How was Bl. Mother Teresa evil?

In this thread, it was written:

How was Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta “one of the most evil women of the 20th century”?


You could search the board and find info on this, I know I’ve seen it before.

Eve may have been thinking of the woman’s efforts to discourage contraception and the use of medication, and the abstemiousness she preached for everyone else even though when she got sick, she only went to the best hospitals. The “suffering is beautiful” philosophy may not be evil, but it’s got some awful implications.

The Wikipedia piece on her outlines some of the controversies I’ve heard and others that I hadn’t, like her support of Gandhi’s suspension of civil liberties in India.

The “Mother Theresa is evil incarnate” meme was propagated especially by Christopher Hitchens.


“Suffering is beautiful” is one of the most evil concepts I’ve every heard. It’s one thing to devote one’s life to treating the festering wounds of humanity; it’s quite anothing thing to oppose measures that would prevent those wounds from occurring in the first place. Ethically, it’s on the same level as a doctor or nurse deliberately making a person sick, in order to treat him.

So she may done things that some people may not agree with. But does she qualify for being “one of the most evil women of the 20th century”?

After all, she expressed what she believed.


In Eve’s opinion, I guess so. I’ve never tried to make a list. Given her prominence and the number of lives she affected, I can see where Eve is coming from with that comment. If thousands and thousands of sick people came to her convents and got little or no treatment, and died when they didn’t need to in the name of beautiful suffering, that is beyond horrible. So much the worse if she was a deceitful hypocrite and friend of dictators.

That’s not a defense.

Well, Mother Teresa worked with and under the concept of the utility of suffering which Catholic Tradition has taught for a very long time. Mother Teresa was a very, very good Catholic. What should be condemned is not Mother Teresa but, rather, her beliefs.

Catholics - or at least some - believe that suffering is good. It purifies one’s soul, cleanses one of sins, lessens one’s time in Purgatory (where they will suffer anyway), allows one to do great spiritual good, and permits one to share in Christ’s suffering.

I spoke the a deacon and he said that when one suffers, one should bear it patiently, dedicating the suffering to some good cause (the souls of Purgatory is a common cause). Suffering also allows one to participate in Christ’s suffering and mission. If Catholics are the Body of Christ and Christ suffered, wouldn’t the Body of Christ also suffer?

There are a number of saints who have demonstrated almost inhuman patience in suffering. Some of them even prayed and hoped for suffering, so they could share in Christ’s Passion.

Thus, suffering (and bearing of suffering) plays a large part in Catholic theology.

Although this perspective is certainly alien to what we in the West are used to, it is an excellent coping mechanism.

Furthermore, Catholics believe that the poor have a place. I will have to search the Catechism to refresh my memory what their role is.


Yes, they should, indeed, be condemned.

The basic case against her is that

  1. She did nothing to help anyone,
  2. Yet swallowed millions of dollars in gifts from dictators and criminals, and
  3. Actively HURT people by opposing abortion and divorce, and
  4. Was wildly hypocritical about many of her stances in #3.

Point 2 is impossible to deny; for what reason I don’t really know, she was friend to almost every evil son of a bitch she met. She used to shoot around on Charles Keating’s private jet and was chummy with any murderous dictator who would give her the time of day. With respect to Keating, specifically, she accepted millions of dollars in tolen money from him, and then refused to give it back to the people it actually belonged to, despite being provided with indisputable evidence it was stolen money.

It’s also indisputably true that the finances of her ministry are, shall we say, not entirely transparent.

Point 1 is a matter of some dispute. MAny people have reported that Mother Teresa’s hospices were basically places that the sick were brought to to be preached to, and that they received essentially no medical care at all; some of the accounts suggest a barbaric level of negligence. There is evidence that most of the money she was given to help the poor was used to open convents and missions to try to convert the heathens, rather than helping the poor.

Point 3 is beyond dispute in terms of what she advocated; I guess it’s your choice to say whether that’s bad or not. Point 4 is also indisputable - the obvious example being her support of Princess Diana’s divorce, while telling poor women they’d go to hell if they got divorced - though how that’s “Evil” is not wholly clear to me.

It’s one thing to suffer yourself for whatever reason; something else entirely to force it upon everyone you are supposed to be helping.

Catholics love a nice bit of suffering. Just look at how they were falling over themselves to honour the way JPII handled his troubles.

That and her devotion to all other forms of Catholic nastiness* didn’t put her in a very nice light to a lot of people.

  • I’m sorry if I come across as a bitter Catholic hater but I grew up on a little Catholic Ireland. I’ve been beaten by priest, brothers and seen/know about a lot more. The things the church have done in my country to my countrymen have filled my with a hatred for Catholicism

Sorry, that’s wrong. It’s not just her beliefs that are being condemned, it’s her actions. You chose to put your beliefs into practice and you choose how to do so. Doing and believing these things yourself is one thing; praciting them on other people is quite another. Beliefs are not some kind of shield that take away a person’s responsibility for what they do.

WeRSauron, was Hitler the best Catholic in the world? I mean, he made his viewpoints pretty clear and certainly caused a lot of suffering. Is allowing, Jews, Gypsies, Communists, homosexuals, and a whole raft of other victims of the Third Reich to, “share in Christ’s suffering,” a worthy cause?

