Today, in fact 40 minutes ago as I write this, the Pope conducted some official Catholic PR by declaring the culturally popular icon, Mother Teresa, is now a Saint. He announced …
“After due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother bishops, we declare and define Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to be a saint and we enrol her among the saints, decreeing that she is to be venerated as such by the whole Church.”
Mother Teresa Myths
I’ve written quite a bit about her over the years and am quite critical. This is because much of what is believed about her life and works is not actually factual at all. There is a popular cultural myth that she was a lady who devoted her entire life to helping poor people. It is of course true that she founded the Missionaries of Charity, but there are aspects to her work that are truly quite disturbing, so I’ll pluck out some details from my previous writing on this topic that illustrate this …
1) Not a Friend of the Poor
She was not at all a friend of the poor, but was instead a friend of poverty. That might appear to be a subtle distinction, but it is a rather important one. She believed that poverty was a gift from god and should be accepted and welcomed. The outcome of such thinking was that she was opposed to the one thing that is known to cure poverty, allowing woman control over their reproductive cycle. In other words, woman should be breeding machines and have as many babies as possible.
2) Her friends included the corrupt rich
Those with whom she was friends included the corrupt rich such as the Duvalier family in Haiti. She travelled all the way there to personally meet with them so that she could be given money. Note that this was not theirs to give, but had been stolen by this corrupt family from the poor of Haiti. In return she gave a public speech in which she praised the regime of this family of dictators.
She also accepted 1.4 million dollars of stolen money from Charles Keeting, founder of Lincoln Savings and Loan Association. In return she gave him public support and testimony at his trial saying what a great man he was. The District Attorney wrote to her and explained that the money had never belonged to him and that she should not keep it (she never replied).
The source for the above was the well-researched book by Journalist and author Christopher Hitchins, “The Missionary Position”. It exposed her as a religious fanatic with no real interest in actually helping the poor. Because he visited her clinic in Calcutta and also personally interviewed her, he was in the unique position of having direct knowledge of what was really going on and gained a deep understanding of what she truly believed.
Mr Hitchens was not a lone voice, many other sources raised similar concerns. Colette Livermore, an ex nun from Mother Teresa’s order, writes quite critically about it within her book “Hope Endures: Leaving Mother Teresa, Losing Faith, and Searching for Meaning”.
As for the actual care on offer by her clinics, that has been heavily criticized by both the Lancet and also the British Medical Journal. Deploying staff who are not permitted to have any medical training, yet are still expected to care for the ill and dying does not yield a viable health-care solution …
Robin Fox, the editor of the Lancet, wrote in 1994 about the “haphazard” approach to care by nuns and volunteers, and the lack of medically trained personnel in the order’s homes.
These are not lone isolated voices, not are they the only ones, many others are quite rightly deploying fact-based criticism …
Aroup Chatterjee, a doctor, grew up in Kolkata and now works in the UK. He is one of Mother Teresa’s most vocal critics. “Many rogues have become Catholic saints,” he said. “What bothers me is that the world makes such a song and dance about a superstitious, black magic ceremony.”
He added: “It’s obvious that people are duped, they have a herd mentality. But the media has a responsibility not to collude with it.”
He has described Mother Teresa as “a medieval creature of darkness” and a “bogus and fantastic figure” who went unchallenged by the world’s media.
According to his 2003 book, Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict, based on the testimonies of scores of people who worked with the Missionaries of Charity, the medical care given to sick and dying people was negligible. Syringes were reused without sterilisation, pain relief was non-existent or inadequate, and conditions were unhygienic. Meanwhile, Mother Teresa spent much of her time travelling around the world in a private plane to meet political leaders.
… and also Susan Shields …
Susan Shields, a former worker with the Missionaries of Charity, who claimed that vast sums of money accrued in bank accounts but very little was spent on medical expertise or making the lives of the sick and dying more comfortable.
After Hitchins, other Journalists also investigated and came to similar conclusions …
The investigative journalist Donal Macintyre spent a week working undercover in a Missionaries of Charity home for disabled children in Kolkata in 2005. In an article in the New Statesman, he described pitiful scenes. “For the most part, the care the children received was inept, unprofessional and, in some cases, rough and dangerous.”
The assertion that she was a good person, a Saint, and did great things simply does not survive a review of the available evidence, and none of these facts have every been disputed.
