Hell’s Angel: Mother Teresa
For decades now Mother Teresa has been one of the favourite and most successful PR-tools of the catholic church and Christianity in general. For her “humanitarian work” and “spiritual inspiration” she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. Her name became a synonym of goodness around the world, although few people know what her work consists of, and even fewer have actually seen it. Those who did are usually rather shocked. Read, for example the account of Hemley Gonzalez, founder of the Facebook page STOP The Missionaries of Charity:
I worked as a volunteer in one of Mother Teresa’s homes in Calcutta, India, for a period of two months at the end of 2008. It was during this time that I was shocked to discover the horrific and negligent manner in which this charity operates and the direct contradiction of the public’s general understanding of their work. [...]
Workers washing needles under tap water only to be reused again. Medicine and other vital items being stored for months on end, expiring and eventually still applied sporadically to patients. Volunteers with little or no training carrying out dangerous work on patients with highly contagious cases of Tuberculosis, leprosy and other life threatening illnesses, while the workers of the charity patently refuse to accept and implement machinery and equipment that would safely automate processes and save lives.
Few voices are brave enough to criticize the religious icon that is Mother Teresa so bluntly. The most famous criticism so far stems from the pen of Christopher Hitchens, who has written a book with the witty title of The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. There’s also a book entitled The Final Verdict by Aroup Chatterjee, who worked with Hitchens on the TV-documentary Hell’s Angel: Mother Teresa (yes, that’s where I stole the title of this entry). The Main difference between those three is that Hitchens’ tongue is sharper than Chatterjee’s, but the critique is pretty much the same. Yet so far, those three sources are about all there is in terms of popular criticism.
Well, until now. I have recently read an article by Michael Parenti, whose book God And His Demons was just published in March by Prometheus Books. Here’s a little teaser:
Mother Teresa is a paramount example of the kind of acceptably conservative icon propagated by an elite-dominated culture, a “saint” who uttered not a critical word against social injustice, and maintained cozy relations with the rich, corrupt, and powerful.
She claimed to be above politics when in fact she was pronouncedly hostile toward any kind of progressive reform. Teresa was a friend of Ronald Reagan, and an admiring guest of the Haitian dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier. She also had the support and admiration of a number of Central and South American dictators.
Teresa was Pope John Paul II’s kind of saint. After her death in 1997, he waived the five-year waiting period usually observed before beginning the beatification process that leads to sainthood. The five-year delay is intended to dampen impulsive enthusiasms and allow for a more sober evaluation. Claims made on behalf of a candidate are then subjected to critical challenge by an advocatus diaboli, a “devil’s advocate” assigned to the beatification process. John Paul brushed aside all this. In 2003, in record time Teresa was beatified, the final step before canonization.
You can (and should) read the whole article here. I quite liked it. It is well writen and very concise, while containing all the most important points of criticism. As a nice bonus, it also contains a stab or two at the reactionary politics of Pope John Paul II. That, too, is a criticism that is almost unheard-of here in Germany; I am not aware of any articles or TV-programms that ever but mildly criticised John Paul’s papacy. And Mother Teresa’s reputation is, well, that of a saint.
It may be time to change that.
More former volunteers at the MoC homes have spoken up and told incredible stories of medical negligence and abuse:
Sally Warner worked for the MoC for thirteen years. Here you can read the full transcript of an hour-long interview with Hemley Gonzalez.
The transcript of another one-hour interview with a woman working in a MoC home for mentally challanged women in Kolkatta can be found here. She has truly horrifying stories to tell.
Click here to read a somewhat shorter, but no less harrowing testimony from yet another volunteer, working in one of Mother Teresa’s orphanages in Pondicherry.
A great article summing up the situation and listing all of the most important sources can be found at MadMikesAmerica blog.