Would what Hitler did have been okay if only he had solicited for donations on American TV and tried to cram religion down his victim’s throats as they suffered?

Patiently accepting one’s own suffering can be a means of spiritual discipline. Requiring others to suffer needlessly is torture, thus evil.

I’ve always felt that Christopher Hitchens had a fairly large bumblebee in his bonnet when it came to Mother Theresa. He’s probably right that her reputation for helping the poor was overblown by the sort of “celebrity cult” that developed around her in the Western world, and that it may actually have done more harm than good in some respects.

But “evil”? Or cultivating a devotional commitment to suffering at the expense of actually helping people? I don’t buy it. Heck, the woman taught school in Calcutta for twenty years before starting her work in hospices and shelters—she was certainly not ignorant of the need to give people practical help as well as just cuddling them in their pain.

The hospice work of her last 45 years, AFAICT, was deliberately devoted to caring mostly for people who were largely “unhelpable” in any practical way. Hospices for the most unfortunate, including lepers, severely handicapped, terminally ill and dying, that sort of thing, especially among outcaste, low-status, and street people.

Yes, in many cases the care didn’t really accomplish much beyond getting these people out of a gutter and into a bed. They were made marginally more comfortable, but they mostly didn’t get serious medical attention, painkillers, etc. On the other hand, there are not a lot of resources devoted to those people in India under any circumstances, so it’s not clear how she could have helped them very much more constructively. Maybe she did over-rationalize this helplessness by saying how lovely it is to bear suffering patiently, etc., but I’ve certainly never seen any evidence that she wanted people to suffer needlessly or thought they shouldn’t be helped.

You could argue—and I think this is Hitchens’s real beef—that her emphasis on this type of palliative or superficial care created a bad sort of neo-Victorian sentimental mystique. Maybe it nourished unhealthy ideas about the fundamental mission of charity being to coo over the vanquished and dying, rather than giving some practical assistance to more robust unfortunates who could actually survive to help improve their society.

However, if Mother Theresa did become the focus of a sentimental cult in the developed world that romanticized suffering and its caretakers, I think that’s not so much her fault as the fault of the people who idolized her. Sure, she worked the crowd for sympathy and contributions, just as any philanthropic organization does, and her fundraising ethics weren’t always above criticism. But it was the public and the media who made her into some kind of idol of charity.

The world could have said “Oh, a leper hospital, how compassionate, sure, here’s some money. Now let’s see how those plans for slum schools and micro-loans for agricultural and artisan communities are getting along.” Instead, we (strongly encouraged by Church PR, I have to note) went nuts: “Oh, she takes care of the lepers and the untouchables that nobody else will help! Isn’t that just so noble and unselfish? Oh look, and her nuns wear those darling blue-striped saris! Did you know she’s friends with Princess Diana and Diana asked to work in her hospice in Calcutta? Wouldn’t Di have looked sweet in one of those saris? Wow, this woman is really a saint, let’s give her some more money!”

Sheer starry-eyed drivel, and I don’t wonder that a lot of people got exasperated about it, especially since the hospice care does seem to have been accompanied by some pretty hard-core evangelizing. And it’s true that Mother Theresa’s very vocal resistance to birth control and abortion is a lousy recipe for reducing suffering among poor and repressed women.

Still, she seems to have been acting sincerely in accordance with her principles, and she was trying to take at least some care of people who were desperately in need of help. The rest of the world has a lot of improving to do before we can afford to dismiss that kind of behavior as “evil”.

If I can quote a little of the article I mentioned (with link this time), many of the people there were not “unhelpable” at all. The italics are mine.

I think it’s important to keep in mind that we’re talking about “unhelpable” in the context of impovershed third-worlders. I don’t think it’s reasonable to criticize someone for not providing “strong analgesics” and pain management when the alternative is to let the person lie in a gutter.

Marley23: many of the people there were not “unhelpable” at all

Right Marley, but the point is that they were believed to be unhelpable: the institution was specifically a “Home for the Dying”, after all. It was sheer medical ignorance on the part of the charitable workers that kept curably ill people among the patients there.

Neither Mother Theresa nor any of her Sisters of Charity deliberately put curably ill people into hospice beds just so that they could suffer beautifully and quickly die of preventable causes, with a nice comfortable baptism to speed them on their way to St. Peter.

Or, if anybody’s alleging that this kind of deliberate murder-by-charity did occur, I want to see some evidence.

We all have free will, i.e. the choice whether to accept or reject any given belief, even if we accept the broad philosophy in which we find that belief. What you’re saying is that she held certain beliefs but bore no responsibility for their consequences. That’s not possible.

The glorification of suffering is inhumane and barbaric, especially when it involves other people’s suffering and one’s own glorification.

The alternative is to help, not let them die in a bed instead of letting them die in the street.

Dying is not the same as terminal and incurable.

They ran a facility for sick people and made medical decisions there. If they never brought anyone with medical knowledge on board to help with these decisions and see if some of the patients were not hopeless, that’s totally negligent. Unless this problem was never ever brought to their attention, which I kind of doubt.