Mother Theresa: Saint or Malefactor

The common belief about Mother Theresa is that she was a wonderful, altruistic woman who is canonized for her good deeds. I have also seen numerous reports that she far from the wonderful caring woman we all hear about. Here are some of the things she comes under fire for:

Christopher Hitchens [author of The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (Verso)] accuses her of:

  • Lobbying the people of Ireland to not repeal the law disallowing divorced people from remarrying by saying, “There will be no forgiveness for you if you vote for this,” but absolving her good friend Princess Di by saying her divorce was “a good thing. They were never happy.”

  • In 1981 Mother Teresa journeyed to Haiti, to accept that nation’s highest award, the Legion d’Honneur. She received it from the Duvalier family, and made a glowing speech in which she said that dictator “Baby Doc” and his wife Michele not only loved the poor, but also were loved by the poor in return.

  • In 1990 she made a trip to Albania, then the most oppressive of the Balkan Stalinist states, and laid a wreath on the grave of the dictator Enver Hoxha as well as on the irredentist monument to “Mother Albania”. She was herself of Albanian descent (born in Skopje, Macedonia), but her embrace of Hoxha’s widow and her silence on human rights shocked many Albanians.

  • In 1992 she intervened with a court in Los Angeles, which was about to sentence Charles Keating, the biggest fraud and embezzler in American history. His S & L racket stole a total of $252 million, mainly from small and poor depositors. A strong Catholic and right-wing campaigner against pornography in his spare time, Keating gave Mother Teresa $1,250,000 in cash and the use of a private jet, in return for which she gave him many useful endorsements, including a character reference to the court. The court had asked Mother Teresa to return Keating’s donations, which may well have been stolen, but she never replied to the request.

  • Concern at the extremely low standard of medicine practiced in her small Calcutta clinics.

  • She opened more than 500 convents in 125 countries, “not counting India.” It seemed more than probable that money donated by well-wishers for the relief of suffering was being employed for the purpose of religious proselytizing.

  • She frequently described the suffering of the poor as a gift from God, and took a highly traditional attitude of resignation and stoicism.

  • She was adamantly opposed to the use of contraception. She said that she would never
    permit a child to be adopted by any parent who had ever consented to an abortion. In her Nobel Prize speech, she described abortion as the single greatest threat to world peace.

Deva Sarito in the Osho Times International Magazine had these items to say:

  • A direct quote from Mother Thereas: “I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.”

  • 1980 when an American couple went to Calcutta to adopt an orphan, where they were enthusiastically greeted and given a form to fill out. Then – as soon as the form revealed the prospective parents to be Protestants, and not Catholic – they were told that all the available orphans had somehow vanished.

  • Dr. Robin Fox, physician and contributing editor to the prestigious medical magazine, The Lancet, visited her Home for Dying Destitutes and he found that the nuns are not given even the most rudimentary training in diagnosis and treatment of the sick (such erudition would go against their commitment to remain “on equal terms with the poor”) and that the inmates are never given anything stronger than an aspirin or Brufen for their pain.

According to Susan Shields, who spent nearly ten years as a nun in Mother Teresa’s order:

  • She sabotaged a Bronx housing project for the homeless because the city required the place to have an elevator for the disabled (elevators are an unnecessary luxury, and Mother Teresa scrapped the whole development because of it).

  • She personally knew of at least one Bronx checking account containing over $50 million.

  • Mother Theresa baptized dying people who were not Catholic without consent when they were helpless to protest.

Now I have a few questions to get The Straight Dope on.

  1. How much of these essentially underground press attacks are factual? Or do these problems with Mother Theresa simply come from secular people who always take issue with the Church and it’s practices? Or is there more to it than that?

  2. If any or all of her detractions are true, why didn’t the mainstream media - which also leans towards the secular (I’m being generous with this assessment) - ever report anything less than “Wow, look at how wonderful she is” rhetoric?

