In The Missionary Position – Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, Christopher Hitchens advises one to judge “Mother Teresa’s reputation by her actions and words rather than her actions and words by her reputation.” The RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat followed that advice to conclude that proselytism to Christianity was the motive behind Teresa’s work. He was effectively echoing Hitchens’ statement, “Mother Teresa has never pretended that her work is anything but a fundamentalist religious campaign.”
Teresa’s indignant admirers have responded to Bhagwat’s statement with vitriol. Has Bhagwat unreasonably cast aspersion on an altruistic saint or could he have reasonably arrived at an even more damning conclusion? Let us turn to Teresa’s own words and deeds for an answer.
Mary Loudon volunteered at Teresa’s much hyped Home for the Dying. She testifies that terminally ill cancer patients were only given aspirin to cope with their pain. She also points out that the nuns used unsterilized syringes on the defenceless patients. It must be remarked that Teresa’s order never used unsterilized syringes on any white patient anywhere in the world. It was as if the Indian poor did not count as humans. This is way beyond racism. Loudon also recounts the case of a fifteen year-old boy who was suffering from a simple kidney infection. Teresa’s order refused to give him antibiotics. As a result, his condition worsened resulting in renal failure. The boy could still have been taken to a hospital to save his life. However, Teresa’s order refused to do so because “if they do it for one, they have to do it for everybody.” But why not do it for everybody?
Here, one must understand that alleviating suffering never was Teresa’s motive; prolonging the suffering was. Teresa derived pleasure from the unnecessary agony and suffering of the defenceless. She once perversely told an interviewer, “I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot…I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.”
True to her words, she did everything within her capacity to usher in and prolong the suffering of the defenceless poor. Robin Fox, editor of the prestigious medical journal Lancet, visited her so-called medical facility in Calcutta in 1994. He was shocked to see that patients with malaria were callously given paracetamol even though a diagnosing physician had prescribed chloroquine. Teresa preferred to repose faith in providence to administering necessary medical treatment.
Teresa ran her order like an autocrat. Even if the nuns had been empathetic, they couldn’t have taken a stance against Teresa’s inhuman insistence.
The prescription to repose faith in providence by shunning proper medical care was only applicable so long as the patient was someone else. However, when Teresa was diagnosed with malaria, she opted to receive a modern medical treatment from New Delhi’s acclaimed All India Institute of Medical Sciences instead of reposing her faith in providence to heal her. She also received an expensive treatment from a hospital abroad when she fell ill with pneumonia.
Teresa was once asked how people without money or power can make the world a better place. She callously replied, “They should smile more.” In 1984, wilful negligence on the part of the management of Union Carbide resulted in the death of 2,500 residents of Bhopal. Thousands more were maimed for life. Teresa flew into Bhopal in the aftermath of the tragedy. She didn’t utter a word censuring Union Carbide or expressing solidarity with the victims. She did not offer a rupee to victim relief. Instead, she grotesquely urged the victims, “Forgive, forgive, forgive.”
Elgy Gillespie points out that at a hospice supposedly to care for AIDS patients which Teresa ran in San Francisco, terminally ill patients with chronic pain were denied morphine. Desperate patients would try to escape the hospice and seek refuge elsewhere. Susan Shields, who worked for Teresa for nearly a decade, also testifies to the appalling treatment of the defenceless at Teresa’s facilities. Shields was disturbed that the “poor were the ones who suffered” as a result of Teresa’s “self-righteous adherence to poverty.”
There was no dearth of money in the order though. Teresa received hundreds of millions of dollars in donation. Her unsuspecting donors thought she was using it to alleviate pain and suffering among the poor. However, Teresa saw it differently. She considered the flood of donations to be a sign of god’s approval of her efforts and of her congregation. So, the money was never used for the advertised purpose of helping the poor. It simply accumulated in the bank accounts of the Catholic Church. Shields points out that $ 50 million had collected in a single checking account in the Bronx.
