How Mother Teresa became a saint – Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens“Mother Teresa was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women. … She was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go?” – Christopher Hitchens

I think it was Macaulay who said that the Roman Catholic Church deserved great credit for, and owed its longevity to, its ability to handle and contain fanaticism. This rather oblique compliment belongs to a more serious age. What is so striking about the “beatification” of the woman who styled herself “Mother” Teresa is the abject surrender, on the part of the Church, to the forces of showbiz, superstition, and populism.

Fr Donald McGuire SJ & Mother Teresa MCIt’s the sheer tawdriness that strikes the eye first of all. It used to be that a person could not even be nominated for “beatification,” the first step to “sainthood,” until five years after his or her death. This was to guard against local or popular enthusiasm in the promotion of dubious characters. The pope nominated MT a year after her death in 1997. It also used to be that an apparatus of inquiry was set in train, including the scrutiny of an advocatus diaboli or “devil’s advocate,” to test any extraordinary claims. The pope has abolished this office and has created more instant saints than all his predecessors combined as far back as the 16th century.

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 MT, 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. (As it happens, I myself was interviewed by them but only in the most perfunctory way. The procedure still does demand a show of consultation with doubters, and a show of consultation was what, in this case, it got.)

John Paul II & Mother TeresaAccording to an uncontradicted report in the Italian paper L’Eco di Bergamo, the Vatican’s secretary of state sent a letter to senior cardinals in June, asking on behalf of the pope whether they favoured making MT a saint right away. The pope’s clear intention has been to speed the process up in order to perform the ceremony in his own lifetime. The response was in the negative, according to Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, the Canadian priest who has acted as postulator or advocate for the “canonization.” But the damage, to such integrity as the process possesses, has already been done.

During the deliberations over the Second Vatican Council, under the stewardship of Pope John XXIII, MT was to the fore in opposing all suggestions of reform. What was needed, she maintained, was more work and more faith, not doctrinal revision. Her position was ultra-reactionary and fundamentalist even in orthodox Catholic terms. Believers are indeed enjoined to abhor and eschew abortion, but they are not required to affirm that abortion is “the greatest destroyer of peace,” as MT fantastically asserted to a dumbfounded audience when receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Believers are likewise enjoined to abhor and eschew divorce, but they are not required to insist that a ban on divorce and remarriage be a part of the state constitution, as MT demanded in a referendum in Ireland (which her side narrowly lost) in 1996. Later in that same year, she told Ladies Home Journal that she was pleased by the divorce of her friend Princess Diana, because the marriage had so obviously been an unhappy one …

Mother Teresa & Michele Duvalier of HaitiThis returns us to the medieval corruption of the Church, which sold indulgences to the rich while preaching hellfire and continence to the poor. MT was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had been—she preferred California clinics when she got sick herself—and her order always refused to publish any audit. But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility?

The rich world has a poor conscience, and many people liked to alleviate their own unease by sending money to a woman who seemed like an activist for “the poorest of the poor.” People do not like to admit that they have been gulled or conned, so a vested interest in the myth was permitted to arise, and a lazy media never bothered to ask any follow-up questions. Many volunteers who went to Calcutta came back abruptly disillusioned by the stern ideology and poverty-loving practice of the “Missionaries of Charity,” but they had no audience for their story. George Orwell’s admonition in his essay on Gandhi—that saints should always be presumed guilty until proved innocent—was drowned in a Niagara of soft-hearted, soft-headed, and uninquiring propaganda.

Mother Teresa & Pope John Paul IIOne of the curses of India, as of other poor countries, is the quack medicine man, who fleeces the sufferer by promises of miraculous healing. Sunday was a great day for these parasites, who saw their crummy methods endorsed by his holiness and given a more or less free ride in the international press. Forgotten were the elementary rules of logic, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and that what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence. More than that, we witnessed the elevation and consecration of extreme dogmatism, blinkered faith, and the cult of a mediocre human personality. Many more people are poor and sick because of the life of MT: Even more will be poor and sick if her example is followed. She was a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud, and a Church that officially protects those who violate the innocent has given us another clear sign of where it truly stands on moral and ethical questions. – Slate, 20 October 2003

» Christopher Hitchens, now deceased, was a columnist for Vanity Fair and author of the book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice.

Mother Teresa on the cover of SF Weekly.

