Criticism of Mother Teresa

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This article concerns the Macedonian-born Roman Catholic nun and missionary[1] Mother Teresa and examines some of the criticism lodged against her. For a more complete picture of the person, see the article Mother Teresa. She also was an Indian citizen.

Criticism from the media[edit]

An Indian-born writer living in Britain, 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.

Support of Indira Gandhi[edit]

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. [2]

Baptisms of the dying[edit]

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[who?] 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.

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."

Questionable relationships[edit]

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".

In The Missionary Position, Hitchens levelled criticism at what was 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.[3]:82 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 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 does focus on Teresa's plea for leniency in the Charles Keating case, where Keating was charge with fraud following high profile business failures. Keating donated millions of dollars to Mother Teresa and lent her his private jet when she visited the United States. She refused to return the money, and praised Keating repeatedly.[4] There has been a lack of media investigation of her relationships to these individuals,[citation needed] though Christopher Hitchens was a strident critic.

She supported Licio Gelli's nomination for the Nobel Prize in Literature.[5] Gelli is known for being the head of the Propaganda Due masonic lodge, which was implicated in various murders and high-profile corruption cases in Italy, as well as having close connections with the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement and the Argentine Military Junta.

Motivation of charitable activities[edit]

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. In 1998, among the 200 charitable assistance organizations reported to operate in Calcutta, Missionaries of Charity was not ranked among the largest charity organizations–with the Assembly of God charity notably serving a greater number of the poor at 18,000 meals daily.[6]

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".[7] 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."[3]:11[8]

Quality of medical care[edit]

In 1991, 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. 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. Fox also wrote that needles were rinsed with warm water, which left them inadequately sterilized, and the facility did not isolate patients with tuberculosis. 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".

As an image of colonialism and racism[edit]

In White Women in Racialized Spaces: Imaginative Transformation and Ethical Action in Literature, Samina Najmi and Rajini Srikanth said of Mother Teresa:

Mother Teresa is the quintessential image of the white woman in the colonies, working to save the dark bodies from their own temptations and failures. [...] The Euro-American-dominated international media continue to harbor the colonial notion that white peoples are somehow especially endowed with the capacity to create social change. When nonwhite people labor in this direction, the media typically search for white benefactors or teachers, or else, for white people who stand in the wings to direct the nonwhite actors. Dark bodies cannot act of their own volition to stretch their own capacity, for they must wait, the media seem to imply, for some colonial administrator, some technocrat from IBM or the IMF to tell them how to do things. When it comes to saving the poor, the dark bodies are again invisible, for the media seem to celebrate only the worn out platitudes of such as Mother Teresa and ignore the struggles of those bodies for their own liberation. To open the life of someone like Mother Teresa to scrutiny, therefore, is always difficult. [...] Mother Teresa's work was part of a global enterprise for the alleviation of bourgeois guilt, rather than a genuine challenge to those forces that produce and maintain poverty.[9]

Posthumous criticisms[edit]

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.[10] Her writings revealed that she struggled with feelings of disconnectedness[11] that were in contrast to the strong feelings she had experienced as a young novice.[12] In her letters Mother Teresa describes a decades long sense of feeling disconnected from God[13] 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" and was posthumously criticized for hypocrisy.[14][15]

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 relationships with Charles Keating and the Duvalier family, as well as the quality of medical care in her home for the dying. Christopher Hitchens appears on, and narrates some of the episode.[16]


  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ (Chatterjee, p. 276.)
  3. ^ a b Hitchens, Christopher (1995). The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. London: Verso. ISBN 978-1-85984-054-2. Retrieved 2014-08-22. 
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Wüllenweber, Walter (1998-09-10). "Mutter Teresa - wo sind ihre Millionen?" [Mother Teresa - Where are her millions?] (PDF). Stern (magazine) (in German) (Gruner + Jahr). p. 214. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2014-09-05. Retrieved 2014-09-17. Das Essen bekommt Samity jedoch nicht vom Order der Mutter Teresa sondern von der "Assembly of God", einer amerikanischen Hilfsorganisation, die hier täglich 18 000 Mahlzeiten ausgibt.  - translated source
  7. ^ "1997: Mother Teresa dies", BBC On This Day, September 5, 2008
  8. ^ Wikiquote: Mother Teresa: 1990's
  9. ^ Najmi, Samina; Srikanth, Rajini, eds. (1 Feb 2012). "4: Mother Teresa as the Mirror of Bourgeois Guilt". White Women in Racialized Spaces: Imaginative Transformation and Ethical Action in Literature (illustrated ed.). State University of New York Press. pp. 67–68. ISBN 9780791488089. Retrieved 8 March 2015. 
  10. ^ "Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta", Brian Kolodiejchuk (ed.), ISBN 978-0307589231
  11. ^ Van Biema, David. "Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith", Time, August 23, 2007
  12. ^ Beliefnet: "New Book Reveals Mother Teresa's Struggle with Faith"
  13. ^ Telegraph: "Mother Teresa's 40 year faith crisis"
  14. ^ Catholic News Agency: "Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s Dark Night of the Soul"
  15. ^ CNN iReport: "Crisis of Faith: Mother Teresa's letters"
  16. ^ "Holier Than Thou". Penn & Teller: Bullshit!. Season 3. Episode 5. May 23, 2005. Showtime. 

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