Teresa’s utter lack of empathy for the suffering of the destitute people manifests in her strenuous appeal to the victims of the 1971 Bangladesh war and genocide of Hindus. In that unfortunate war, thousands of women were raped and impregnated. Teresa appealed to the victims not to abort the seed of the rapist; either raise them or give them up for adoption. Teresa didn’t utilize the millions of dollars her organization had amassed to help those women but she grotesquely lectured those victims of rape without any regard for their dilemma.
Teresa’s worldview too was warped by the morbid ideology of Christianity which convinced her that Jesus manifests himself in the suffering of the defenceless. As a result, she did not see the pitiable, mentally-ill, child victim of rape or a terminally ill cancer patient as a human being. Instead, they were merely instruments to advertise the presence of Jesus through grotesque suffering.
A house surgeon in a Calcutta medical college recounts (vide Facebook on 23 February, 2015) that the nuns of Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity would bring “pregnant girls aged 12-16 for deliveries in our labour room…when asked why not get the girls aborted the nuns would tell they’re just helping the destitute and the children will go to orphanage and that abortion is not allowed in their faith. And this was a regular feature in our hospital.”
If a girl aged 12-16 is pregnant and if she is destitute, one can be almost certain that she was raped. She could’ve contracted diseases which she could pass on to the fetus. She may even be mentally ill. One must be entirely lacking in empathy to insist that such a girl go through with her pregnancy and deliver the child. However, Teresa ran her order like an autocrat. Even if the nuns had been empathetic, they couldn’t have taken a stance against Teresa’s inhuman insistence. Shields points out that “total obedience to (Teresa’s) dictates is enforced at every level…questioning of authority is not an option.” As a result, many a child victim of rape was forced to go through a painful pregnancy and to give birth to another child.
Now, see these facts in light of how Teresa viewed herself. She once claimed, “If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of darkness. I will continually be absent from heaven to light the light of those in darkness on earth.” She further wrote that poverty was the means by which to be united with Jesus. She had three prescriptions, “absolute poverty,” “angelic chastity,” and “cheerful obedience in the face of suffering” by which one would be united with Jesus. This is why she was attracted to poverty. This is why she was motivated to usher in suffering and exacerbate it – especially in others. This is what induced her to say that the suffering people should display a cheerful countenance. The thought of alleviating suffering and poverty didn’t even cross her mind. Without exacerbating poverty and suffering – in others, how could she be united with Jesus and become a saint? (See Kolodiejchuk, Brian: Mother Teresa – Come be My Light – The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta”)
As much as Teresa was attracted to suffering – to exacerbate it and not to alleviate it, she was also attracted to ruthless dictators and frauds that made the poor suffer. She showered lavish praise on them and attempted to legitimize them in the eyes of their citizenry. One may invoke the example of the lavish praise she showered on the ruthless, plundering dictator of Haiti, Duvalier by brazenly announcing that the dictator is “a person who knows, who wants to prove his love not only by words but also by concrete and tangible actions.” She also appealed on behalf of the scam-artist Charles Keating, who had looted the life savings of thousands of individuals. She wrote the judge a letter urging that he show Keating leniency. Both Duvalier and Keating had donated large sums to Teresa’s order.
The academics Serge Larivée and Carole Sénéchal carried out meticulous research on Teresa. They point out that millions of dollars were transferred to the various bank accounts of Teresa’s order but most of the accounts were kept secret. Larivée wonders where the millions of dollars for the poorest of the poor have gone. The possibility that her order maintained secret bank accounts to launder the ill-gotten wealth of the crooks is yet to be investigated. At the minimum, to amass wealth in the name of alleviating the suffering of the poor and to stash it away in secret bank accounts is a crime in itself. It is also a highly immoral act when one considers the fact that the resources of this planet are finite and that there is only so much one could spend on alleviating suffering. When the money donated for such purpose is stashed away, the poor are denied medical care and other life-sustaining necessities.