 See also

5 Responses

  1. Media Interview Quotes from late 1980′s backing RSS Chief Mohan Bhagavat remarks on Mother Teresa ‘Conversion Business’ – WHN Reporter – World Hindu News – 24 February 2015

    Q: As a Christian missionary, do you adopt a position of neutrality between Christian poor and other poor? A: I am not neutral. I have my faith. Q: Can the Church do any wrong? A: No, as long as it stands on the side of God. Q: Mother, if you were born in the Middle Ages, and were asked, at the time of Galileo’s inquisition, to take side, which would you have chosen – the Church or modern astronomy? A: (Smiling) The Church. India Today, May 31, 1983. Interview of Mother Teresa.

    “I say to all priests: You have not become priests to be social workers.” Gonzalez-Balado, J., Loving Jesus Mother Teresa, London 1991, p. 46. With reference to the priest involved in liberation theology.

    “Tell them we are not here for work, we are here for Jesus. We are religious above all else. We are not social workers, not teachers, not doctors. We are nuns.” Mother Teresa, quoted in Walter Wuellenweber, “MOTHER TERESA: WHERE ARE HER MILLIONS?”, Germany’s STERN magazine on 10 September 1998

    The social work carried out by the Church, especially among the poor, cannot be reduced to simple material or political work, says John Paul II. When the Pope met Saturday with a group of bishops visiting from northeast Brazil, he reminded them that a bishop’s first mission is to proclaim the truth of the Gospel, without which the work of the Church would be meaningless. “As vicars and legates of Christ, you are called above all to offer a clear and vigorous proclamation of the Gospel,” the Holy Father said.

    He urged the Brazilian prelates not to have “reservations about associating the word of Christ to charitable activities by a misunderstood sense of respect for others’ convictions.”

    …… On the contrary, “the fundamental mission of the bishop is evangelization, a task that he must carry out not only individually, but as Church,” John Paul II stressed. ……..

    “Many pastors do not have the feeling of working in an evangelical vineyard, but rather in an arid steppe,” the Holy Father said. Yet, “the risen Lord walks with you and makes your efforts fruitful.” Church’s Social Work Is Not Political, John Paul II Says, Zenit.org, Oct 21, 2002. Mahatma Gandhi on the social work of the missionaries.

    “When the missionary of another religion goes to them, he goes like a vendor of goods. He has no special spiritual merit that will distinguish him from those to whom he goes. He does however possess material goods, which he promises to those who will come to his fold.” (Harijan: April 3, 1937) “Only the other day a missionary descended on a famine area with money in his pocket, distributed it among the famine stricken, converted them to his fold, took charge of their temple and demolished it. This is outrageous.” (Harijan: November 5, 1937)

    “I hold that proselytizing under the cloak of humanitarian work is unhealthy to say the least. It is most resented by people here. Religion after all is a deeply personal thing. It touches the heart. Why should I change my religion because a doctor who professes Christianity as his religion has cured me of some disease, or why should the doctor expect such a change whilst I am under his influence?” (Young India: April 23, 1931)

  2. ‘Bhagwat has only spoken the bitter truth’: Sena backs RSS chief who criticised Mother Theresa – Mail Today Bureau – 1:25 GMT, 26 February 2015

    Amid the outrage over RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement that Mother Teresa’s social work was motivated by the desire to convert people to Christianity, the Shiv Sena has come out in support of Bhagwat.

    The Shiv Sena, which incidentally has been unable to stay on the same page as the BJP on any other issue ever since the two parties came together in November last year to form a government in Maharashtra, openly backed Bhagwat on his statement on Wednesday.

    In an editorial published in its mouthpiece Saamana, the Sena said that Bhagwat had actually done a great service to the nation by bringing out the truth about missionaries in India

    ‘A great service’

    “Mohan Bhagwat has only spoken the bitter truth. Mother Teresa’s real motive was to convert people to Christianity. Conversions are a business for missionaries,” the editorial read.

    “If Muslims converted by the sword, missionaries used money and in the name of service,” it read.

    “Bhagwat has done national service by speaking the truth on what missionaries do. We have respect for the work Mother Teresa did but we also realise that several social figures have done such service and they, unlike Mother Teresa, did not carry out religious conversions,” it read.

    Sena leader and former spokesperson Sanjay Raut also publicly endorsed Bhagwat’s statement on behalf of his party on Wednesday. He said that while Mother Teresa had done much for the country, there was no denying that it was “part of her belief to spread the word of her religion and get people to convert to Christianity.”

    The Sena, which has constantly criticised the BJP on most of its decisions ever since the two parties joined hands in Maharashtra, also announced indirect support for the VHP’s controversial re-conversion campaign through the editorial.

    It said that Bhagwat’s statement will also provide “a fillip for the VHP’s ghar wapasi campaign.”

    We congratulate him for making the statement,” the Sena said.
    In November last year, after the BJP and the Shiv Sena failed to strike a post-poll alliance and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced that the BJP would not hold any talks with the Shiv Sena, it was Bhagwat who had taken a lead to bring the two warring sides together. Bhagwat called up Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and convinced him to become part of the BJP-led state government.

