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Features » International

Defending Mother Teresa against her bitter critics

Although she is widely venerated, Mother Teresa also has some vociferous critics. This writer speaks out on the various accusations against her.

Defending Mother Teresa against her bitter critics
William Doino Jr International

April 2, 2013

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She was called a “messenger of the love of Christ,” awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and beatified by the Holy See. But for most people, she is simply Mother Teresa, one of the most admired women of modern times.

Born as Agnes Bojaxhiu in Macedonia in 1910, Blessed Teresa came to public attention relatively late in life, but when she did, her impact was profound. In 1969, Malcolm Muggeridge hosted a BBC documentary on her, Something Beautiful for God, following it with his now-classic book of the same nameIn it, he recounted the series of events that led a young Balkan girl to become a nun, found a new religious order, and become a heroic servant of the poor and dying—first in the streets of Calcutta, then all over the world. The documentary deeply moved people, and inspired a new generation of Christian activists; more than a few became Missionaries of Charity themselves.

As with all models of beauty in life, however, there are cynics who have tried to tar Mother Teresa. In the 1990s—after Muggeridge had died, but with Teresa still active—the late Christopher Hitchens launched an aggressive attack on Mother with a documentary and book aimed to inflame: Hell’s Angel and The Missionary Position. These polemics didn’t reflect the truth, but did manage to fool a number of people.

The remarkable thing about Hell’s Angel is that it purports to defend the poor against Mother Teresa’s supposed exploitation of them, while never actually interviewing any on screen. Not a single person cared for by the Missionaries speaks on camera. Was this because they had a far higher opinion of Blessed Teresa than Hitchens would permit in his film?

Avoiding the people at the heart of Teresa’s ministry, Hitchens posed for the camera and let roll a series of ad hominem attacks and unsubstantiated accusations, as uninformed as they were cruel. He called Muggeridge—one of the most acclaimed journalists of the twentieth century—an “old fraud and mountebank,” mocked his belief in the supernatural, and even referred to Mother Teresa as a “presumable virgin.”

She was denounced for meeting with unsavory politicians and businessmen, in order to assist the poor, but ironically, it is Hitchens who used the film to promote Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a notorious ex-priest whose record as Haiti’s President was symbolized by corruption and abuse. Of Teresa’s travels abroad, Hitchens declared: “She may or may not comfort the afflicted, but she has certainly never been known to afflict the comfortable”—but the documentary shows her doing exactly that, decrying abortion in front of affluent pro-choice audiences.

Hitchens expressed shock that Teresa encouraged victims to forgive those who harmed them, causing many to wonder whether he was aware of the basic tenets of Christianity.

The height of absurdity came when Hitchens assailed Mother Teresa for allegedly giving her heart to greater Albania, “a cause that was once smiled upon by Pope Pius IX and his friend Benito Mussolini.” It would have been hard for Pius IX to have been friends with Benito Mussolini, given that Pius died in 1878, and Mussolini was not born until 1883, but why should Hitchens be concerned about historical facts, when he was having such fun making them up?

Despite this effort to diminish Mother Teresa’s reputation, it stands as high as ever, fifteen years after her passing. Her order and affiliates continue to expand. By 2010, notes biographer Kathryn Spink, there were over five thousand Missionary of Charity sisters, serving in 766 houses in 137 countries, and another 377 active brothers serving in sixty-eight houses in twenty-one countries. The Lay Missionaries of Charity, now twenty-five years old, are also growing, operating in fifty countries.

The expansion of her order speaks volumes about its integrity and effectiveness, but the support and admiration it has received has proven too much for some. On March 1, three Canadian academics—Serge Larivee, Genevieve Chenard, and Carole Senechal—released a report on Mother Teresa, renewing the criticism. A press release, darkly entitled “Mother Teresa: Anything but a Saint,” read:

In their article, Serge Larivee and his colleagues . . . cite a number of problems not taken 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.”

That was not all. The researchers accused Mother Teresa of running facilities with inadequate medical care while receiving quality medical care herself, said she was more in love with poverty than helping the poor, and implied she was psychologically unstable because she suffered through bouts of doubt. For good measure, they attacked the miracle that the Church has attributed to her intervention.

After studying their report—twenty-seven pages in French—I sought out people who had known Mother Teresa, or been involved with her cause to inquire about its charges. Every single one of them told me that the Mother Teresa presented by the Canadian researchers was unrecognizable from the one they encountered, and to prove it, provided point by point rebuttals to their accusations.

Fr. Peter Gumpel, an official at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, told me that far from overlooking criticism of Mother Teresa, the allegations were taken quite seriously, and answered:

There are mistakes made in even the most modern medical facilities, but whenever a correction was needed, Mother and the Missionaries showed themselves alert and open to constructive change and improvement. What many do not understand is the desperate conditions Mother Teresa constantly faced, and that her special charism was not to found or run hospitals—the Church has many who do that—but to rescue those who were given no chance of surviving, and otherwise would have died on the street.

But it is “absolutely false,” he stressed, to claim that she rejected or neglected available medical care for those still treatable, or good palliative care for the terminally ill. “Beware of anecdotal stories circulating from disgruntled people or those with an anti-Catholic agenda,” he warned.

Full Story: Mother Teresa and Her Critics 

Source: First Things

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