Criticism of Mother Teresa
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This article concerns the Albanian-born Roman Catholic nun and missionary Mother Teresa and examines some of the criticism lodged against her. For a more complete picture of the person, see the article Mother Teresa.
Criticism from the media
An Indian-born writer living in Britain, Dr. Aroup Chatterjee, who had briefly worked in one of Mother Teresa's homes, began investigations into the finances and other practices of Teresa's order. In 1994, two British journalists, Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ali, produced a critical British Channel 4 documentary, Hell's Angel, based on Chatterjee's work.
The next year, Hitchens published The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, a pamphlet which repeated many of the accusations in the documentary. Chatterjee himself published The Final Verdict in 2003, a less polemic work than those of Hitchens and Ali, but equally critical of Teresa's operations.
Mother Teresa had a short response to her critics: "No matter who says what, you should accept it with a smile and do your own work".
Support of Indira Gandhi
After Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's suspension of civil liberties in 1975, Mother Teresa said: "People are happier. There are more jobs. There are no strikes." These approving comments were seen as a result of the friendship between Teresa and the Congress Party. Mother Teresa's comments were even criticized outside India within Catholic media. (Chatterjee, p. 276.)
Stance on abortion
From the early 1970s, Mother Teresa began to attract some criticism. Many advocates of the family planning and pro-choice movements were critical of her views and influence because she was opposed to artificial contraception and abortion. Mother Teresa frequently spoke against them publicly and in meetings with high level government officials. In her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, she declared, "Abortion is the worst evil, and the greatest enemy of peace... Because if a mother can kill her own child, what will prevent us from killing ourselves or one another? Nothing."
In the aftermath of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, it was determined that more than 450,000 Hindu women in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) had been systematically raped. Even in these circumstances she asserted her rejection of abortion by publicly renouncing abortion as an option and by calling upon the women left behind to keep their unborn children. She characterized her views later when asked in 1993 about a 14-year-old rape victim in Ireland, "Abortion can never be necessary... because it is pure killing."
This stance is in line with that of the Roman Catholic Church, which asserts natural family planning is the only acceptable form of birth control, even in cases where conception is the result of sexual abuse or rape.
Baptisms of the dying
Mother Teresa encouraged members of her order to baptize dying patients, without regard to the individual's religion. In a speech at the Scripps Clinic in California in January 1992, she said: "Something very beautiful... not one has died without receiving the special ticket for St. Peter, as we call it. We call baptism ticket for St. Peter. We ask the person, do you want a blessing by which your sins will be forgiven and you receive God? They have never refused. So 29,000 have died in that one house [in Kalighat] from the time we began in 1952."
Critics have argued that patients were not provided sufficient information to make an informed decision about whether they wanted to be baptized and the theological significance of a Christian baptism.
Some of Mother Teresa's defenders have argued that baptisms are either soul-saving or harmless and hence the criticisms would be pointless (a variant of Pascal's Wager). Simon Leys, in a letter to the New York Review of Books, wrote: "Either you believe in the supernatural effect of this gesture – and then you should dearly wish for it. Or you do not believe in it, and the gesture is as innocent and well-meaningly innocuous as chasing a fly away with a wave of the hand."
In 1981, Teresa flew to Haiti to accept the Legion d'Honneur from the right-wing dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, who, after his ouster, was found to have stolen millions of dollars from the impoverished country. There she said that the Duvaliers "loved their poor", and that "their love was reciprocated".
Criticism was leveled at what some perceived to be Mother Teresa's endorsement of the aggressively atheist regime of Enver Hoxha in communist Albania. She had visited Albania in August 1989, where she was received by Hoxha's widow, Nexhmije, Foreign Minister Reis Malile, Minister of Health, Ahmet Kamberi, the Chairman of the People's Assembly Petro Dode, and other state and party officials. She subsequently laid a bouquet on Hoxha's grave, and placed a wreath on the statue of Mother Albania, without commenting on the Albanian Communist party's human rights violations and suppression of religion. However, her supporters defended such associations, saying she had to deal with political realities of the time in order to lobby for her causes. By the time of her death, the Missionaries of Charity had houses in most Communist countries.
She also accepted money from the British publisher Robert Maxwell, who, as was later revealed, embezzled UK£450 million from his employees' pension funds. There is no suggestion that she was aware of any theft before accepting the donation in either case; criticism instead focuses on Teresa's plea for leniency in the Keating case, her refusal to return the money, and the lack of media investigations of her relationships to these individuals.