  3. In reality - rhetoric aside - what good things did she do? For both the Catholic Church, sure, but also for humanity as a whole?

I know this is long as hell, but I really wanted to get the information that turned up out for discussion… Plus I think long posts scare Loverock!

Brian O’Neill
CMC International Records

ICQ 35294890
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Yahoo Messenger Brian_ONeill

Oh, Satan, I am so glad you brought this up, and that there are indeed other sources besides Christopher Hitchens on this highly questionable woman (Hitchens is a delightful writer, as long as I agree with him!). I used to be annoyed with Mom Theresa’s endless religious prattlings–especially against abortion and birth control, in a country chockful of starving babies!–but thought, “well, as long as she’s doing genuine good, I can overlook that.” Now it seems the poor in her so-called “hospitals” were getting little or no treatment. Notice that when SHE needed treatment, she got it at the best hospitals in Europe and the U.S., not her own hell-holes! But it looks like she’s bought her sainthood, anyway . . .

Wow! Where to begin? I used to be married to a man whose parents and sister are missionaries, and I spent a lot of time with many missionaries both on furlough in the USA and in the field. I thought I had seen hypocricy in the church, but it was nothing compared to what I saw in the missionaries. At one mission hospital, the ‘converts’ from the village got great jobs at the hospital, while those who maintained their traditional beliefs did not. The missionaries denied any sort of favortism, but it was obvious.
I also found in the missionaries a general intolerance for the culture of the people with whom they were working. They displayed very little interest in understanding the villagers; they only wanted to convert them (gee, that reminds me of a certain poster on this board). They seemed to take the position that the culture in it’s entirety was bad and had a great bend towards ‘Westernizing’.
I also found the missionaries to be arrogant. The general rule in all things was that their way was the right way. Period. I saw no attempts at promoting indigenous leadership (except to ordain a pastor), and very little respect was shown for the thoughts, opinions, and ideas of the native people.
All that being said, it is in order that they be cut a little slack. I also work to provide aid to the poor in the Third World (secularly) and I can assure you it is no easy task. It is very difficult to not become arrogant when you are working with very uneducated people. What I mean by very is that an uneducated person in the Third World knows far less than an uneducated person in America. In America, we have TV and people hear the news, they hear about new developments in technology, world events etc. But the Third World poor have none of this. For many people, their entire life experience is confined to their village. Now, take a lot like that and try to get any kind of project done. It is most often much easier to just tell them how to do it and insist that it be done your way rather than to have to explain to them that their method was proven ineffective in 1928. Personally, I feel strongly that indigenous leadership is essential and this sort of teaching is just part of the game, but I also see how others get extremely frustrated by it.

In reference to Mother Theresa, you said:

This would not surprise me, but not necessarily becsause I think M.T. was screwing up. M.T. aside for the moment,I would caution everyone about the standard which they would use to judge the quality of care in any Third World clinic. The mission hospitals that I’ve seen would be considered an absolute disgrace if they were in the US. I guaruntee that none of you would get your medical care there. However, they are often the best available. The reason for this is money. It’s easy to look at charities like the American Cancer Society, and assume that all charities have lots-o-cash, but this is simply not true. Fund raising is damned hard(unless, of course, you have the powerful Catholic church behind you, or some celebrity and/or politician). Equipment and most medicines must be imported as they are simply unobtainable in many regions. Aside from the astronomical cost of shipping something like an X-ray machine, there is the problem of it actually arriving. First one needs to wade through a ton of bearucrats to even get permission to bring such a thing in to the country. Then there are taxes, fees, and bribes to be paid. After all that, you may show up to recieve your shipment and be told, “Never saw it”. And then there are problems of staff. Everyone seems to think that ‘somebody’ is out there volunteering. Not so. It is extremely difficult to get qualified doctors and nurses to volunteer to practice in the Third World, even for one-year stinits.
Despite all of that, though, I believe that Mother Theresa’s mission was not exactly short of cash. She certainly should have had very, very good clinics. Give me half of what she had donated and I could work miracles, too.

