“The Church found the material for a grand story in Mother Teresa that ordinary people would buy hook, line, and sinker at a time when it was trying to aggressively push its evangelical goals in India.” – K. Bhattacharjee
Under normal circumstances, if we were told that RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat and the noted atheist Christopher Hitchens were on the same side of a contentious issue, we would assume that we had somehow been teleported into an alternate universe where unicorns farted rainbows and Rahul Gandhi made sense.
But such is the enigma of Mother Teresa’s legacy that two people, one deceased and one alive, who probably differed on every controversial topic under the sun agreed with each other on Mother Teresa. On her birth anniversary (26 August), we shall explore a facet of her personality and legacy that is often brushed under the carpet.
All criticisms of the Catholic icon is deemed as bigotry. But these are exciting times we are living in, not even icons such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy are spared scathing criticisms. Therefore, it’s only natural that Teresa’s legacy is evaluated in light of all the facts we have at our disposal. And we should not fear to tread wherever facts lead us for it is only on a foundation of truth can people build castles of harmony.
If we are to believe the official version of events, which also happens to be the one believed by wide sections of society, Teresa was a messiah of the poor. Anointed with sainthood by the Church, we are told she dedicated her entire efforts to the welfare of the downtrodden. But there are certain facts about her life that punctures holes into the hallowed image that has been carefully constructed over the years.
Contrary to the narrative that Teresa was a friend of the oppressed, she had great relationships with dictators. During her life, she often endorsed brutal dictators and thereby, attempted to give their tyranny the veneer of legitimacy. She had a good relationship with the Duvaliers who ruled Haiti as a police state between 1971-86. During her visit in 1981, she described the regime as “friend” of the poor, the very same regime whose rulers robbed Haitians of millions of dollars as they fled following the uprising of 1986.
Not merely that, she also laid a wreath at the grave of the Communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, who had violently suppressed religion in her native country, Albania. Closer home, Teresa endorsed the brutal imposition of Emergency and had said infamously, “People are happier. There are more jobs. There are no strikes.”
One particular incident that infringes upon Teresa’s personal integrity is her relationship with Charles Keating, a Catholic himself, who was convicted of fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy in the USA for his involvement in the savings and loan scandal. The criminal had conned numerous customers into purchasing worthless junk bonds. He had donated a significant amount of money to Teresa in the 1980s and in return, she appealed for clemency while he awaited sentencing.
The prosecuting attorney, Paul Turner, was not amused. In a letter, he told her, “No church … should allow itself to be used as a salve for the conscience of the criminal.” Furthermore, he suggested that Teresa return the money to the hardworking people who had been cheated. Turner never received a response to his letter, nor was the money ever returned.
The greatest assault on the halo that surrounded her was launched by Christopher Hitchens in his book, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. In the book, Hitchens meticulously documented the holes in the Teresa myth. One of the most damning, perhaps, was his deconstruction of the “miracles” that led to her beatification. He mentions an incident where a “technically unaccountable light” was observed at the Home of the Dying which was touted to be “the first authentic photographic miracle”. In reality, what was thought of as a miracle was a natural consequence of the cameraman using the latest Kodak film, as said by the cameraman himself?
Another miracle that is often attributed to her and which contributed to her sainthood was one that involved the “miraculous” cure of a tumour in the abdomen of an Indian woman, Monica Besra. The doctors insisted that the woman was cured by modern medicine. “It was not a miracle. She took medicines for 9 months to a year,” said the doctor who treated her. Besra’s husband stated, “My wife was cured by doctors and not by any miracle.” But that didn’t prevent the Church from recognising the cure as a “miracle” committed in the name of Teresa. Even more damningly, authorities at the hospital where Besra was treated claimed that they were being pressurised by the Catholic Church to declare the cure as a miracle, contrary to every observable fact.
As it turns out, there were gaping holes in the myth of her supposed charity towards the poor. Numerous volunteers at her clinics, Mary Loudon and Susan Shields being the most prominent examples, have spoken out against the severe lack of amenities at the clinics. The scene that eyewitness accounts and eminent personalities such as Robin Fox of The Lancet depict is completely at odds with what we have been told by the mainstream narrative.
Decrepitude appears to be the defining feature of these clinics. No tests were ever performed to determine the cause of the patient’s misery, patients suffering from terminal cancer and other serious diseases who were suffering terrible agony were given no painkillers apart from aspirin and hospital was out of the question. Symbolic of the neglect was the fact that needles were rinsed with tap water and reused without any sterilisation. On certain occasions, patients, who otherwise could have recovered if they were given proper treatment, died due to sheer neglect. It is criminal negligence on the part of the clinic authorities which have been intentionally buried to create a fictional narrative around her.
Teresa’s personal opinions on misery and poverty demonstrate that the state of her clinics was perfectly consistent with her worldview. She once said infamously, “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 poor people.” On another occasion, she opined that AIDS was “just retribution for improper sexual conduct.” Imagine if anyone else had said such morbid things, would he or she have been spared?
