really the "saint" that
she was made out to be ?
In a sermon delivered at St. Agnes Church, in New York City,on Good Friday, 1989, Father George William Rutler reported that when Mother [Teresa] was asked ', What do you think is the worst problem in the world today?', she more than anyone could name a number of candidates: famine, plague, disease, the breakdown of the family, rebellion against God, the corruption of the media, world debt, nuclear threat, and so on. Yet, without pausing a second she said, 'Wherever I go in the world, the thing that makes me the saddest is watching people receive communion in the hand."
Most people who swoon over "Mother Teresa" have never been exposed to anything but the mass media and / or the Catholic press versions of her life. They have never even heard of the existence of the scholarly analysis of her life and work done by Aroup Chatterjee, a writer born in Calcutta who spent eight years of his life, after briefly working for one of Mother Teresa's homes, doing the research which culminated in his 425 page book "The Final Verdict", published in 2002. His is the most comprehensive critical analysis of Mother Teresa's life and work to date.
Aroup Chatterjee now lives and works in England, but lived in Calcutta most of his life. His being an avowed atheist makes it easy for Roman Catholics to dismiss anything he has witnessed and published about their beloved icon. He has worked on this book for over eight years.
"Does Mother Teresa deserve her reputation as the kindest, purest person of all time, or was she history's most over-rated phenomenon?
Media built her up no doubt, but the author alleges that she herself was the source of much of the misinformation surrounding her. He documents that Mother Teresa used spurious statistics and made exaggerated and unfounded claims throughout her life, including in her acceptance speech for the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize.
An entrenched hatred of artificial contraception and abortion (for any reason, including rape, child-abuse and incest) was her psychological driving force. She used the poor as pawns in her ambition, much of it being political, and driven by the Vatican. She has been called a lover of poverty, rather than the poor. She glorified poverty and suffering, but for others.
She herself received the best medical care possible; in Calcutta she used the exclusive Woodlands Clinic and Birla Heart Institute. But residents at her home for the dying in Calcutta received neither treatment nor dignity.
Mother Teresa maintained an obsessive secrecy about her accounts and declined to publish them, possibly because most of her money was spent on religious rather than charitable activities. She wrote a letter to an American judge to exonerate Charles Keating, the biggest documented fraudster in US history (until then). Keating gave her millions and also lent her his private jet.
The author says that Mother Teresa harmed Calcutta irreparably and seriously damaged the city's economic prospects. The city's dent in reputation through her association is not compensated by the modest level of charity she performed there. Chatterjee maintains that a large section of Indians, especially the rich and powerful was enthralled by and connived with her. Indians generally, still burdened with psychological colonialism, capitulated before her. Calcuttans did not protest at their city's calumny because of the Indian pusillanimity before the white man, and the fear of ruffling Western feathers.
Although professing to be tolerant towards other religions, she has been captured on video (at the Scripps Clinic, California) gloating about secretive conversion of dying people.
This book reveals the REAL Teresa. It is also a vivid account of the power of the media, of East-West interaction - to do with the syndrome of the white man's burden and Eastern vulnerability and insecurity."
In 2007 Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, a compilation of many of Mother Teresa's private letters, was published. The book revealed that throughout most of her adult life she wasn't really totally convinced of the reality of God's existence. Yet her inner doubts never dampened her enthusiasm for telling many of the poorest women in the world that they should never consider abortion or even family planning, for fear of offending a god whom she wasn't even sure existed!
Interestingly, that same year an unrelated book was published that was critical of Mother Teresa for not being sufficiently orthodox in her Catholic beliefs: "Mother Teresa - The Case for The Cause - Is Mother Teresa of Calcutta a Saint?" by Mark Michael Zima. ( This 288 page paperback has to be good; it costs nearly a dollar a page! )
But let's get back to Aroup Chatterjee's scholarly book.
"The Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta possess a small fleet of 'ambulances', many of them donated by businesses and individuals. These vehicles are painted to appear as ambulances and are fitted with red beacons; they are exempt from traffic regulations. But their main or sole function is to provide a taxi service for the nuns.
