Mother Teresa: Anything but a saint…

The myth of altruism and generosity surrounding Mother Teresa is dispelled in a paper by Serge Larivée and Genevieve Chenard of University of Montreal’s Department of Psychoeducation and Carole Sénéchal of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Education.

The paper will be published in the March issue of the journal Studies in Religion/Sciences religieuses and is an analysis of the published writings about Mother Teresa. Like the journalist and author Christopher Hitchens, who is amply quoted in their analysis, the researchers conclude that her hallowed image—which does not stand up to analysis of the facts—was constructed, and that her beatification was orchestrated by an effective media relations campaign.

“While looking for documentation on the phenomenon of altruism for a seminar on ethics, one of us stumbled upon the life and work of one of Catholic Church’s most celebrated woman and now part of our collective imagination—Mother Teresa—whose real name was Agnes Gonxha,” says Professor Larivée, who led the research. “The description was so ecstatic that it piqued our curiosity and pushed us to research further.”

Mother Teresa: Anything but a saint…As a result, the three researchers collected 502 documents on the life and work of Mother Teresa. After eliminating 195 duplicates, they consulted 287 documents to conduct their analysis, representing 96% of the literature on the founder of the Order of the Missionaries of Charity (OMC). Facts debunk the myth of Mother Teresa

In their article, Serge Larivée and his colleagues also cite a number of problems not take into account by the Vatican in Mother Teresa’s beatification process, such as “her rather dubious way of caring for the sick, her questionable political contacts, her suspicious management of the enormous sums of money she received, and her overly dogmatic views regarding, in particular, abortion, contraception, and divorce.”

‘The sick must suffer like Christ on the cross’

At the time of her death, Mother Teresa had opened 517 missions welcoming the poor and sick in more than 100 countries. The missions have been described as “homes for the dying” by doctors visiting several of these establishments in Calcutta. Two-thirds of the people coming to these missions hoped to a find a doctor to treat them, while the other third lay dying without receiving appropriate care. The doctors observed a significant lack of hygiene, even unfit conditions, as well as a shortage of actual care, inadequate food, and no painkillers. The problem is not a lack of money—the Foundation created by Mother Teresa has raised hundreds of millions of dollars—but rather a particular conception of suffering and death: “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering,” was her reply to criticism, cites the journalist Christopher Hitchens. Nevertheless, when Mother Teresa required palliative care, she received it in a modern American hospital.

Mother Teresa’s questionable politics and shadowy accounting

Mother Teresa was generous with her prayers but rather miserly with her foundation’s millions when it came to humanity’s suffering. During numerous floods in India or following the explosion of a pesticide plant in Bhopal, she offered numerous prayers and medallions of the Virgin Mary but no direct or monetary aid. On the other hand, she had no qualms about accepting the Legion of Honour and a grant from the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti. Millions of dollars were transferred to the MCO’s various bank accounts, but most of the accounts were kept secret, Larivée says. “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?”

The grand media plan for Mother Teresa’s holiness

Despite these disturbing facts, how did Mother Teresa succeed in building an image of holiness and infinite goodness? According to the three researchers, her meeting in London in 1968 with the BBC’s Malcom Muggeridge, an anti-abortion journalist who shared her right-wing Catholic values, was crucial. Muggeridge decided to promote Teresa, who consequently discovered the power of mass media. In 1969, he made a eulogistic film of the missionary, promoting her by attributing to her the “first photographic miracle,” when it should have been attributed to the new film stock being marketed by Kodak. Afterwards, Mother Teresa travelled throughout the world and received numerous awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize. In her acceptance speech, on the subject of Bosnian women who were raped by Serbs and now sought abortion, she said: “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.”

Following her death, the Vatican decided to waive the usual five-year waiting period to open the beatification process. The miracle attributed to Mother Theresa was the healing of a woman, Monica Besra, who had been suffering from intense abdominal pain. The woman testified that she was cured after a medallion blessed by Mother Theresa was placed on her abdomen. Her doctors thought otherwise: the ovarian cyst and the tuberculosis from which she suffered were healed by the drugs they had given her. The Vatican, nevertheless, concluded that it was a miracle. Mother Teresa’s popularity was such that she had become untouchable for the population, which had already declared her a saint. “What could be better than beatification followed by canonization of this model to revitalize the Church and inspire the faithful especially at a time when churches are empty and the Roman authority is in decline?” Larivée and his colleagues ask.

Positive effect of the Mother Teresa myth

Despite Mother Teresa’s dubious way of caring for the sick by glorifying their suffering instead of relieving it, Serge Larivée and his colleagues point out the positive effect of the Mother Teresa myth: “If the extraordinary image of Mother Teresa conveyed in the collective imagination has encouraged humanitarian initiatives that are genuinely engaged with those crushed by poverty, we can only rejoice. It is likely that she has inspired many humanitarian workers whose actions have truly relieved the suffering of the destitute and addressed the causes of poverty and isolation without being extolled by the media. Nevertheless, the media coverage of Mother Theresa could have been a little more rigorous.”