On another occasion, which could have easily been mistaken as dark humour, she told a man dying of terminal cancer and in harrowing pain that he should consider himself fortunate: “You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you.” The man replied, “Then please tell him to stop kissing me.”
Her opinions on contentious issues, too, appeared to differ according to her audience and the people involved. “It is a good thing that it is over,” she said of Princess Diana’s divorce with Prince Charles. Almost simultaneously, she campaigned against legal divorce in Ireland.
How could it be that nearly every major media organisation missed the obvious story? How could it be that not a single media organisation attempted to highlight what was happening? It would have been the story of the decade and yet, it is hard to believe that no one bothered to look under the veil. On a lot of issues, no one even needed to look under the veil, it was right in front of their eyes and yet, they chose to ignore it. Why is that so? Such questions need to be answered.
Last year, when news surfaced that nuns at an orphanage run by the Missionaries of Charity were involved in selling babies, people were shocked. They wouldn’t have been had they bothered to look into the conduct of its founder. If Teresa’s clinics were cesspools of misery, it begs the question, where did all the money go? She received millions and millions of dollars in donation and yet, her clinics continued to lack in everything apart from the most basic amenities. What happened to all that money? How was it utilised? Unfortunately, no investigation was ever conducted to delve into the matter.
Moreover, there are other grave allegations against her clinics as well. Eyewitness accounts have revealed that patients were converted on the deathbed on the promise of a “ticket to heaven”. It turns out, Mohan Bhagwat was not off target when he said, “It’s good to work for a cause with selfless intentions. But Mother Teresa’s work had an ulterior motive, which was to convert the person who was being served to Christianity.” “In the name of service, religious conversions were made,” he had added.
Teresa’s story is indeed very intriguing. Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, born into an ordinary family in an ordinary city, went on to become a globally revered messiah. Despite her obvious shortcomings, which would have otherwise destroyed the career of almost any other individual, the myth that surrounds her continues to be believed by wide sections of Indian society.
That she rose through the ranks of the Catholic Church isn’t too much of a surprise. As recent events have demonstrated, the highest echelons of the Church are dominated by people of extremely questionable character. It is a den of paedophiles and criminals. While no such allegations have surfaced against Teresa herself, it is easy to understand why her conduct has remained in the shadows all this while. Considering the number of years it took for the entrenched paedophilia to come to light, a crime that has effectively been kept buried for decades, it is no surprise at all that Teresa’s conduct of considerably lower magnitude in the monstrosity scale has received so little attention.
In Teresa, the Church found a frail old woman with the natural aura of kindness that most old women tend to inspire. The Church found the material for a grand story that ordinary people would buy hook, line, and sinker at a time when it was trying to aggressively push its evangelical goals in India. The institution had vast resources in its treasury, almost indefinite, to run one of the best publication campaigns the world had ever seen. And it was successful in its endeavour, the Church was able to completely manufacture an image of Teresa that simply didn’t exist on the ground, it was created out of thin air.
That the Church was overeager to grant her sainthood becomes obvious from the fact the five-year rule, which mandated that a person could not be granted sainthood within five years of her death, was waived off specifically for her. She was fast-tracked for sainthood merely a year after her death.
Hitchens said of her, “Everything everyone thinks they know about [Mother Teresa] is false. It must be the single most successful emotional con job of the twentieth century.” Another critic, Michael Hakeem said, “Mother Teresa is thoroughly saturated with a primitive fundamentalist religious worldview that sees pain, hardship, and suffering as ennobling experiences and a beautiful expression of affiliation with Jesus Christ and his ordeal on the cross.”
The nail in the coffin, perhaps, came from academics at the Universities of Ottawa and Montreal. In 2013, in a published paper, the Canadian academics criticised Teresa’s “rather dubious way of caring for the sick, her questionable political contacts, her suspicious management of the enormous sums of money she received, and her overly dogmatic views regarding, in particular, abortion, contraception, and divorce.”
They asserted that her “hallowed image” could not withstand rigorous scrutiny and her reputation was “orchestrated by an effective media relations campaign”. They also noted that independent doctors who visited the clinics “observed a significant lack of hygiene, even unfit conditions, as well as a shortage of actual care, inadequate food, and no painkillers”.
Our mainstream media has a lot to answer for. It has constantly patted its back claiming to be the sole voice of the oppressed. And yet, it berates anyone who speaks out against the myth of Teresa. That she continues to be glorified is an indictment of every single media organisation in the country. The other side of Teresa deserves to be told, it should be told as often as possible with as much frequency as decency permits to demolish one of the biggest lies manufactured by one of the most corrupt organisations in the entire world. Until then, the garland of shame that continues to adorn the mainstream media’s neck will continue to be the albatross around their necks. – OpIndia, 26 August 2019
› K. Bhattacharjee is a psychology major and columnist for OpIndia in Kolkata.