Mother Theresa a fraud?

So I was watching an episode of Penn and Teller’s Bullshit tv series, and in it they said that Mother Theresa (not her real name, nor is she an actual mother) is a catholic fundamentalist fraud. They also said that her agenda wasn’t to cure the sick or feed the poor, it was to spread catholic BS about suffering to get closer to jesus.

For those of you who haven’t seen the episode, this is a link with a nice summary:

What do you guys think about the whole situation, is she truly a horrible woman unworthy of (rushed) sainthood?

Sounds about right to me. I seem to recall reading that she also accepted substantial donations from Charles Keating, and refused to return it after it came to light that the money had been stolen.

I’m curious what Penn and Teller had to say about Gandhi and the Dalai Lama, though. I’ve heard lots of criticism about the dubious sainthood of Mother Theresa, but I have seen anyone go after those other two guys. Well, unless you count Elton John.

I don’t know that “fraud” is accurate, since I doubt she ever lied about her goals. She just didn’t accomplish anything of any lasting value (putting aside the idea of saving eternal souls) and almost certainly made the situation a lot worse.

Hmm, after doing some additional reading’ if Hitchens is right, my qualifier is incorrect and she did lie about her goals.

Anyway, she can’t help but be highly regarded among cultures who unfortunately believe that suffering is noble in and of itself.

Dude, accepting (stolen) money from Keating was one of her lesser transgressions of ethical behavior. She courted (metaphoically speaking, of course) dictators and despots. From supporting Indira Ghandi’s suspension of civil liberties in India to hobnobbing with Trujillo in DR, Teresa never met an open purse she didn’t like. One could argue that, despite of the source of the funds, she was doing so out of the desire to ultimately do good with those monies, but in fact the majority of funds were either stockpiled in Swiss banks or funnelled to the Vatican, while the people under her care were encouraged to endure their suffering in pursuit of her idea of Christian worship. She’s quoted as saying “I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.” Her real mission was proselytizing, and that isn’t, IMHO, a charitable or benevolent intent, particularly given her lack of genuine charity.

The Sisters of her Order weren’t treated much better, receiving the bare minimum of necessities to live and substandard medical treatment. Teresa herself, on the other hand, received prime treatment (often pro bono) in her ailing years. While she can’t be accused of living lavishly, she certainly received better care than those whom she was nominally supporting.

Christopher Hitchins (The Missionary Position) and Dr. Aroup Chatterjee (Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict) have both written on the numerous ways that Mother Teresa’s Order and Missionaries of Charity operations differed from the (oft-self-promoted) public image of her as a benevolent matron caring for the ill and indigent. (It should be noted that Hitchins is a professional agitator and self-described “contrarian” whose default position on any issue of interest is to undermine authority.) There are many other critics, but because of her influence both within the Catholic Church and with world leaders past and present, her public image predominates, and she is on route to canonization and sainthood, despite not actually having performed any definable miracles. (Okay, that’s a little weak to non-Christians and those of us who don’t place much credence in any alleged supernatural events, but still…she needs to pass out a few loaves and fishes, or do some slight of hand, or something before she can legitimately be considered a saint, non?)

Even granted that iconic and celebrated heros never live up to their public image in their private lives, Mother Teresa certainly isn’t the benevolent and selfless angel of mercy she is generally considered to be. Her campaign for beautification and sainthood (going back a couple of decades before her death) was as crass as anything you’ll find in politics, and her lack of genuine compassion for the people her order cared for says little to her virtues as a moral human being.


I’ve got no beef with Mother Theresa’s critics. However, this:

is a bit disingenuous. She was a nun, most of whom do take different names upon taking their vows. She wasn’t keeping her birth name a secret or anything. And, while she wasn’t a mother, she certainly was a Mother – the head of an order of nuns. So, while she may very well have been a hypocritical fraud, neither of these two things is proof of that.

All of which were covered in the Wiki link in the OP. I didn’t see mention of the Keating thing, so I figured I’d add that in, too.

It’s been a while since I saw the episode, but the gist of it is that Gandhi wrote some pretty racist things (“Don’t confuse the Indian with the negro.") and the Lama is looking more to reclaim his throne than he’s concerned about the welfare of the Tibetan people.

Here’s one thing Hitchens wrote:

Dunno if that makes her a fraud, but it does, if true, make her a monster.

Actually, the answer is non. Thomas More, for example, was sainted in 1935, and I’m pretty sure that was without miracles. Since 1983, it has been official policy that martys need not have attested miracles. And there was a movement afoot, discussed on that page, to dispense with the requirement altogether. Whether the movement survived JPII’s demise is more than I know.