Knowing she was Catholic, I always assumed this. Nevertheless, I fail to see how anyone working in India could aspouse this view. I know that many times missionaries need to be political, and may say one thing publically, but another thing when giving private council. I have no idea if this was the case with M.T., but I’m sure that if she had come out in favor of birth control, her funding from the church would have vanished, along with any good work she was accomplishing. Just something to consider.

In my experience, this is not atypical. On the other hand, if you donate to a Catholic charity, you should expect some of that money to go towards conversion efforts. It’s only improper if they tell you the money will only be used for, say, medical care, and then they use it for conversion purposes. If one donates to the charities general fund, the charity is free to use that money however they see fit. If you have concerns, remember this when you donate, and specify what you would like the money used for.

As to the rest of what you presented, Satan, I can’t attest to the voracity of any of it, but I’m hoping others can. I’d love to know the whole scoop.

“I think it would be a great idea” Mohandas Ghandi’s answer when asked what he thought of Western civilization

I’ll leave the final choice to Nickrz, whose turf I’m invading here, but this sure looks to me like it would be better discussed in Great Debates…

I think Brian’s questions are factual in nature (although they certainly will inflame some tender emotions) and ought to remain where they are.

I can see several separate and distinct debates devolving from this topic, however, and I’ll leave it to the teeming millions to transer those debates to GD or the pit (egad!) as is warranted.

I bow to the wisdom of the GQ moderator. :wink:

(But I’ll be happy to say “I told ya so” later, of course.) :smiley:

Very interesting accusations. I have no way to check out which ones are true, although quite a few of them (e.g. the ones relating to abortion, contraception, protestants) should be expected, given her status as a r.c. nun.

But there was one comment which I simply do not understand:

What does this mean? My wife works in the fund-raising department at a local hospital, and many checks from wealthy donors go through her hands, so I guess she personally knows about those checking accounts. Big deal! Did you intend to say that M.T. owns that money and is not really personally poor?

I think the point of it was, MT was so loaded (well, her ministries anyway) that all of the other items which involved poor conditions could easilly have been improved. If I was in a clinic with some of the problems detailed by others and I knew that just one account had 50 million bucks in it, I would wonder why the conditions were so bad. It goes hand-in-hand with the other problems…

Brian O’Neill
CMC International Records

ICQ 35294890
AIM Scrabble1
Yahoo Messenger Brian_ONeill

Christopher Hitchens’ accusations will not sway anyone who believed that Mother Theresa was a great woman- they will serve only to let her detractors (and Catholic bashers in general)say “I told you so!”

No one is immune to criticism, and if there is evidence that Mother Theresa was taking contributions from donors and spending it on ski trips or hot tubs or fur coats or air-conditioned doghouses (oops! wrong evangelist!), I’ll join the list of her detractors. But even Hitchens never tried to claim that. He dwelled less on where Mother Theresa’s money went than on where it came from. Was she wrong to take money from people as slimy as Baby Doc Duvalier? Tough call. If Doc hadn’t give the money to her, was it going to be spent on the poor in Haiti? Of COURSE not! Like it or not, Duvalier had already stolen the money from his own people. If he chose to give some of his loot to a non-Haitian charity, rather than spend it on another yacht for himself, is that really cause for anger?

Now,let’s be clear about one thing: Hitchens’ venom is fueled by his political ideology, rather than by anything the good Mother actually did. Hitchens hates Christianity and he hates the Western Democracies. Thus, he CANNOT conceive of a European Christian missionary being anything but a dunce (at best) or a criminal (at worst). That showed in his article.

Finally, it’s clear that Mother Theresa’s stance against abortion is a big part of what drives her enemies to seek dirt on her. Apparently, leftists in the West believe that the best way to relieve poverty in India is to get rid of the excess Indians! (Promoting abortion to relieve poverty in India is, as I see it, like dropping shiploads of Dexatrim on Ethiopia.) Jesus told his followers to feed the hungry and clothe the naked- not to kill their children, so there’d be more food and clothes for everybody else.