In my time, I have never seen an 'ambulance' carry a patient or a destitute. Indeed, most of them do not have the provision to carry a stretcher, for the rails on the floor have been removed. The seats on the sides have been replaced by patterned sofas for the nuns to sit on. On 21 August 1996, I saw an extraordinary sight, even by the standards of the Missionaries of Charity - here was an ambulance, donated by Federal Express (India), filled with chickens; they were being brought to Mother House for the nuns' annual feast the following day! I have a photograph of this bizarre spectacle.
I have therefore tape recorded numerous telephone conversations with the Missionaries of Charity at their world famous home for the dying at Kalighat in Calcutta. These conversations were all recorded during 1995 and 96.
(They typically end with the nun hanging up the phone in a huff after shouting:) "Look, I have told you, We do not have ambulances."
Interested readers may like to procure a copy of The Telegraph, one of the English dailies published from Calcutta, which gives a list of the ambulance services in the city, both free and fee-paying; the Missionaries of Charity do not appear in the list.The more senior of the nuns do not put up with the inconvenience of travelling with others in the ambulance mini bus; they get a taxi. I have numerous photographs of nuns in taxis. A brief taxi ride in Calcutta costs at least Rs 80 - enough to buy 10 kilos of coarse grain rice.
One may think that I am being petty about how the nuns travel; does it really matter if they travel in taxis? - after all they have precious few luxuries in life. The sight of nuns in taxis would not have irked me at all, had I not read over and over again about the 'poor and humble' means of their travels; again and again, authors have produced a Biblical picture like that of Jesus and his apostles trudging through the holy land. The official party line on transport is provided by Chawla in Mother's authorised biography: 'The Sisters travel as the poor do. They usually walk, or if the distance is far, use public transport.' "
"Shortly after her Nobel, she told her friend and biographer Kathryn Spink: 'In Calcutta alone we cook for 7,000 people everyday and if one day we do not cook they do not eat.' This was a voracious claim - at the time the Missionary of Charity kitchens cooked for at the most 500 people a day, and that included their vast army of nuns, novices and Brothers, most of whom do not have any charitable function. The '7000 people' story was part of a fairly lengthy parable, similar to the one with 'loaves and fishes' of Jesus. Mother retold it numerous times, in various parts of the world, but never in Calcutta itself. It is possible that the tale would be invoked as a 'miracle' during her beatification process. In her own words, one version of the story ran as follows:
'We have witnessed God's tender care for us in a thousand different ways. In Calcutta alone we cook for 7,000 people daily. If one day we don't cook, they don't eat. One Friday morning, the Sister in charge of the kitchen came to me and said, 'Mother, there is no food for Friday and Saturday. We should tell the people that we have nothing to give them either today or tomorrow.' I was shocked. I didn't know what to tell her. But about 9 o'clock in the morning, the Indian government for some unknown reason closed the public schools. Then all the bread for the schoolchildren were sent to us. Our children, as well as our seven thousand needy ones, ate bread and even more bread for two days. They had never eaten so much bread in their in their lives. No one in Calcutta could find out why the schools had been closed. But I knew. It was God's tender care. I knew it was his tender loving care.'
During the course of a decade, roughly between 1975-85, many a time did Mother Teresa recount the story about the government miraculously sending her bread on account of the schools closing; the body of the story remained the same, but the opening line would change - 'In Calcuta we feed 7,000 people daily' would sometimes become '4,000 people daily', then change back to '7,000' again. Here is how, on one occasion, she told the parable with a '4000' figure: 'We were feeding 4000 people each day and these were people who simply would not eat unless the Sisters fed them. But we had nothing. Then, about 9.00 a.m. on Friday'...etc. - the rest about the government schools shutting suddenly and the bread miraculously coming to the Missionaries of Charity would now follow.
In a programme entitled Meet Mother Teresa, recorded in 1982 for Scottish Television - the video has been widely distributed in Catholic circles - she told Ian Gall, 'We cater for 7,000 people everyday but we never had to say no...'
Let us take for instance her comment that 'on the ground floor of Shishu Bhavan [her orphanage in Calcutta] there are cooking facilities to feed over a thousand people daily.' That there are, but are the facilities used for the purpose of a soup kitchen? They are not - although, one would infer from her statement that she was serving a thousand meals daily from Shishu Bhavan to the public.
