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Mother Teresa: the final verdict?

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William Crawley | 11:53 UK time, Thursday, 26 August 2010

teresa.jpgMother Teresa of Calcutta was born on this day one hundred years ago. A special mass celebrating her birth, life and missionary work in India was held just a few hours ago in the city of Calcutta. A message was read out from Pope Benedict celebrating "the inestimable gift that Mother Teresa was in her lifetime". Yet Mother Teresa, who earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and was beatified by the church in 2003 -- the first stage in being declared a saint -- continues to be a controversial figure. The new atheist writer Christopher Hitchens gave evidence at the church's beatification hearings in 2003, as did the Indian doctor and writer Aroup Chatterjee. These were the only "hostile" witnesses whose evidence was heard by church authorities and both have published books setting out their moral case against Mother Teresa. On Sunday, we'll debate the legacy of the missionary who was regarded as a "living saint" but who is in danger of becoming a enduring controversy with Aroup Chatterjee, author of Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict and John Scally, author of Mother Teresa: The Irish Connection.


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    Aroup Chattergee is well worth listening to. He comes from the city and he lived there while Mother Theresa was active. His book about her is positively jaw dropping and a great antidote to all that ballyhoo about her being a living Saint.His book is available to read online and I think it is called "The Final Verdict". Check it out.

  • Comment number 3.

    Yes, Sunday Sequence will the final arbiter of Blessed Teresa.

    One of the sins against the Holy Spirit in the catechism was envy of another's spiritual good. I see it is alive and well.

  • Comment number 4.

    I cannot begin to render a final verdict because that jurisdiction is God's alone. Mother Theresa has been praised; she has also been critized. The criticism comes from various individuals (and groups), including Christopher Hitchens, Aroup Chatterjee, and Vishva Hindu Parishad, mainly against her proselytizing, which included
    - a strong stance against contraception and abortion,
    - a belief in the “spiritual goodness” of poverty and
    - alleged baptisms of the dying (with or without consent).
    In addition, medical journals often criticised the standard of medical care that was provided in her hospices.
    Lastly, there were concerns about the non-transparant way in which money donated was actually spent. Christopher Hitchens and the German magazine Stern have said that Mother Teresa did not focus donated money on alleviating poverty or improving the conditions of her hospices; rather, she used (at least some of the money) to open new convents and increase her missionary work, even though the workload was at its peak.
    Maybe this alone would not have been too bad, but, the sources of some donations have also come under criticism. Mother Teresa accepted donations from the autocratic and corrupt Duvalier family in Haiti. She openly praised the Duvaliers. She accepted 1.4 million dollars from Charles Keating, involved in the fraud and corruption known as the "Keating Five scandal". The Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles, Paul Turley, wrote to Mother Teresa asking her to return the donated money to the people that it had been stolen from. This donated money was never accounted for, and most certainly not returned.
    Though Mother Teresa instructed her followers on the importance of spreading the Gospel through actions, it was hard to reconcile her teachings with some of her practices. E.g.
    - Unnecessarily refusing to help the needy when they came at the wrong time according to the prescribed schedule,
    - discouraging nuns from seeking medical training to deal with the various illnesses they encountered (Mother Theresa's justification: God empowers the weak and ignorant), and
    - the imposition of "unjust" punishments, such transferring nuns away from friends and family.
    - Also nuns were prohibited from reading of secular books and newspapers. Obedience was considered greater than independent thinking.
    When Mother Theresa fell seriously ill, she made the decision to be treated at a well-equipped hospital in California instead of one of her own clinics.
    Aroup Chatterjee writes that while she was alive Mother Teresa and her official biographers refused to cooperate with his own investigations. He gives as examples a report in The Guardian in Britain whose "stringent attack on conditions in her orphanages ... included charges of gross neglect and physical and emotional abuse".
    Privately, Mother Teresa experienced doubts and struggles over her religious beliefs which lasted nearly fifty years. During these times "she felt no presence of God whatsoever" - "neither in her heart or in the eucharist" (as revealed by her postulator Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk). Mother Teresa expressed grave doubts about even God's own existence. These doubts plagued her, pained her. She said: "When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul..." Some critics of Mother Teresa, such as Christopher Hitchens, view her writings as evidence that her public image was created primarily for public display - despite her personal beliefs. Hitchens writes, "So, which is the more striking: that the faithful should bravely confront the fact that one of their heroines all but lost her own faith, or that the Church should have gone on deploying, as an icon of favorable publicity, a confused old lady who it knew had for all practical purposes ceased to believe."?
    The final verdict?
    That's not for me to say.

  • Comment number 5.

