It’s a myth so ingrained into many people’s consciousness that I’ve had otherwise well-informed people react to my writing something critical of the Catholic hierarchy with some variation on the response: “Why can’t they all just be more like Mother Teresa?”
Mother Teresa is, of course, the grizzled nun who founded the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta in 1950, and who went on to worldwide fame and a Nobel Prize for her work ostensibly serving “the poorest of the poor.” Her fame was part of a masterful marketing campaign by the Church that began with a 1969 documentary and continued through her death on September 5, 1977.
There have always been rumblings about whether she deserved her accolades, and several journalistic investigations over the years attempted to expose her as the useful fundraising idiot she became for the Catholic hierarchy.
In August 2005 the New Statesman ran an article by Donal Macintyre in which she wrote, “I worked undercover for a week in Mother Teresa's flagship home for disabled boys and girls to record ‘Mother Teresa's Legacy,’ a special report [broadcast in 2005]. I winced at the rough handling by some of the full-time staff and Missionary sisters. I saw children with their mouths gagged open to be given medicine, their hands flaying in distress, visible testimony to the pain they were in. Tiny babies were bound with cloths at feeding time. Rough hands wrenched heads into position for feeding. Some of the children retched and coughed as rushed staff crammed food into their mouths. Boys and girls were abandoned on open toilets for up to 20 minutes at a time. Slumped, untended, some dribbling, some sleeping, they were a pathetic sight.”
Macintyre’s report was one of many over the years that asked the simple questions: If Mother Teresa makes so much money, why do people live under such wretched conditions in her institutions? Where does all that money go, if not to the people she is alleged to be helping?
No less than Christopher Hitchens asked these same questions, and Hitchens came to the same obvious conclusion as have so many others before and since: the money was going to make the Vatican richer than it already needed to be, and the suffering continued unabated because Mother Teresa subscribed to the ludicrous Christian notion there is nobility in human suffering. This is the same religious tenet that allowed her to deny birth control to the poorest of the poor in Calcutta and elsewhere, while sending to the high living men in embroidered robes in Rome all that filthy lucre that might have helped the desperately poor people whom she convinced must carry to term every single starving peasant child they could not afford.
Everyone should have known something was not quite right in Mother Teresa’s head when, after recieving her Nobel medal for working with the poorest of the poor, she took her opportunity speaking on the world stage to condemn not starvation, nor poverty, nor income and resource inequality, but abortion, which she described as “the greatest destroyer of peace today.”
Now comes a new body of research published in the oxymoronically titled journal “Studies in Religion/Sciences” in which scholars Serge Larivie and Genevieve Chenard take a dispassionate look back at her record. That record doesn’t even approach the accolades she received, they say, including what they term as her “her rather dubious way of caring for the sick, her questionable political contacts [with repressive military dictators], her suspicious management of the enormous sums of money she received, and her overly dogmatic views regarding, in particular, abortion, contraception, and divorce.”
They detail, once again, how her charities raised hundreds of millions of dollars with relatively little of it going to the poor it was meant to serve. (Think about this the next time you see an archbishop or cardinal sitting on an ornate throne in fantastic brocaded gowns and capes.)
Even that 1969 documentary that shot her to fame is now suspect, as we now learn that the BBC documentarian who made it, Malcom Muggeridge, turned out to be a right-wing zealot who shared her absolutism on abortion and other topics.
This news comes fast on the heels of the month-long airing of the HBO documentary “Maxima Mea Culpa: Silence In The House of God.”
In that film, Alex Gibney details the horrors of 200 boys who were sexually abused by just one priest at a Church-run home for deaf boys in Milwaukee, Wisc. The abuse continued despite the direct knowledge of everyone from the local archbishop to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict).
Father Lawrence Murphy, who was long hailed by the Church as a hero to the working class community, purposefully picked boys whose hearing parents did not know sign language so that those boys could not rat him out as a molester.
Remember all this the next time the Church had the temerity to call us evil.
(Jeff Epperly is the former editor of Bay Windows. He blogs at http://www.jefferly.com.)