With the Vatican recognizing a second ‘miracle’ supposedly performed by Mother Teresa, she is just one step away from being declared as a ‘Saint’. According to reports, Mother Teresa who died in 1997, is likely to be canonized as a ‘saint’ in September 2016.
Though many already consider her a ‘saint’, serious questions have been raised against her life and conduct by many scholars and researchers who have pointed towards her controversial statements, her obsession with poverty, and her connections with dictators.
Here are the five controversies surrounding the supposed ‘saint’:
1. Abortion and Contraception: Mother Teresa has been severely criticized for her opposition to abortion and contraception. While speaking after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, Teresa said: “We are talking of peace. These are things that break peace, but I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing – direct murder by the mother herself.”
She expressed a similar view while speaking in Ireland in 1992: “‘Let us promise Our Lady who loves Ireland so much that we will never allow in this country a single abortion. And no contraceptives.”
She not only openly expressed her opposition to birth control and abortion, but also attempted to influence world leaders to bring anti-abortion laws. She has been criticized for refusing to see the rising problems of over population and their connection to poverty. Amy Ruth in her book ‘Mother Teresa’ says: “But it was Mother Teresa’s stance on abortion and birth control that generated the most criticism. With so many developing countries- including India- dangerously overpopulated, her critics were outraged by her very vocal belief that a family could never have too many children, regardless of their financial situation.”
Her obsession with abortion was so strong that, in the aftermath of Bhopal gas tragedy, when she was asked: How has the tragedy affected you? She replied: “We are so excited because it has affected us. No one thinks of millions of abortions taking place all over!”
2. Glorification of poverty and suffering: Teresa has also been criticized for being obsessed with poverty and glorifying suffering. Once, when a journalist asked her- Do you teach the poor to endure their lot? She replied: “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.”
Carol Hunt writes: “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.”
Hunt further describes how the ‘Home for the Dying‘ in Calcutta was deliberately kept as barren, destitute and inadequate to the needs of her patients. According to a Canadian study conducted by Serge Larivée and released in 2013, Teresa had opened around 517 centers across the world for serving the sick and the poor but there was significant lack of hygiene, even unfit conditions, as well as a shortage of actual care, inadequate food, and no painkillers.
Thus, Christopher Hitchens, who is perhaps her strongest critic, concludes: “Mother Teresa was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. 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.”
3. Shadow accounting and questionable relationships: Mother Teresa was widely known to be associated with questionable people including dictators and corrupt tycoons. In 1981, she had accepted ‘Legion d’Honneur’ from Haiti’s then Dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, who had stolen millions of dollars from the poor country. She had endorsed the Albanian tyrant Enver Hoxha’s regime and had close contact with Hoxha’s wife Nexhmije.
Teresa accepted millions of dollars from corrupt people who had swindled public money. Charles Keating, who was convicted for investment fraud that caused the wipe out of around 160 million dollars of savings, has been reported to have donated more than 1 million dollars to Teresa. She had also accepted donations from British publisher Robert Maxwell, who swindled around 450 million UK pounds from his employee’s pension funds.
Inspite of getting huge donations, the missions started by Teresa for the poor and sick lacked even the basic facilities. Thus, Larivée asks: “Given the parsimonious management of Mother Theresa’s works, one may ask where the millions of dollars for the poorest of the poor have gone?”
4. Baptism and conversions: Mother Teresa has been often accused of indulging in Baptism and conversion of the poor and the sick into Christianity. This is further reinforced by her own admission that her primary concern is to bring people into Christianity. Recently, Meenakshi Lekhi quoted Navin Chawla’s biography of Teresa, where Teresa says: “a lot of people confuse me as social worker, I am not a social worker. I am in the service of Jesus and my job is to spread the word of Christianity and bring people to its fold.”
Hitchens, in his book ‘The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice’ quotes Susan Shields as saying: “For Mother, it was the spiritual well-being of the poor that mattered most. Material aid was a means of reaching their souls, of showing the poor that God loved them. In the homes for the dying, Mother taught the sisters how to secretly baptize those who were dying. Sisters were to ask each person in danger of death if he wanted a ‘ticket to heaven’. An affirmative reply was to mean consent to baptism. The sister was then 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.”
5. Loss of faith: Though, Mother Teresa supposedly spent her entire life in serving people and spreading the message of Jesus Christ, a collection of her letters and personal correspondences published as a book titled ‘Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light’ in 2007 revealed that she spent her last five decades in a crisis of faith with sensing the presence of God. In more than 40 communications Teresa expresses feelings of “dryness” and “darkness” and doubts the very existence of God.
Commenting on this Hitchens says: “She was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person, and that her attempted cure was more and more professions of faith, which could only have deepened the pit that she had dug for herself.”