I have spent days on end in front of Shishu Bhavan with a video camera and I know what goes on there. The soup kitchen at Shishu Bhavan feeds about 70 people a day, and that too 5 days a week. The daily turn out is about 50 people for lunch and 20 for dinner, but charity does not come easy for the poor - they need to possess a 'food card' in order to get their gruel. It has to be admitted however that the night time kitchen is not that fussy about the food cards, and I know of instances when even for lunch, the absence of the card has been overlooked.
Mother's soup kitchen runs on a far stricter regime at Prem Daan, her other home in Calcutta. The production of food cards is mandatory here, possibly because Prem Daan sits in the middle of Dnarapara slum and there is the likelihood of getting overwhelmed. Here the number of beneficiaries is around 50 a day, 5 days a week, but only one meal is served daily. I have the close-up of a food card captured on video, with its days and corresponding boxes, which are ticked off by the nuns.
Now, how does one obtain a food card? - The process is shrouded in mystery, like most of the functions of the Missionaries of Charity. New ones have not been issued for some time. There was a vetting procedure involved at the time of issue and I am told that they were given only to the 'poorest of the poor' - there is an element of truth in that. However, the handful of Catholic families in Dnarapara, who cannot be called 'poorest of the poor' by any stretch of the imagination, have all got cards. They often do not use them."
"This Chapter is brief, because Mother Teresa's order does not keep any (public) accounts, except in Britain, where the laws are strict, and do not consider saints beyond their reach.
Mother Teresa once said to Hello! magazine, describing her Calcutta operations, 'We spend 100,000 Rupees every month on rice alone. The money is mostly made up of small donations rather than large sums... What is so beautiful is that everyone gives - Hindus, Muslims, Christians. It's like the birds and the flowers - money just comes to us quite naturally...We declare everything we get to the government - it's better that way because it means we have nothing to hide!'
The last sentence is a clever double-speak and not quite true. Mother Teresa never published her accounts despite numerous requests from her friends and foes to do so. In India charities are not obliged to publish accounts, but I do not know of another one which does not. It has been said again and again that the Missionaries of Charity surely have something to hide for them to be so secretive. That may or may not be true. She declared as much as she had to (I do not know about 'everything') to the relevant government departments in the knowledge that the public would not have access to her accounts.
I feel sheer arrogance stopped Mother from publishing her accounts. She sincerely believed that she was above the law as she was 'doing it for Jesus.' She said many times, 'If God wants me to do something, he gives me the money... Money - I don't think about it. It always comes. The Lord sends it...'
As Mother's biggest backers were corrupt financiers and dubious dictators, the sceptic might argue that she was applying divinity to the corrupt. She was loyal to her backers - she never revealed their identities. She realised that the best way to keep the donors' identities secret was to say that the money was coming from God himself - people would be either amazed or put off by it. Surely nobody would dream of further quizzing the great Teresa - she knew that."
Mother's special relationship with Charles Keating, one of history's biggest swindlers, and the biggest thief in the history of the United States, is well known. It is not known how much Mother really got from Keating - although she did not deny that she received at least $1,250,000 - but it is known that he stole (at least) $253 million, which were the moneys of small investors. Keating also gave Mother the free use of his personal jet and in return he received her blessings and a personalised crucifix, which he carries everywhere.
In January 1992, when Keating's fraud trial was still going on in a Los Angeles court, he got more back from his special friend. She wrote a letter to the trial judge Lance Ito (who later became a household name for sitting at the O.J. Simpson trial):
Dear Honorable Lance Ito,
We do not mix up in Business or Politics or courts...I do not know anything about Mr Charles Keating's work or his business or the matters you are dealing with. . .
I only know that he has always been kind and generous to God's poor, and always ready to help whenever there was a need. Whenever someone asks me to speak to a trial judge, I always tell them the same thing. I ask them to pray, to look into their heart, and to do what Jesus would do in that circumstance. And that is what is I am asking of you, your Honor.
My gratitude to you is my prayer for you, and your work, your family and the people you are dealing with. God Bless You
M. Teresa, M.C.
Dear Mother Teresa
...The victims of Mr Keating's fraud come from a wide spectrum of society. Some were wealthy and well educated. Most were people of modest means and unfamiliar with high finance. One was, indeed a poor carpenter who did not speak English and had his life's savings stolen by Mr Keating's fraud.