    Mother Teresa was indeed from Macedonia, not Albania as claimed on BBC news.

  • Comment number 6.


    I read your post before it was pulled and could see nothing wrong with it. It certainly described a less than perfect person but cited sources from the region to back up the statement.

    In the region, Mother Teresa was an instrument of the Catholic church and was dead set against the use of condoms even to avert fatal diseases and to ensure HIV+ kids were not conceived by HIV+ mothers.

    I had connections to an Indian company who were very active commercially in Spain but repatriated a significant proportion of money to India to help pay for an AIDS foundation and their view was that she was a hindrance to combating the spread of AIDS. She was also viewed as a bully and autocratic and took no notice of what the local Indian people who were trying to help in the region thought.

    This may be uncomfortable reading to those who think she is blessed, but people are entitled to hold views about people which they object to.

  • Comment number 7.

    Thanks Bluesberry for your comments. I was not aware of all that you mention but some of it.
    When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul...

    Hmmmm....emptiness says it all really.

    (Plus the soul cannot be hurt.)

  • Comment number 8.

    thanks Bluesberry for your comments - I was aware of some of what you say but not all.

    "When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul..."

    The final verdict is by her own words (I am assuming they are definitely her words) - empty.

    (BTW - the soul cannot be hurt)

  • Comment number 9.

    apologies for the duplication above - every time I hit 'post comment' it said I had already made the same comments in post 1 !!! I thought neither of the attempts had worked - and here they both are! Computers ....eh!

  • Comment number 10.

    "Yes, Sunday Sequence will the final arbiter of Blessed Teresa."

    -- Hardly. The headline refers to the book by Dr Chatterjee. And I added a question mark for good reasons.

  • Comment number 11.

    Dave, thanks for that. I wonder about the culture of Ireland (all the bits), why does religious superstition continue to hold so much sway there and enforce strict censorship on those who raise public awareness. Is the truth so hard to accept? Things won't get better in any theocracies until religion is shunted to the margins.

    Best, L.

  • Comment number 12.

    Will you said that Sunday Sequence will be the final arbiter of Mother Teresa. You are wrong in that comment because at the end of the day God will be the final arbiter on Mother Teresa as he will on us all. It's true that when she was alive on this earth she done good work, however their where lots of people who have come before her and come after who have as good a work and in some cases better than her. However your good works cannot alone gain your salvation, it's through accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour to enjoy everlating life with God. You don't do you work for the Lord to earn salvation, you do it BECAUSE of your salvation. If Mother Teresa believed that then she is at the home with the Lord and is enjoying the blessing of being "absent from the body, present with the Lord".

  • Comment number 13.


    Will didn't make those claims, read the posts properly.

    I was under the impression that it was deeds that gained your salvation, or am I getting my Jude and my Peter mixed up again? Remind me, is it through faith, or by deeds? It was never explained that well in bible class when I was a kid.

    And if it's by faith, then I'm sure all the murders and theives and so on in prision, who beg forgiveness in their final breath will be pleased to know their eternal salvation is secured. And all those good people who performed amazing deeds who just happened to never hear about your marvellous Christ and are sent to hell will accept it as being 'just'.

  • Comment number 14.

    The idea that we can be 'saved' by someone or something other than ourselves is completely erroneous in my view. We 'save' ourselves by knowing who we are and making choices accordingly. Uttering the words "I believe in Jesus CHrist" does not undo the consequences of one's choices that will play out in this life and future lifetimes - so don't worry Natman - murderers don't get away with it even if they never make it to prison. Life has its own way of balancing - but it is not from a 'punishment' perspective and there is no hell. Just the fulfilment of the laws of cause and effect ....that we may each come to know who we are and make choices accordingly. So there is nothing to fear as such......such is the love of God that we can cock it up many many many many many many times and we will still be loved just the same. It is our own lovelessness and ignorance re our true nature that results in the evil in the world. However, perhaps if people knew that their own choices influences their next lifetime they might take more responsibility in this lifetime! We chart are own destiny. By her own words Mother THeresa claimed she was empty - and to my understanding this is empty of love. Many people feel and are empty and for me this arises from the disconnection to our true nature that is love. Knowing that one is love is not enough either - it has to be built in the body in order to be full, full of love and that is done by our daily choices. Which can be simple but not always easy due to our ingrained patterns and ways of being that are in fact very harmful and loveless - simple things like what we eat and drink and ultimately all choices influence the amount of love we have in the body.

  • Comment number 15.

    For those interested I can highly recommend Mother Teresa: Saint or Celebrity by Gezim Alpion, an Albanian academic currently at the University of Birmingham.


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