"One can hear the screams of people having maggots tweezered from their
open wounds without pain relief."
Did Blessed Mother Theresa actually withhold relief for the sake of publicity?
In the annals of charity and good works, Mother Theresa stood tall among the Gospels' Good Samaritan, Christianity's St. Francis of Assisi and Father Damian of Molokai's Leper Colony. But that standing may change as she approaches the last lap on the track to sainthood.
It's highly likely that one day, the Catholic Church will officially recognize Mother Teresa as a saint, a position she's held in the popular imagination for years. A new study in the religious studies journal Religieuses, however, says that the late Mother Teresa's reputation is mostly hype -- a result of a church declining in popularity trying to boost its image.
It was the atheist curmudgeon Christopher Hitchens who questioned the "saintliness" of Mother Theresa in his book, Missionary Position:
As Edward Gibbon observed about the modes of worship prevalent in the Roman world, "They were considered by the people as equaly true, by the philosopher as equally false, and by the magistrate as equally useful." Mother Theresa descends from each element of this grisly triptych. She has herself purposely blurred the supposed distinction between the sacred and the profane, to say nothing of the line that separates the sublime from the ridiculous. It is past time that she was subjected to the rational critique that she has evaded so arrogantly and for so long.
The Road To Sainthood ... And An Industry
It began with Sister Theresa's Home for the Dying in Calcutta, India: it was ecumenical in nature, caring for Muslims, Hindus and Christians alike, even keeping their own religious rites and scriptures. Then came hospices for lepers, and orphanages for children. In 1979, she was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She had become the face of altruism and the head of a multinational charitable concern that took in millions. Her power was such that she was able to broker a cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians to rescue children in a front line hospital. Numerous awards and honors piled up in addition to her Nobel Prize: Order of Australia, Order of Merit (UK), The Albert Schweitzer Interntaionl Prize, Presidential Medal of Freedom (US) and Golden Honor of the Nation (Albania - her homeland). Upon her death, she was given a state funeral in India.
With Mother Theresa, altruism had become an industry of huge proportions: by 2007, Mother Theresa's Missionaries of Charity numbered approximately 450 brothers and 5,000 sisters worldwide, operating 600 missions, schools and shelters in 120 countries. And it had become an industry of some political influence and a symbol of social justice.
The Duvalier and Keating Affairs
Perhaps the primary blots on the character of Mother Theresa during her lifetime were the relationship she had with "Baby Doc" Duvalier, the Haitian dictator and Charles Keating, the principal in one of the largest banking scandals of the 20th century. The Duvalier family gave untold fortunes to Mother Theresa as well as Keating. When asked by the district attorney of Los Angeles to return some of the Keating money to repay swindled investors, Mother Theresa did not reply.
Missionary Machine - Where The Money Went
But building missionary empire with an allegiance to the Vatican and Jesus may have been primary over relief of suffering and true altruism. According to the study published in Studies in Religion:
Largely unexamined have been questions about how millions in donations were spent, the hygiene and lack of care in her hospices and why the woman herself supported corrupt regimes such as the Duvaliers in Haiti.
Even the "miracle" ascribed to her is
questionable, the study says, citing doctors who treated the woman who found no
cancer and no miracle, but instead a tuberculosis repaired by traditional
And from other sources, such as Rantionalist International :
The patients are treated with good words and insufficient (sometimes outdated) medicines, applied with old needles, washed in lukewarm water. One can hear the screams of people having maggots tweezered from their open wounds without pain relief. On principle, strong painkillers are even in hard cases not given. According to Mother Teresa's bizarre philosophy, it is "the most beautiful gift for a person that he can participate in the sufferings of Christ". Once she tried to comfort a screaming sufferer: "You are suffering, that means Jesus is kissing you!" The man got furious and screamed back: "Then tell your Jesus to stop kissing!"
Canonization or Bust
The trail to sainthood has also been under scrutiny: it is the fastest track to sainthood in the history of the Catholic Church. And the "miracle" attributed to Mother Theresa's beatification has also been debunked: a woman attributed the disappearance of an abdominal tumor to prayers to Mother Theresa, but doctors who treated her found no cancer ...and no miracle, stating that it was a tuberculosis repaired by traditional medicine.
So will the Vatican proclaim sainthood for Mother Theresa despite the new charges made against her? Perhaps the answer lies in one of the latest canonizations and its recent predilection for pain: Jose Maria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei.