On Aug 1st British television carried an investigative piece by Donal McIntyre about the treatment of children in an orphanage run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. He quotes Dr Aroup Chatterjee, a medical doctor in London and the author of Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict, as saying that “the Indian government is “terrified” of her reputation but if similar practices were found in any other home, it would have been shut down.”
In brief, the report said that handicapped children were maltreated in the orphanage. No surprise there for anyone who has cared to read what the true story is behind the façade that Mother Teresa carefully built around her mission. She used the misery that is all too evident in Calcutta (and in India in general) to demand charity from all and sundry around the world. What she did with the donations is not clear and is unlikely to ever become clear because she refused to have her books audited. Untold millions of dollars flowed into her coffers. The money was not used to build even one small hospital anywhere. In her homes, it was even forbidden to hand out simple painkillers. She, in the meanwhile, got jetted around to hospitals in the US whenever she was suffering some illness.
I have been a severe critic of Mother Teresa ever since I came to know of what her mission was all about. Christopher Hitchens was one of the first to provide a devastating critique of her. The Ghoul of Calcutta, as he called his piece on her, is as honest an appraisal of her as anyone has ever done. His book The Missionary Position was a welcome counterbalance to the hagiography that was built around her myth. I started a small collection of critical pieces about M. Teresa some years ago. Through my interest in her, around 1997 I came to meet Hitchens when he was visiting Berkeley for a conversation with Gore Vidal. Last year I met Chatterjee in London, again in connection with a review of his book that I had written on my blog.
What exactly is my main grouse with M. Teresa? I think that she was evil. She manipulated others and cheated them, and she did so on the backs of Kolkata’s miserable. She was the most famous “beggar lord” – a person who makes a living by taking the money that people give to beggars and using that money for some other purpose. In her case, it is suspected that the money is funneled to the Vatican so that she would get on the fast tract to being canonized.
But siphoning money to the Vatican does not immediately brand her as evil, in my book. Hitler also supported the Vatican and that was not his most egregious fault. No, M. Teresa did far worse than just steal from the poor to enrich the fabulously wealthy. She compounded the problem that is the root cause of many of the world’s miseries. She cynically campaigned against birth control and contraceptives and did everything that she could to make the population problem more acute. The more born in misery and hopelessness, the more souls she would be able to save and more the brownie points that she would have to win the prize in heaven (sit next to Jesus Christ) and on earth (made into a saint by the bishop of Rome.)
My hope is that one of these days soon the Indians at least will wake out of their deep slumber of ignorance to realize that she has done incalculable harm to India, both in terms of the image that she advertised to the world about India, but even more tragically by catalyzing tens of millions of excess births that will result in decades of needless suffering and pain.
Too bad I don’t believe in hell and in a just power governing the universe. Otherwise I would have consoled myself with the thought that she would definitely end up in hell and suffer for all of eternity what she imposed on others.
Update: (Oct 26th, 2005) Here are two more articles, both by Christopher Hitchens, on Mother Teresa. In Oct 2003, Hitchens wrote The pope beatifies Mother Teresa, a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud.
One of the curses of India, as of other poor countries, is the quack medicine man, who fleeces the sufferer by promises of miraculous healing. Sunday was a great day for these parasites, who saw their crummy methods endorsed by his holiness and given a more or less free ride in the international press. Forgotten were the elementary rules of logic, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and that what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence. More than that, we witnessed the elevation and consecration of extreme dogmatism, blinkered faith, and the cult of a mediocre human personality. Many more people are poor and sick because of the life of MT: Even more will be poor and sick if her example is followed. She was a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud, and a church that officially protects those who violate the innocent has given us another clear sign of where it truly stands on moral and ethical questions.
Earlier that year, he had argued why teresa should not be a saint in the Mirror (UK):
“Wait a minute,” said a TV host in Washington a few nights ago, when I debated all this with Mr John Donahue of the Catholic Defence League. “She built hospitals.” No, sir, you wait a minute.
Mother Teresa was given, to our certain knowledge, many tens of millions of pounds. But she never built any hospitals. She claimed to have built almost 150 convents, for nuns joining her own order, in several countries. Was this where ordinary donors thought their money was going?
Furthermore, she received some of this money from the Duvaliers, and from Mr Charles Keating of the notorious Lincoln Savings and Loan of California, and both these sources had acquired the money by – how shall I put it? – borrowing money from the poor and failing to give it back.
How could this possibly be true? Doesn’t everyone know that she spent her time kissing the sores of lepers and healing the sick? Ah, but what everyone knows isn’t always true. You were more likely to run into Mother Teresa being photographed with Nancy Reagan, or posing with Princess Diana, or in the first-class cabin of Air India (where she had a permanent reservation).