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.”

Researchers dispell the myth of altruism and generosity surrounding Mother TeresaAs 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.

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

  1. Mother Teresa was the biggest example of somebody who does “good” not good. The problem is how the Church enables her message and makes her a saint. Pope Francis and his cronies are passive aggressive in how they ignore the truth and even use dodgy miracles to promote her. The Church consciously fooled people with the Monica besra miracle. A religion needs to be condemned more for the evil it opens the door to than what it does or has done.
    A comment says, “If dealing with the suffering brings one closer to God or spurs one on to relieve the suffering of others, that is a good thing.” You don’t need to believe in God to use your suffering to motivate you to reach out and help other sufferers. In fact seeing suffering as random and a fact of life should make you hate it more than one who thinks its part of God’s alleged plot to bring good out of it. To say you do need to believe is just insulting. And how could suffering be good if it makes you close to a God who makes you suffer? Believers in God in some way do wallow in suffering and water down how terrible i t is for others. They cannot admit that a God who hurts people or WORSE who lets them be hurt (letting hurt happen is worse than hurting for at least when you hurt you know how much hurt you expect to happen) is unworthy of worship.
    I have realised from a comment above that she had no right to take that Nobel Prize. She was not a true humanitarian. She could not even be trusted with money for she put faith before people and used suffering to invite people to her understanding of faith. Inviting people to a vague sense of faith is one thing but a specific faith is a different matter.

    Funny how any criticism of her leads to religious people of accusing critics of not doing good like she did! They do not judge Mother but they are anxious to judge her critics who they know nothing about. The fact remains that many critics and scientists may not do good in a pious way but they do good in other ways and may be better than Mother ever was.

  2. There should be an objective study of account of the funds and the usage thereof to get to the truth. denigrating someone or beatification without knowing the full facts is not correct


  4. Since we know that capitalism and imperialism are respoonsible for creating the highest levels and deepest depths of poverty known to human and Spirit-kind, we should likewise expect Mother Theresa, the vatican and the roamin catholic church to be staunchly anti-capitalist so as not to support the sustenance and growth of poverty and oppression. We do not see this from them. They are part of the industry of poverty and oppression and parade as the standard bearers of “compassion” and “love”. Let us see what the paper/study has to say. Be willing to have truth and real love revealed as a matter of spiritual course if we continue to find out that the story of Theresa is one of a retrograde reactionism that the populace got manipulated with. Remember that the true heroine/hero is the one that destroys the oppressive system, not the one that trains us to live and die, however quietly, dignifiedly or painfully, with it.

  5. @Alan

    I’d take a Hitchens for the truth, over any of the “saints”…

    Truth will allow you to see the lies that keep the “saints” in power over men.

  6. Excellent article, except “Positive effect …”. Somebody mentioned and compared with “bronze age”. But that’s wrong, in bronze age people were pagans and monotheistic. Monotheistic religions are monopolies and this case is clearly is showing us manipulation and “group think” of Holy See over its followers.
    The authors of this report are not mentioning that she had LearJet at disposal and other luxury amenities which are usually associated with the kings.
    She is obviously willingly involved in Vatican and capitalist cause.

  7. Christopher Hitchens or Mother teresa, who did more for people?
    This article is more Catholicphobia.

  8. Wow.. the author comments about right-wing catholic views. So much for being an unbiased or factual research paper.

    If the author wrote this with with a personal view opposed to catholic view then his/her conclusion is inevitable.

    I’m all for a factual review of mother teresa’s life.. but there is a big difference between opinions and facts.

  9. Thank the gods that the truth about this woman is slowly coming out. Other reports cite her refusal to provide pain medication to the dying in case they wanted to convert. How many “converted” in order to get pain medication? And she certainly made sure that she didn’t receive care where the poor did. Double standard.

    Mother Teresa may have deceived herself, but anyone who goes into ecstasy over poor people dying in pain- while millions of dollars of donations go unaccounted for- is either very, very disturbed or very, very evil.

    Possibly those unaccounted millions explain why JPII was so willing to toss aside the usual process in beatification. The delay in beatification is designed to prevent personal popularity from influencing the process: it was completely tossed out for Mother Teresa.

  10. Charity should be done quietly, for no-one other than the giver and receiver. To even enter a pissing contest about “what have you done?” only defeats the purpose.

    There are those that do – there are those that don’t. Saying either way is a moot point.

    I’m an atheist, but the “Do unto others” thing is a cornerstone of my life – as is “what goes around, come around”.

    Spread fake poisonous pseudo-religious crap – eat it at length later…

  11. Forget Mother Theresa being a saint and the (your claimed) so called money she has made. My only question to you is what have or could you do for the poor, the old, the illed….
    Professor Larivée, other than giving a couple of coins from your wallet….

    Whether she be a saint or the richest person on earth, she had the heart to do what you ignored…. that’s what counts….

  12. She’s the prime example of what happens when you adhere to bronze age peasant mentalities.

    “She was not a friend of the poor she was a friend of poverty.”
    Christopher Hitchens.

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