She did not actually believe in God
A rather astonishing and not very well-known fact is that over the years she lost her belief in God.
Her public position was one in which to claimed to retain an unquestioned faith, yet that was a complete lie, because behind that facade she hid the fact that she no longer believed.
In a new book that compiles letters she wrote to friends, superiors and confessors, her doubts are obvious.
Shortly after beginning work in Calcutta’s slums, the spirit left Mother Teresa.
“Where is my faith?” she wrote. “Even deep down… there is nothing but emptiness and darkness… If there be God — please forgive me.”
Eight years later, she was still looking to reclaim her lost faith.
“Such deep longing for God… Repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal,” she said.
As her fame increased, her faith refused to return. Her smile, she said, was a mask.
“What do I labor for?” she asked in one letter. “If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, You also are not true.”
According to her letters, Mother Teresa died with her doubts. She had even stopped praying. It reveals her to be a human who had earlier on in her life charted a course of religious devotion, but then later changed her mind. She was however trapped and so she needed to maintain the facade because she had nothing else.
How do you become a Catholic Saint?
To get the Official “Saint” status within Catholicism, there needs proof of at least two medical miracles, and she has that.
The issue here is that what we are talking about is Catholic “Proof” and that is something that is not of the same calibre as say legal proof or scientific proof.
Back last year, I was writing and pointing out that her “miracles” are highly dubious …
Back in 2003 (via the BBC again) …
The Pope judged that the curing of an Indian woman suffering from an abdominal tumour was the result of the supernatural intervention of Mother Teresa.
…He approved the October finding from a Vatican commission that the healing of a Bengali tribal woman, Monica Besra, was a miracle.
It is claimed that a locket with Mother Teresa’s photo on it cured the woman of a stomach tumour in Calcutta in 1998.
The problem with this “Miracle” is that it is not one at all, and what we actually have here is a Non sequitur. The problem is that you simply cannot claim that the Mother Teresa locket was the cure, and that the medical treatment she received at the same time played no part at all, and so this claim is quite frankly absurd because it completely ignores the medical care she received. This is not simply my own opinion, Prabir Ghosh, general secretary of the Indian Rationalist and Scientific Thinking Association, took this exact stance, and he was not alone, her doctors agreed with him …
Mr Ghosh described the claim as bogus and typical of the process of cult building in all religious orders.
He says Mother Teresa could be considered for sainthood for her services to the poor, adding that it was an insult to her legacy to bestow her sainthood on false claims of miracles.
Mr Ghosh says several doctors have reported to the West Bengal government that Ms Besra continued to receive treatment long after Mother Teresa died.
He said Ms Besra was admitted to hospital with chronic headaches and severe abdominal pain at least a year after Mother Teresa’s death.
The doctors say that if the story of the miracle gets what they describe as undue publicity, illiterate and poor villagers may stop taking medical treatment for their maladies and seek miracle cures.
Mr Ghosh says his association, which seeks to promote rational and scientific thinking in India, would expect the West Bengal Government to take legal action against the Missionaries of Charity.
… in other words, her own doctors did not think this was a “miracle”, so where exactly is the “proof” here?
This I suspect is what might be best described as religious “proof” and not scientific proof at all. If you were to take a scientific approach then you do need to justify why your conclusion is the best answer, utilise objective data and not subjective opinion to back it up, and not ignore the far more obvious reasonable conclusion.
People believe what they want to believe and what they need to believe, not because that is what the facts reveal, but often despite the facts.
In the case of Mother Teresa the facts clearly reveal a reality that very much conflicts with the prevailing cultural mythology, and yet such facts have been ignored and will no doubt continue to be ignored. She has not been canonised, instead a myth about who she was has been canonised and promoted, on the basis of miracles that are not really miracles at all. It is like this because it meets a deeply felt emotional need that many have, and not because any of it is actually true.
We need not doubt the sincerity of those that embrace such mythology as truth, because it is an understandable reaction to recent Church history. Catholicism badly needs such ideal humans to help them forget the revelations of case after case after case of abuse and cover-up, and so this myth of goodness is elevated to help fill the vacuum and sooth the considerable degree of anguish that those revelations of deeply rooted darkness caused.
Nobody is about to permit any facts to get in the way. This is because deeply felt emotions will always trump the facts, they always have. The fact that is it like this is the only true miracle going on here.