Motivation of charitable activities
Chatterjee stated that the public image of Mother Teresa as a "helper of the poor" was misleading, and that only a few hundred people are served by even the largest of the homes. According to a Stern magazine report about Mother Teresa, the (Protestant) Assembly of God charity serves 18,000 meals daily in Calcutta, many more than all the Mission of Charity homes together.
Chatterjee alleged that many operations of the order engage in no charitable activity at all but instead use their funds for missionary work. He stated, for example, that none of the eight facilities that the Missionaries of Charity run in Papua New Guinea have any residents in them, being purely for the purpose of converting local people to Catholicism.
She was sometimes accused by Hindus in her adopted country of trying to convert the poor to Catholicism by "stealth". Christopher Hitchens described Mother Teresa's organization as a cult which promoted suffering and did not help those in need. He said that Mother Teresa's own words on poverty proved that her intention was not to help people, quoting her words at a 1981 press conference in which she was asked: "Do you teach the poor to endure their lot?" She replied: "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."
Mother Teresa and her possible defenders apparently did not feel a need to directly answer most of these allegations. Some defenders of the order argue that missionary activity was the central part of Teresa's calling.
Quality of medical care
In 1991, Dr. Robin Fox, editor of the British medical journal The Lancet visited the Home for Dying Destitutes in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and described the medical care the patients received as "haphazard". He observed that sisters and volunteers, some of whom had no medical knowledge, had to make decisions about patient care, because of the lack of doctors in the hospice. Dr. Fox specifically held Teresa responsible for conditions in this home, and observed that her order did not distinguish between curable and incurable patients, so that people who could otherwise survive would be at risk of dying from infections and lack of treatment.
Fox conceded that the regimen he observed included cleanliness, the tending of wounds and sores, and kindness, but he noted that the sisters' approach to managing pain was "disturbingly lacking". The formulary at the facility Fox visited lacked strong analgesics which he felt clearly separated Mother Teresa's approach from the hospice movement. There have been a series of other reports documenting inattention to medical care in the order's facilities. Similar points of view have also been expressed by some former volunteers who worked for Teresa's order. Mother Teresa herself referred to the facilities as "Houses of the Dying".
In contrast to the conditions at her homes, Mother Theresa sought medical treatment for herself at renowned medical clinics in the United States, Europe, and India, drawing charges of hypocrisy from critics such as Hitchens.
Destination of donations
It has been alleged by former employees of Mother Teresa's order that Teresa refused to authorize the purchase of medical equipment, and that donated money was instead transferred to the Vatican Bank for general use, even if it was specifically earmarked for charitable purposes. See Missionaries of Charity for a detailed discussion of these allegations. Mother Teresa did not disclose her order's financial situation except where she was required to do so by law.
Mother Teresa died in 1997. Despite her request that all writing and correspondence be destroyed, a collection was posthumously released to the public in book form. Her writings revealed that she struggled with feelings of disconnectedness that were in contrast to the strong feelings she had experienced as a young novice. In her letters Mother Teresa describes a decades long sense of feeling disconnected from God and lacking the earlier zeal which had characterized her efforts to start the Missionaries of Charity. As a result of this she was judged by some to have ceased to believe. Because of these statements she has been posthumously criticized for hypocrisy.
The Showtime program Penn & Teller: Bullshit! has an episode titled "Holier than Thou" that criticizes Mother Teresa, as well as Mahatma Gandhi and the 14th Dalai Lama. The show criticizes Mother Teresa's controversial relationships with Charles Keating and the Duvalier family, as well as the quality of medical care in her home for the dying. Hitchens appears on, and narrates some of the episode.
- Poplin, Mary (2011). Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me About Meaningful Work and Service. InterVarsity Press. p. 112. ISBN 0830868488. ISBN 9780830868483. Retrieved 9 March 2014. "Remember, Brother, I am a missionary and so are you."
- Hitchens, Christopher (2012), The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, Atlantic Books, ISBN 085789840X
- "1997: Mother Teresa dies", BBC On This Day, September 5, 2008
- "Mother Teresa - Anything but a Saint...".
- "Wikiquote article on Mother Teresa".
- Mother Teresa. "Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta", Brian Kolodiejchuk (ed.), Image (2009), ISBN 978-0307589231
- Van Biema, David. "Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith", Time, August 23, 2007
- "Sermon – Some Doubted". Edgewoodpc.org. 19 June 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-28.
- Hitchens Takes on Mother Teresa
- Penn & Teller: Bullshit!. episode 5. season 3. May 23, 2005. Showtime..