Bhagwat can only be faulted for conceding the possibility that Teresa did charitable works albeit with the motive to proselytize. In Mother Teresa – The Final Verdict, Aroup Chatterjee has meticulously demolished the myths of Teresa’s charitable works. The hype and propaganda surrounding her charitable deeds doesn’t match the ground reality. While Bhagwat correctly concludes that Teresa’s motive was to proselytize he unwarrantedly assumes that she did any good work to alleviate suffering. She did not. She ushered in suffering whenever she could. She took precious money in the name of the suffering people and stashed it away in the secret accounts of the Vatican. She exacerbated suffering whenever she found it, e.g., by denying medication to the terminally ill cancer patients, forcing child victims of rape to give birth to children. Those were not charitable deeds. Those were horrific crimes against humanity.
The reader may be wondering why the title of this article equates Teresa with Eichmann. Adolf Eichmann managed the deportation and the holocaust of six million Jews under the Third Reich. After the fall of the Third Reich, he escaped, with the help of the infamous Ratline run by the Vatican, to Argentina, where he lived in disguise. However, by 1960, Eichmann had run out of his luck. The Israeli secret service tracked him down and captured him in a daring raid immortalized in the 1979 movie, The House on Garibaldi Street.
In his deposition, Eichmann showed no remorse. Instead, he claimed that he was being merciful to the exterminated Jews by sending them to the gas chambers. He even insisted that he was doing his best to comfort them by having the band play music and by distributing chocolates to the children while they awaited their turn at the gas chambers. He was entirely apathetic to their suffering and to the fact that he had brought it upon them. Eichmann did not see his Jewish victims as human beings at all. They were merely dispensable instruments in his journey to fame. The Nazi ideology which Eichmann had internalized had warped his view of reality. In his warped worldview, he was working toward a higher cause; he was serving a noble purpose by sending the Jews to the gas chambers. He single-mindedly aspired for glory. His only disappointment was that he was only made a lieutenant colonel and not something higher for the services he had rendered.
Let us now turn to Teresa. Just as Eichmann had brought about the holocaust, she too, wilfully brought about the death and untold suffering of many a poor by siphoning off funds meant for the alleviation of suffering and by cruelly denying them necessary medication. She never saw them as human beings and extended them no empathy whatsoever. She taught the nuns of her order to secretly baptize them as they lay dying. The nun was to pretend “she was just cooling the person’s forehead with a wet cloth, while in fact she was baptizing him, saying quietly the necessary words. Secrecy was important so that it would not come to be known that Mother Teresa’s sisters were baptizing Hindus and Moslems.” Those dying persons were only fit for one thing: to be baptized by a single-minded aspirant for saintly fame.
Teresa’s worldview too was warped by the morbid ideology of Christianity which convinced her that Jesus manifests himself in the suffering of the defenceless. As a result, she did not see the pitiable, mentally-ill, child victim of rape or a terminally ill cancer patient as a human being. Instead, they were merely instruments to advertise the presence of Jesus through grotesque suffering. She would do everything to make them suffer. Just as Eichmann awaited glory for his deeds, Teresa too longed to become a saint for having brought terrible suffering upon the voiceless. Like Eichmann, she too never expressed the slightest remorse for what she had done to her victims. Like him, she too was convinced that she helped improve their plight.
Her success, as Hitchens aptly wrote, “is not, therefore, a triumph of humility and simplicity. It is another chapter in a millennial story which stretches back to the superstitious childhood of our species, and which depends on the exploitation of the simple and the humble by the cunning and the single-minded.”
Author’s note: All citations, unless specifically referenced, are from Hitchens’ book cited in the opening paragraph.
Kalavai Venkat is a Silicon Valley-based writer, an atheist, a practicing orthodox Hindu, and author of the book “What Every Hindu should know about Christianity.”