Oh, not that old “abortion and birth control = killing children” nonsense! Remember in the old days when anti-abortion protesters would yell “don’t kill your babies?” Now it’s “don’t kill your children!” Pretty soon it will be “don’t kill your middle-aged!” Calling an embryo a “child” is like calling a blank sheet of paper “the collected works of Charles Dickens.” Besides, Ma Theresa also inveighed against birth control, and there’s no way you can equate that with machine-gunning “excess” Indians. The simplest way to ease starvation in overpopulated countries is to help people have fewer children, and Ma Theresa refused to acknowledge that.

Lucky, interesting post. Have you read “The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara …(can’t think of her last name!). It’s great! Coming from the background you seem to have, I think you would be able to identify greatly with it. It certainly changed the way I, as a practicing Christian, think about missionary activity!

Re: MT’s stance on birth control-Catholicism, obviously, as everyone has pointed out. But, I think MT would have had just as much struggle if she had wanted it. How does the Indian culture view birth control? It is still very much a male-dominated society; most women may not have a choice even where BC is available due to the pressures from their husbands, families, society in general. Isn’t exposure or abandonment of female infants still very common in India?

I don’t believe MT ever claimed to be a saint or perfect; I’m sure she was dogmatic about certain issues. However, I’m sure there are lots of people who are alive today that wouldn’t be if not for her. I honestly never paid too much attention to the details of her ministry. She seemed to be more honest than the general evangelist/missionary, eventhough that doesn’t say much nowadays.

[[Calling an embryo a “child” is like calling a blank sheet of paper “the collected works of Charles Dickens.”]]

Beautiful-- I’m making a note of that one.

I read Hitchens book, and most of the other commentary that came out around the time he published.

I saw less vemon in the book, and more of a desire to point out to all the non-Catholic admirers of MT how very Catholic she was.

I have no doubt that she should be a saint-- she was a great Catholic. But that doesn’t automatically make her a great human being. (Wait-- I didn’t say that Catholics CAN’T be great human beings-- go back and read that sentence again.)

Personally, I have been a non-fan of hers since I read the Marvel Comics stroy of her life back around 1983. How someone living in the middle of the caste system (and who was alive in Hitler’s Europe) can call abortion “the greatest evil to visit mankind,” I’ll never know. She also said that babies born to suffer and die in infancy don’t live in vain, as long as they know love (in her orphanages); this is the worst tripe I can imagine.

Hitchens pointed out in his book that MT’s mission in life was never to aid the poor or to relieve suffering, but to found a new order of sisters. She did this, and she did this magnificently well, and as such was a great success.

However, people, especially non-Catholics who give her money, should do so in full knowledge that her primary mission is NOT to relieve suffering. Hitchens wrote of hospitals where dying people were not given pain medication because MT believed that their suffering improved their relationships with G-d. That’s wrong, IMHO, and not by a philosophical definition, but just by a dictionary definition. It’s also theologically wrong, in my admittedly Jewish opinion-- oh hell, I’d better not even get started.

Anyway, I believe this last point was what the poster who mentioned the chockful bank accounts was getting at-- according to Hitchens, MT let all kinds of money just sit in savings accounts while sick people went without medication.

Shopping is still cheaper than therapy. --my Aunt Franny

First of all, it’s odd that pro-abortion folks are so tickled pink by the work of Christopher Hitchens- despite the fact that he’s just slightly to the right of Stalin, and doesn’t believe that Jesus existed (let alone rose from the dead), he’s adamantly anti-abortion. Nonetheless, pro-abortion folks invariably LOVED his article slamming MT, because it told them exactly what they WANTED to believe.

