vatican Council, under the stewardship of Pope John XXIII, (Teresa) was to the fore in opposing all suggestions of reform. Her position was ultra-reactionary and fundamentalist even in orthodox Catholic terms." In fact, while receiving the Nobel Peace Prize she told a dumbfounded audience that abortion is "the greatest destroyer of peace."
(Nobel Prize winning economist and author Steven Levitt has demonstrated in his brilliantly written book, Freakonomics, how the legalisation of abortion contributed to the sharp - and unexpected - drop in crime in the United States. Abortions prevented the birth of unwanted children in precisely those families that might have raised them as criminals.)
One of the most compelling accounts of the macabre world of Teresa's order, the Missionaries of Charity, is by the Australian, Collete Livermore. A nun who worked in Teresa's order for 11 years, she ended up sick and disillusioned. In 1984 she quit and wrote the book Hope Endures, where she talks about a little known but disturbing side of Teresa, which she says hurt the truly needy.
Livermore explains how the nuns were not provided with medical advice, the use of mosquito repellents, or information about malaria and vaccinations because Teresa believed "God" would look after the nuns. Livermore got into trouble with the order for helping a man with dysentery who was in danger of dying.
"The order cared more about obedience than doing the right thing," she writes. Teresa quoted Peter 2:18-23, which orders slaves to obey their masters even if they are abusive and difficult, and used this text to urge her nuns to obey superiors without question.
In Manila, Teresa wouldn't let the nuns have a washing machine, which forced them to wash the underwear of the incontinent with brushes. Livermore felt the order was more concerned about inflicting hardship on the nuns than on helping the sick. More angst was in store for Livermore when she was forbidden to help a sick boy named Alex. That's when Livermore decided to leave the order because she didn't like the way she was expected to let the poor suffer.
Pain is beautiful
Before she died, Teresa had opened over 600 missions in 123 countries. Some of these missions have been described as "homes for the dying" by visiting doctors. The doctors observed a significant lack of hygiene, even unfit conditions, as well as a shortage of actual care, inadequate food and no painkillers. ''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.
It would be pertinent to mention here that each time Teresa herself fell sick she sought the finest medical care. Despite the fact that medical tourists from the West travel to India for treatment, Teresa reckoned India wasn't good enough for her. She was admitted to California's Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation.
In 1997, a year after her death, the pope nominated Teresa for beatification, the first step towards sainthood. However, by doing this the pope violated a Vatican tradition that allowed a cooling off period of five years to guard against dubious characters.
Writes Hitchens: "As for the 'miracle' that had to be attested, what can one say? Surely any respectable Catholic cringes with shame at the obviousness of the fakery. A Bengali woman named Monica Besra claims that a beam of light emerged from a picture of (Teresa), which she happened to have in her home, and relieved her of a cancerous tumor. Her physician, Dr Ranjan Mustafi, says that she didn't have a cancerous tumor in the first place and that the tubercular cyst she did have was cured by a course of prescription medicine. Was he interviewed by the Vatican's investigators? No."
Mother Teresa: Stone hearted?
What did Teresa and her charity achieve in the last six decades? I have argued in the past that aid never works. Not even a dent has been made in the sum total of suffering because of Teresa. Take Calcutta. Virtually nothing has changed there, except that Teresa has given that unfortunate metropolis a rank bad name.
Today, large swathes of India are entering the First World thanks to employment generated by free enterprise. On the other hand, Calcutta, virtually alone among India's cities, seems stuck in LDC (Least Developed Country) mode. While its long association with Marxism, another vile import, may have something to do with the lack of progress, the presence of the poverty mongers ensures the city finds it impossible to shake off its Third World image. Teresa's fundraising sermons have drilled into people's mind that it is a city of lepers and beggars. As Hitchens said, "On one instance the nuns claimed, untruthfully of course, that Calcutta had 450,000 lepers, knowing that the rich have a poor conscience and would promptly despatch their dollars."
Making of a myth
Despite these disturbing facts, how did Mother Teresa succeed in building an image of holiness and infinite goodness? According to the three Canadian researchers, her meeting in London in 1968 with the BBC's Malcom Muggeridge, an anti-abortion journalist, was what catapulted her to superstardom.
In 1969, Muggeridge made a eulogistic film about the missionary. During filming, the interiors of Teresa's mission in Calcutta were too dark, and he thought the scene wouldn't come out well. But when the film was developed it turned out to be amazingly bright. Muggeridge trumpeted it as the ''first photographic miracle'' when it should have been attributed to the new film stock being marketed by Kodak.
Teresa discovered the power of mass media; she travelled the world and received numerous awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize.
Today, around the world Teresa's charities have attained untouchable status, which helps them fend off any attempts by the authorities to stop their morbid experiments on sick and poor people.
There is also the question of the missing millions. Millions of dollars were transferred to the charity's many bank accounts, but most of the accounts are secret, says Larivee. ''Given the parsimonious management of (Teresa's) works, one may ask where the millions of dollars for the poorest of the poor have gone?'' he asks.
According to the researchers, Teresa raised almost $100 million before 1980. A good chunk was used for building houses for the missionaries. Just 5 per cent went to the cause. Let's hear that again - just 5 per cent of that went to the poor.
In India where Teresa did her 'charity' work for more than half a century, the ruling party flagged off a train named Mother Express to commemorate her birth centenary in 2010. Perhaps it's just a coincidence that the party, and therefore, the country, is headed by the Italian Sonia Maino, a.k.a. Sonia Gandhi.
Teresa has been known to be stingy even during national emergencies. During numerous floods in India she offered numerous prayers and medallions of the Virgin Mary but no direct or monetary aid, the Canadian researchers say.
It's noteworthy that all the abandoned children who are taken in Teresa's missions are brought up as Christians. I'm for conversion if it's voluntary but these children were never offered a choice in the matter of religion.
In India, for instance, Teresa was (and her mission continues to be) actively engaged in proselytising work, which is not only illegal but will negatively impact India's complex social hierarchy. In effect, the Indian government is allowing the long-term balkanisation of the country, because wherever Hindus have become a minority in India, separatist movements have cropped up.
Gandhi roots for Teresa
I don't get invited to luxury car launches. Or to wine festivals. But this landed in my inbox not too long ago: ''...invites you to an official interfaith gathering to honour Nobel Laureate, the late Mother Teresa of Kolkata India (sic) and pay tribute to her selfless service to the poor.'' Boldly underlined was the name of the guest speaker: Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the grandson of the deranged M.K. Gandhi. The meeting was held in a central Auckland church.
Curiously, the person who sent me the invite asked me not to write about the meeting. I can't figure why. Can you?
Rakesh Krishnan's articles have been used as reference at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; the Centre for Research on Globalization, Canada; Wikipedia; and as part of the curriculum at the Anthropology Department of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. His work has been published by the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi; Oped News, Pennsylvania; and Rossiyskaya Gazeta Group, Moscow, among others.