About the study

The study was conducted by Serge Larivée, Department of psychoeducation, University of Montreal, Carole Sénéchal, Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa, and Geneviève Chénard, Department of psychoeducation, University of Montreal.

The printed version, available only in French, will be published in March 2013 in issue 42 of Studies in Religion / Sciences religieuses.



The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Have a question? Let us know.

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99 thoughts on “Mother Teresa: Anything but a saint…”

  1. Wow. A poor article laden with factless suspicion. Must have been a slow news day. Now write an article telling us how good Hitler was with animals.

  2. Christianity is a complicated subject because of its POLITICAL nature. It is not a religion , it is a political setup. Please read the book “Christianity: The Deadliest Poison and Zen: The Antidote to All Poisons” by Osho…. You will understand why a real modern saint OSHO was poisoned and killed by Church backed terrorists and why a pseudo-social worker has been called a “SAINT” by Church backed media-mafia….. Please remember Mother Terasa is the NOT the only “poster” saint created by Church backed Media Mafia to market Christianity…. The other one is “Santa Claus” who was created for marketing campaign of COCA-COLA… and now taken up as Christian Saint cunningly by vatican backed media mafia…

  3. I was outraged the first time I read one of Hitchens’ articles/interviews that was published in the Sunday Magazine, where he called her Mother Teresa “a fanatic and a fraud, and a friend of poverty and not the poor” (in fact, that was the first time I had heard of someone called Christopher Hitchens). But years later when I read “The Missionary Position” and later when I watched his documentary “Hell’s Angel,” it wasn’t very hard to understand what he said or why he said it. What Mihir Bose says in “Hell’s Angel,” best explains why Indians tend to generally frown and fume when someone points a finger at or even looks askance at her, her actions, or the order she founded. He said, “Mother Teresa is a Nobel Prize winner, she is a symbol… people in the west talk about her. So, Indians adopt her at that level. The fact of what she does on the streets of Calcutta is really irrelevant to them… they couldn’t care about it and most of them don’t even know, but Mother Teresa is the sort of figure you show to visitors.”

  4. I think what a lot of those who have commented before me who are asking where the research and science is missed in this article are the very important first 2 paragraphs that clearly state that the scholarly research paper will be published in March.
    THIS IS NOT THE RESEARCH PAPER.
    This is an article ABOUT the research paper, which is summarizing the findings.
    If you are one of those who are asking where the research and evidence is, please take the time to read the actual research paper, authored by scientists, when it is published and you will find it. Scholarly papers must cite all of their sources. They don’t get published otherwise.

  5. What’s new here? the Catholic Church has a shameful history of lies, deceit and cover-ups. It’s been responsible for making lives miserable for centuries. A dysfunctional organisation run by elderly men. Just look at what’s happening in the vatican at the moment, old men dressed up in medieval garb deciding who’ll be next to head the organisation which dishes out crap on the poor and tries to get inside the heads of children for future followers. Of course its followers are going to refute anything that doesn’t look good for it. I hope they’re also speaking out against the moving around of pedophiles within the organisation, so that the status quo isn’t harmed. Shameful, all of it. Sell off the riches and get rid of the hangers on and give the money to the needy, that might appease God.

  6. i don’t see some scientific proofs which are balanced enough so we can conclude something about her character.
    but let’s say this article shows the only side of MT had in her life.

    so many ‘sins’ and frauds she has made during her mission.
    ‘imperfection’ in her actions.

    so what do you think about her presence?
    is the world gonna be a better place if she didnt start her mission?

    i do think still, that she was a great woman. greater than me, and than many people.

  7. Wow. Hating on Mother Theresa.

    John 15:18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” -Jesus

    • “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me”. Hunter S. Thompson

      And it is fact that HST existed, AND that he really said this.

      Your quote is made up, the person quoted probably did not really exist, and his “words” were written by men, trying to subjugate other men.

      Your book is a book – full of lies and misdirection (unless you really do want to die for wearing 2 different fabrics, working on Sunday, or allowing a woman to preach).

      Letting sick and dying suffer so they could be christ-like is sadistic, immoral and illegal. Treat a dog like that, and people would kick your ass. Do it in gods name, some make you a saint.