Hitchens views Christian missionaries as the last colonialists, and THTA’s his real beef with them. He can’t imagine that any intelligent person would take Christianity seriously, so he ascribes sinister motives to anyone to tries to spread it to other countries. He looks at an elderly Albanian nun and sees Cecil Rhodes, taking up the “white man’s burden” and trying to force European ways on virtuous Third Worlders.

Never mind for a moment that Hitchens has this ass-backwards (Christianity isn’t a European religion that was imposed on Asians- it’s an ASIAN religion that was imposed on Europeans!). What’s telling is how eager American leftists were to believe any smear that they heard. By her very existence, she was an affront to them. After all, the eternal cry of the pro-abortionists has always been “Instead of worrying about fetuses, why don’t you do something for the poor people we already have?” They LOVE that rhetorical question! They seem to think it quite clever, for some reason. It’s not surprising, then, that a woman who devoted much of her life to helping the poor AND battling abortion, was GALLING to them! Mother Theresa frustrated the pro-abortion people, because she didn’t seem to fit neatly into their scheme. Thus, they were DYING to believe that she wasn’t really the saintly old gal portrayed in the media.

Now, Catholic as I am, I’m fully prepared to believe that there are clergy capable of any crime. Remember Fr. Bruce Ritter, founder of Covenant House? he accepted donations to shelter street kids… only it turned out he was giving the money to teenage boys for sexual favors. Sigh… point is, yeah, clergy can be scummy people, and when there’s evidence of such behavior, I say condemn them and lock them up. But Hitchens’ piece said more about Hitchens than about MT. And if you loved that piece, that says more about YOU than it does about MT.

Ok, David, you told me so.

Imagine my surprise at not finding a readily available abortion thread over in GD!
Perhaps I missed something, but I guess your gentle readers are more focused on the really important stuff like Curly vs. Shemp vs. Joe.

I have a couple of comments, but I’ll wait a little while to see if this moves over to GD. (Some are responses to the MT issue, and some are on abortion…)

This from the person who can’t distinguish between “providing contraception (even non-abortive contraception) to Indians” and “getting rid of all the excess Indians.” Here’s a free clue from 1-800-CLUEFONE: Indians who have never been conceived are not “excess.”

Flora McFlimsey:

I have no intention of starting an abortion thread, either here or on GD, but I must dispute the above statement. An embryo, if no outside intervention happens to it, will become a child. A blank sheet of paper requires outside intervention to become a work of literature.

Chaim Mattis Keller

“Sherlock Holmes once said that once you have eliminated the
impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be
the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.
The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it that the merely improbable lacks.”
– Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective

Gee, CM, why not start an abortion thread? Might be fun. Obviously, an embryo is not “exactly” like a blank sheet of paper, otherwise childbirth would involve one helluva paper cut. But my point was that anti-abortionists call embryos and fetuses “children,” which is ridiculous (they used to call them “babies,” which was equally silly). The argument about when life starts can go on forever, but it is very ingenuous to use that “don’t kill your ‘children’” line. Getting back to Mother Theresa, that is one of my arguments with her–if she had been really interested in relieving suffering–and not JUST in being a “good Christian”–she would have tried to institute education on at least birth control, if not abortion.

Why not start an abortion thread? Because I know I’ll see the same old predictable arguments being thrown back and forth. If someone else thinks it’s worth their while to hear them, I’ll step in and offer my point of view, but there’s seldom anything to actually be gotten out of one of those debates…not even entertainment value.

You’re right that it’s wrong to call fetuses children, in the same sort of way that it’s wrong to call children adults. But it’s also wrong to compare something that cannot happen without outside intervention to something that will (most likely) happen without outside intervention.

Chaim Mattis Keller

Um… last time I checked it took the “outside intervention” of the mother to change an embryo to a child. It also takes much “intervention” from a family to raise an infant to a child and/or adult.

But I do agree with you… this is a pointless debate. Most of us already have decided at what point human life starts, and since there’s no definitive answer, no use debating it here.