    Archbishop reacts

    Meanwhile, the Congress has lashed out at the Shiv Sena for supporting Bhagwat, saying that “the Shiv Sena, BJP and RSS are all wedded to the Hindutva agenda and that Hindutva is embedded in their entire political ideology.”

    Archbishop of Kolkata Thomas D’Souza on Wednesday demanded an apology from Bhagwat, alleging that he was getting tacit support from the government on his controversial remarks on Mother Teresa. He said if conversion was the motive of all humanitarian work that Christian missionaries do, then all people at schools, colleges, hospitals and health centres run by them would have been Christians by now.

    He said that despite all the allegations being hurled, they and the Missionaries of Charity would not stop doing good work for the poor.

  3. The purpose of all charity and missionary activity is conversion. Christians are very clear about this. So is the Pope. What should we say about an institution which canonized Francis Xavier, the architect of the genocide (inquisition) in Goa. The fact that Indian Christians and Hindus (the liberal ones on TV)still defend a religion which possibly has more blood on its hands than the other monotheistic one, says something to the brainwashed mentality of our citizens.

    The fact that just in the last century, Christians killed 6 millions Jews and the catholic church played a significant role in the Rwandan genocide, should serve as a warning to all Hindus of what can happen to them under Christian rule. Even today, when conversion takes place , the Hindu is asked to destroy or in some way desecrate the pictures of his ancestral gods.

    Christianity does not respect other religions and in its fundamental doctrines, there is really no freedom of religion–you can only believe in Jesus; otherwise there is eternal hell. This freedom of religion is a fraudulent means to get Hindus to lower their guard against any and every conversion tactic practiced.

    As the true believers of a pluralistic society in which every individual can choose his own god, we should not bow down to pressure tactics of Christians. We are under no obligation to entertain their demands when their demand is our very destruction.

  4. Conversion was Behind Mother Teresa’s Service: Bhagwat – TNIE – PTI – 23 February 2015>

    BHARATPUR: Conversion to Christianity was the main objective behind Mother Teresa’s service to the poor, RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat said today.

    “Mother Teresa’s service would have been good. But it used to have one objective, to convert the person, who was being

    served, into a Christian,” he said while speaking at a function organised by NGO Apna Ghar near here.

    “The question is not about conversion but if this (conversion) is done in the name of service, then that service gets devalued,” he said.

    “But here (at the NGO), the objective is purely service of poor and helpless people,” added Bhagwat.

    The RSS Chief was addressing a function in village Bajhera, near 8 kms from here, where he inaugurated ‘Mahila Sadan’ and ‘Sishu Bal Grah’ in the NGO for helpless women and children.


    BJP MP Lekhi Defends Bhagwat, Claims Mother Teresa Admitted It – TNIE – PTI – 24 February 2015

    NEW DELHI: Accusing Congress of trying to make “political capital” out of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s remarks, BJP leader Meenakshi Lekhi today claimed that Mother Teresa had herself in an interview said that her job was to bring people to the fold of Christianity.

    Speaking to reporters outside Parliament House, the BJP MP said politicisation of such comments needs to be avoided and objected to remarks by Congress members and several other leaders on the issue.

    “All my request to Jyotiraditya Scindhia, Mrs (Sonia) Gandhi and several others is don’t describe people, the way you want to describe them,” Lekhi said.

    She claimed that in a book, Mother Teresa had herself said that she worked to bring people to the fold of Christianity.

    “And kindly read Navin Chawla’s book, who was an old Congress loyalist, on Mother Teresa, where Mother Teresa herself during an interview says that ‘a lot of people confuse me as social worker, I am not a social worker. I am in the service of Jesus and my job is to spread the word of Christianity and bring people to its fold’,” Lekhi added.

    Earlier, RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat had triggered a controversy by saying that conversion to Christianity was the main objective behind Mother Teresa’s service to the poor .

    “Mother Teresa’s service would have been good. But it used to have one objective, to convert the person, who was being served, into a Christian,” Bhagwat had said. When asked if she was trying to justify Bhagwat’s comments, Lekhi said she had nothing to do with what he had said.

    “I am no one to justify. Who am I to justify Mr Bhagwat? I’ve nothing to do with it. Government has nothing to do with what Mohan ji has said,” Lekhi said. She said politicisation of such comments needs to be avoided and the responsibility lies with none other than the Congress.

    • It is known to all persons who have researched Mother Teresa’s activities that she surreptitiously baptised the adults and children she was bathing, especially those who were in the process of dying.

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