  8. “her suspicious management of the enormous sums of money she received” – she must have spent it on her wardrobe. She was Catholic, mystery solved about her dogmatic views. Even if we don’t agree with them, everyone has a right to their own views. What she has done is more than any of those scientists debunking her will ever do in their lifetime. Taking one of her quotes about the suffering of the poor out of context in a blog post is really just intellectual minds needing to come to conclusions and biases they already had. Where are the other quotes like the man that watched her pick up lepers and said “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars” and she replied “either would I, but I would do it for God”. How many lepers have these intellectuals picked up? I know someone that volunteered at her mission in Calcutta for two months, a Westerner, he is no fool and if the conditions and the treatment they describe here was the norm it is very very unlikely he would do that every year. You can take ANY facts and arrange them in any way you want to create any story you want. It seems to me that science tackling subjects like compassion and altruism is like a dog writing a thesis on what it is to be human.
    It aint so easily done. For them to judge her for not sending money to flood victims and Bopal victims, there are floods in India every monsoon there are tragedies in India at all points. Where does one begin and where does one end? She appears to have chosen to spend her money on her own missions. She traveled the world, she was on a TV show being interviewed and during the break there were commercials for diet aids. Just juxtaposing her with the modern world and our insanity is worth the travel. How do you know that the people that interviewed her didn’t pay her accommodations? So easy it is to judge from a Western point of view a country and a system that one has not experienced nor visited. Go back to those days in India not the booming economy it is today. She’s a nun and she’s a Catholic. Her views on abortion for the raped women is shaped by a life you cannot fathom having not been raised and indoctrinated a Catholic nun and not understanding her deep faith in the teachings of the Catholic church. Just because we may all disagree with that teaching cannot we understand that someone has a right to feel that strongly about the life of a fetus that it should not be aborted. It seems a reflection of why she picks up lepers. At least she put her principals into practice helping all stages of life unlike the hierarchy at the Vatican in gilded rooms. Judge not lest you be judged. Where are the other quotes…that have left her a place in history. Should we just ignore the beauty and magnitude of the expression of Love that she spoke? It’s there but why look for it when you have evidence that supports another thesis. Balance never was the order of the day in most media let alone “science” blog.

  9. Here is another example of poor and incomplete analysis masquerading as scientific research.
    Many of the conclusions drawn are not based on substantive proof. For ex, did the authors try to find out how the the moneys from the charity are distributed and to whom? The question is left unanswered and only speculation is offered about the management of the funds.
    To correct the authors, there is no such thing as right-wing Catholic values. The Catholic church takes a firm and unequivocal stand on abortion, contraception, and divorce, regardless of the actual practices of its adherents. Mother Theresa just happens to be a faithful proponent of Catholic values, and what’s so terribly wrong with that?
    The way I understood her concept that the poor must endure their lot just like Christ did was that is was ok to be poor. I dont believe that she honestly meant to see them suffer as the authors suggest. After all, her work was to care for the needy.
    Finally, a saint is an ordinary person who performs extraordinary works of love and charity. In that regard, the church saw fit to proclaim her a saint and so do I.
    For all her faults and foibles, I believe she left behind a legacy (you can call it whatever you want, including myth) of hope and inspiration for all of us who strive to lift the human condition.

  10. I know a lot of people see a psychological need to defend the woman, even going so far as to attack anyone who questions her, but MT was not a saint. She was a fanatic who wasted some fantastic potential in service to her biases: http://motherteresawasafraud.blogspot.ca

    Her failures were not ‘isolated incidents.’ They were at the core of her actions everywhere.

  11. I’m not Catholic and I don’t believe in all that Saints stuff. But why do these men feel the need to dig into Mother Theresa’s life and tear her to shreds? So what if she didn’t do everything believed, she did a tremendous amount of good. She devoted her life to helping the poor and sick. These men devote their lives to tearing down lives. Why didn’t they do this when she was alive to defend herself? I think they are mean and cowardly.

  12. Bueno,lo que tenemos es un cristopher Hitchens —ya murió–en su ideologías ateoides ¿Podría hablar bien de una misionera de la caridad?

  13. these are isolated incidents, she still did a lot of good. shes human and probably has a **** personality. She wanted something to show for her work. who knows I would say the overall good she did covers her saying and doing some dumb things

  14. @Michael Longval thank you very much for the link. Goodness knows why I couldn’t find it myself.

  15. I have seen the videos depicting the conditions of her missions, as miserable a place as i’ve ever seen and I’ve been in African hospitals in areas that were destitute. This quote says much about her, and it disgusts me.

    “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering,”

  16. I don’t see the science in this assertion that Theresa leveraged religion to rationalize suffering while collecting millions. I agree with Hitchens that religion poisons everything, and it certainly appears that the Catholic church seems to have no problem amassing huge wealth while huge numbers of its followers live in poverty. However, this paper hardly appears to be “research” based upon anything resembling the scientific method. Is the posting of this kind of article supposed to be some kind of reinforcement that science and religion are incompatible?

  17. Although I strongly disagree with many of Mother Theresa’s belief’s, I do believe she drew much needed attention to issues such as child marriage and lack of social infastructure so apparent in places like India. I do not believe this article presented enough information to support it’s claims of embezelment, although I have no doubt it is possible that monies from her missions ended up funding other branches of the church.In the end people need to evaluate for themselves if they believe she did more good than harm ir visa versa. She actively faught population control measures such as contraception, and yet she convinced many to not marry at age 13, 14 and to wait until they were legitimate adults, thus preventing many teen pregnancies. No she did not provide pain relief to the sick, however she did provide a roof over their heads……in a country were there is no infastructure except the churches of various religous affiliations. In my opinion there are positive and negitive repreprecutions every time you mix religion and charity.

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