Mother Teresa’s brand of charity favours embracing poverty rather than eradicating it. Makes you wonder whether they are in it for their own good.
Anthony Malkin has balls. The New Yorker, who owns the Empire State Building, has turned down a request to change the colours of the celebrated building’s lights to blue and white on the 100th birth anniversary of Mother Teresa, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning nun.
Even as hundreds of demonstrators threatened to close down the city’s 34th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, where the main entrance to the building is located, an unfazed Malkin cited a policy of not illuminating the edifice for religious figures, for the denial.
The world needs more people like Malkin. For, right now the media seems to be in a PR tear to spin the Teresa tale without any sense of balance or enquiry. Indeed, Teresa, with her patina of piety, is being dumbed down for the consumption of the multiplex hordes.
In India where Teresa did her ‘charity’ work for more than half a century, the ruling party, eager to tap into the immense goodwill that exists among the pantheistic Hindus, flagged off a new train named Mother Express. It is indeed an irony that the country that has got stuck with the poverty tag, in large part because of the activities of the poverty hugging Teresa, is going overboard to honour the Macedonia Mother.
The real Teresa was a lot less saintly than she is portrayed by the fawning media, the gullible public and, of course, those mostly Christian protestors in New York ready to cross the boundaries of accepted civic behaviour.
Pocketing Ill-Gotten Wealth
Remember Charles Keating? An investment fraud artist, he was the chairman of the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, which was the target of a federal investigation after the 1989 S&L collapse, which wiped out $160 billion in savings. Many of those affected were ordinary Americans.
Keating, a Roman Catholic, it was discovered, had given more than a million dollars to Teresa and flew her around in his jet. During his trial for fraud, Teresa wrote to judge Lance Ito, telling him what a good guy Keating was and asked for leniency in sentencing. She advised him to do what Jesus would do. While what Jesus would have done belongs in the rhetorical realm, judge Ito gave Keating 10 years for fraud.
The scene now gets murkier. Says Dr Don Boys, a former member of the Indiana House of Representatives and author: “Teresa received a letter from the Deputy District Attorney telling her that the money Keating had given her was stolen from hard working people and suggested that she return the money. I would have suggested, after all, that is what Jesus would have you do. The good nun never answered his letter (nor returned the stolen money). After all, it was for the ‘poor’.”
Dr Boys says that while Teresa wasn’t very sophisticated in her dealings, she or her handlers were very astute in using the media for her own end, raising money for her cause of adding members to the Catholic Church. “Some of the sugar daddies she fawned over were disreputable, unscrupulous people such as the bloody Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier (who plundered Haiti), Communist Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha, Charles Keating, and other scoundrels,” he says.
One of the characters in her inner circle was Jim Towey, who became her legal counsel in the late 1980s. In February 2002, President George W. Bush violated both the letter and the spirit of the American constitution setting up the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to further the cause of fundamentalist churches and religious conversions. Towey was appointed director of this office.
Teresa was a faithful servant of the Vatican. In an article in Slate.com, author Christopher Higgins says, “During the deliberations over the Second Vatican Council, under the stewardship of Pope John XXIII, (Teresa) was to the fore in opposing all suggestions of reform…..Her position was ultra-reactionary and fundamentalist even in orthodox Catholic terms.” In fact, while receiving the Nobel Peace Prize she told a dumbfounded audience that abortion is “the greatest destroyer of peace”.
Mother of all Hypocrisies
One of the most compelling accounts of the macabre world of Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity, is by the Australian, Collete Livermore. A nun who worked in Teresa’s order for 11 years, she ended up sick and disillusioned. In 1984 she quit and wrote the book Hope Endures, where she talks about a little known but disturbing side of Teresa, which she says hurt the truly needy.
Livermore explains how the nuns were not provided with medical advice, the use of mosquito repellents, or information about malaria and vaccinations because Teresa believed God would look after the nuns. Livermore got into trouble with the order for helping a man with dysentery who was in danger of dying. “The order cared more about obedience than doing the right thing,” she writes. Teresa quoted Peter 2:18-23, which orders slaves to obey their masters even if they are abusive and difficult, and used this text to urge her nuns to obey superiors without question.
In Manila, Teresa wouldn't let the nuns have a washing machine, which forced the nuns to wash the underwear of the incontinent with brushes. Livermore felt the order was more concerned about inflicting hardship on the nuns than on helping the sick. More angst was in store for Livermore when she was forbidden to help a sick boy called Alex. That’s when she decided to leave the order because she didn't like the way she was expected to let the poor suffer.
It would, of course, be pertinent to add that each time Teresa herself fell sick she sought the best medical care. Her stay in an elite California hospital was the most glaring instance.
In 1997, a year after her death, the Pope nominated Teresa for beatification, the first step towards sainthood. However, by doing this the Pope violated a Vatican tradition that allowed a cooling off period of five years to guard against dubious characters.
Writes Higgins: “As for the ‘miracle’ that had to be attested, what can one say? Surely any respectable Catholic cringes with shame at the obviousness of the fakery. A Bengali woman named Monica Besra claims that a beam of light emerged from a picture of (Teresa), which she happened to have in her home, and relieved her of a cancerous tumour. Her physician, Dr Ranjan Mustafi, says that she didn't have a cancerous tumor in the first place and that the tubercular cyst she did have was cured by a course of prescription medicine. Was he interviewed by the Vatican's investigators? No.”
Higgins continues: “According to an uncontradicted report in the Italian paper L'Eco di Bergamo, the Vatican's secretary of state sent a letter to senior cardinals in June, asking on behalf of the pope whether they favoured making (Teresa) a saint right away. The pope's clear intention has been to speed the process up in order to perform the ceremony in his own lifetime.” Was it his payback for her unquestioning support for his anti-reformist agenda?
Teresa, clearly, wasn’t a friend of the poor; she was a friend of poverty. What has she and her charity achieved in the last six decades in Calcutta? Virtually nothing except give the city, and India by association, a very bad name.
Today, large swathes of India are entering the First World thanks to hard word and free enterprise. On the other hand, Calcutta, virtually alone among India’s cities, seems stuck in LDC mode. While it’s long marriage with Marxism may have something to with the lack of progress, the presence of the poverty mongers ensures the city finds it impossible to shake off its Third World image. Teresa’s fundraising sermons have drilled into people’s mind that it is a city of lepers and beggars. On one instance, the nuns claimed, untruthfully of course, that Calcutta had 450,000 lepers, knowing that the rich have a poor conscience and would promptly despatch their dollars.
The Vatican’s mythmakers will surely send Mother Teresa climbing up the sainthood charts. She fits squarely in the Catholic Church’s agenda to claim India and convert its billion Hindus to Christianity. Today, her charities have attained untouchable status, which helps them fend off any attempts by the authorities to stop their morbid experiments on sick and poor people trapped in Teresa’s dystopian world. Charity isn’t what it used to be.
(About the author: Rakesh Krishnan Simha is a features writer at Fairfax New Zealand. He has previously worked with Businessworld, India Today and Hindustan Times, and was news editor with the Financial Express.)