Monday 21 October 2019

Mother Teresa 'a friend of poverty, not of the poor'

Evidence shows that Mother Teresa took pleasure in the suffering of the poor, so why do we revere her, asks Carol Hunt

Mother Teresa. Phot: AP
Mother Teresa. Phot: AP
Carol Hunt

Carol Hunt

When her helicopter touched down at Knock in 1993 there were thousands ready to greet her. She met everyone who mattered. Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and his wife Kathleen were among the faithful who stood in line to give obeisance to the diminutive, ostensibly humble nun, the famous Mother Teresa. As Christopher Hitchens succinctly put it (C4 documentary, Hell's Angel); "Not many claims made by the Irish clergy are widely or uncritically accepted, even in Ireland, but the saintliness of an Albanian nun, named Agnes Bojaxhiu, is a proposition that's accepted by many who are not even believers." He added drily: "Mother Teresa herself receives extravagant adulation as no more than her due." And why shouldn't she? As Hitchens wrote: "Who would be so base as to pick on a wizened, shrivelled old lady, well stricken in years, who has consecrated her life to the needy and destitute?"

Even worse now that the kindly old lady is deceased, and Pope Francis - perhaps the most popular pontiff in centuries - has signed off on the miracle needed to make her a saint. Daring to criticise such a beacon of human compassion would surely be unfair, unwise, inappropriate at best and quite possibly blasphemous under Irish law (the offence of speaking sacrilegiously of sacred things). But the answer to the question, "Is nothing sacred", should always be an emphatic "no". And the truth about Mother Teresa, and the work her Missionaries of Charity continue to do, should not be hidden behind a misty-eyed romanticism.

Evidence - and her own words - show that Mother Teresa was not so much a "champion of the poor" but a religious fanatic who took pleasure in their suffering. Not only did she refuse to alleviate the pain of her patients but she gloried in it. As she herself said: "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."

Her famous 'Home for the Dying' in Calcutta was deliberately kept as barren, destitute and inadequate to the needs of her patients as possible. This, according to Teresa, was God's will. Even though the donations from wealthy patrons were enough to fund a number of world-class clinics, her patients languished in Dickensian poverty. In 1994, Robin Fox, of the medical journal Lancet, shocked many by saying that her "TB patients were not isolated and syringes were washed in lukewarm water before being used again. Even patients in unbearable pain were refused painkillers, not because the order did not have them but on principle". Fox was only one of many who have reported back about the true nature of Teresa's ministry, only to be ignored.

Yet Teresa's aim always was to promote a cult of suffering and subjugation of the poor. "You are suffering like Jesus on the cross", she once told a patient. "So Jesus must be kissing you." (The suffering patient screamed back: "Then tell your Jesus to stop kissing me.") Notably, Teresa did not feel she had to include herself in this "suffering for Jesus". Instead she eschewed her own clinic for the costliest care that California could offer when she needed it. She also befriended dictators and demagogues (the Duvaliers, the wife of Albanian tyrant Enver Hoxha, the corrupt Charles Keating and tycoon Robert Maxwell). Teresa had no problem with the rich appropriating the wealth of the earth, leaving millions starving. Otherwise how would the poor be able to offer up their pain in order to be saved?

When Teresa accepted her Nobel Peace Prize (do not be so ill-mannered as to ask what for) in 1979, she cited abortion as being the "worst evil and the greatest enemy of peace". In Ireland, in 1993, she said: "Let us promise Our Lady that we will never allow in this country a single abortion." There was loud applause. She continued: "And no contraceptives." More applause. She didn't like divorce either. But she did like cash. She collected millions worldwide. What did she do with it? She made it clear she wasn't into social work. A sign on the Mother House says: "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."

Basically, Mother Teresa was running an organisation which soothed the souls and the consciences of the wealthy. We in the West felt guilty at our relative riches, we wanted to believe that one of us - a white, compassionate European woman - was doing something for those poor people in the third world. She is our saviour, not theirs. As Hitchens put it: "Mother Teresa was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. . . 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."

According to George Orwell: "Saints should always be presumed guilty before proven innocent." In Mother Teresa's case we seem to have gotten this sensible maxim the wrong way around. Will anyone have the guts to point out that this empress has no clothes? No, I didn't think so.


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