It’s possible Gandhi said some racist things, but I don’t see how this equates him to Mother Teresa.

A writer I enjoy, Bill James, once said “Abraham Lincoln wasn’t a great American because he was nice to his mother.” The problem with Mother Teresa wasn’t that she had some faults, it was that she actually hurt people; she exploited people’s charity, left helpless people to die in agony for what amounted to her own spiritual satisfaction, and espoused causes that hurt poor people. On top of that, she was a hypocrite (buddy-buddy with divorcee Princess Diana while telling battered women they would roast in hell if they got divorces, etc) but she was plenty bad without the hypocrisy.

Gandhi, whatever his other faults, did something very good for many, many people by helping to achive Indian independence (a very good thing) with substantially less violence and bloodshed than likely would have happened had independence be achieved in some other fashion (also a very good thing.) Lots of people can be unfairly demonized this way; Martin Luther King Jr. was a womanizer. Thomas Jefferson owned a few slaves. Winston Churchill was a drunk and a terrible military strategist. They’re all still way in the positive on the balance sheet. The world was better off for having them.

However, in the particular case the question asked addresses, the requirement does apply: as of today, the exemption remains for martyrs. Non-martyrs like MT or JP2 are still required to have “attested miracles” attributed to their veneration. What has been done with MT and JP2 is waive the 5-year waiting period. Either JP2, or Paul VI in his last years, did come up with a concept of “Martyr of Charity”, for servants of God who are killed “in the line of duty”, though not directly for the defense of the faith (e.g. Max Kolbe), but MT would still not quite meet the criteria.

JP2 was quite sanguine about canonizations, he seemingly wanted to have “examples” to be held up to every possible population segment and about every possible challenge to faith; I once read he did more canonizations in his term than in the rest of the 20th century leading to him – I don’t know how accurate that claim may be. It lent itself to uncomfortable situations such as the rush to veneration of Mother T., the canonization of Juan Diego whose historicity had come into question, that of Opus Dei founder Josemaría Escrivá, and the controversy over (still-uncanonized) Edith Stein.

Stranger, the two “miracles” are required after the purported saint has departed this world.

I remember when there was a determined effort to canonize the first native born American saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton. The joke I heard at the time is that the traditional miracles were still required, but that one of them could be a card trick.

Anybody know what the standard for declaring something a “miracle” is? Does someone’s claim that they prayed to Mother Theresa and were healed of an ailment qualify?

campaign for beatification: Mother Theresa
campaign for beautification: Lady Bird Johnson. [/nitpick]

We’ve had three or four threads on that ghastly woman in the past, but as you’re not a member you can’t do a search.

How was Bl. Mother Teresa evil?] Good, bad or indifferent?

Another “Worst” Thread: 20th-Century Woman?

Depends. The church is extremely conservative and skeptical when declaring actual miracles.

I liked Sharon Osbourne’s description-“Ugly little cunt in sandles.”

That would be ‘sleight’ and ‘beatification’ respectively.

As you were.

Well, just claiming it would not be enough: an investigation would have to be conducted to substantiate the claim (Is there evidence the patient really was as critically/terminally/incurably ill? That s/he’s really healed? Is there no reasonable medical explanation? etc.), and the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints can be quite the bunch of Doubting Thomases when they put their minds to it. But yes, virtually all the “miracles” in modern canonization are healings (I mean, just how often does anyone have to make the Sun move backward these days?).

Currently, it’s one miracle for beatification (unless a martyr, then no miracle necessary); and one for canonization. Before, it was two (or more, in some cases) to make Beatus and two more for Saint (with one credited for martyrs).

One of the things JP2 did early in his term to streamline the canonization process was to remove old adversarial elements in the process (the so-called “devil’s advocate”) so now it’s more a question of presenting to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints sufficient documentary evidence to convince them.

A Pope, in the exercise of his powers, can leapfrog the process and canonize on the basis that the evidence for sainthood satisfies** him** (e.g. St. Philomena); but this is an extraordinarily rare occurence in modern times, and obviously would be specially risky with people about whom more stuff may yet be dug up. Benny would have to be bold beyond expectation to pull that one on Teresa. It’s even likely her proponents would rather get a hearing of her case, as an opportunity to “set the record straight” on friendly ground and get the nod of approval of the institution.

When I was in Catholic school, a priest said there was no St. Philomena. It just means ‘beloved’ in Greek, someone found that word on a tombstone — 'beloved" is a pretty common adjective on tombstones, then as now—and took it for a personal name. Voilà, now there’s a woman named Philomena where there hadn’t been one before.