The Biblical slogan of your organisation is 'As long as you did it to one of My least brethren. You did it to Me.' The 'least' of the brethren are among those whom Mr Keating fleeced without flinching... It is not uncommon for 'con' men to be generous with family, friends and charities...No church, no charity, no organisation should allow itself to be used as salve for the conscience of the criminal.
You urge Judge Ito to look into his heart - as he sentences Charles Keating - and do what Jesus would do. I submit the same challenge to you. Ask yourself what Jesus would do if given the fruits of a crime; what Jesus would do if he were in possession of money that had been stolen;...
I submit that Jesus would promptly and unhesitatingly return the stolen property to its rightful owners. You should do the same. You have been given money by Mr Keating that he has been convicted of stealing by fraud. Do not permit him the 'indulgence' he desires. Do not keep the money. Return it to those who worked for it and earned it! If you contact me I will put you in direct contact with the rightful owners of the property now in your possession.
Sincerely Paul W. Turley
"Interestingly, this is the only occasion that Mother Teresa ever wrote to a trial judge. She was urged many times to use her influence in human rights violation cases, but she always maintained that she steered clear of politics and matters not directly connected with Jesus.
Needless to say, Mr Turley never received a reply to his letter. Giving back even part of the stolen money was beyond the wildest dream of the living saint.
Even much-maligned politicians like Hillary Clinton returned $22,000 (in April 2000) that her campaign had received from a drug trafficker when the drug link was exposed. The fact that sinners have presumed that giving to Mother Teresa would somehow absolve or reduce their sins helped Mother Teresa through the years. Recently it has come to light that former FBI agent and KGB spy Robert Hanssen, a devout Catholic, who received at least £1 million from the KGB, gave a large part of his proceeds to Mother Teresa. He was prompted to do so by his priest Robert Bucciarelli. Available records do not declare this donation."
"Mother Teresa of course, was an old friend of the Haiti militia. She and the notorious Duvalier family - who used to 'rule' with the help of their private army, the Tonton Macoutes - had tremendous mutual attraction. When she visited Haiti as the guest of the Duvaliers (to receive the Haitian Legion d'Honneur) she heaped paeans on Madame Duvalier who not only had milked millions off the state coffers, but was also an instrument of torture. Mother said to Michele Duvalier, 'Madame President, the country vibrates with your life work.' She also added that she had never seen 'the poor people so familiar with their head of state as they were with her. It was a beautiful lesson for me.'
I am aware that Mother's apologists say that she was just being nice to her hosts - part of diplomatic protocol. After going through a few hundred speeches she made in her lifetime in all possible corners of the earth to all manner of hosts, I am afraid I cannot agree with this line of argument. She hardly ever spoke about her hosts in her speeches, even when accepting awards.
It is not that Mother Teresa condoned indiscriminate killing by ruthless dictators, but her line was - if you are doing all right in religion and abortion, then whatever else you might do I shall overlook; moreover if you are financially generous to my order you are atoning for what the wider world sees as crimes."
"Comparisons have also been necessary as it has been repeatedly pronounced and implied by
Mother Teresa and her friends that she alone looks after the physical and spiritual needs of (Calcutta).
The statistics, comparisons and data in this Chapter pertains to the period before Teresa's death. (Sabera Foundation, a post-1997 and significant charity has been included.) The overall picture has not changed since September 1997, and the difference between the work of Missionaries of Charity and that of the other charities has widened. Some qualitative improvements however have been made in the order's practices, such as letting orphans play with toys. During disasters the order has been habitually inactive. Two major disasters have happened in India post-1997 - cyclone in Orissa in October 1999 (8,000 dead) and earthquake in Gujarat in January 2001 (20,000 dead). In the former crisis, Teresa nuns did operate a small soup-kitchen near Paradip but they were nowhere to be seen in Gujarat after one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the world.
The majority of Calcutta's charities are non-religious, and I have specified the notable exceptions that are not.
Calcutta's largest charity is the Ramakrishna Mission. With its headquarters in Calcutta, it is also the largest charity in India. It was founded in 1897 by a very remarkable man, Swami Vivekananda, a product of the high noon of Bengal renaissance. It is a Hindu charity and its monks and 'nuns' take the vow of celibacy.
Vivekananda (1862-1902), the follower of Ramakrishna the religious mystic, is one of the icons of India. An island off the southern tip of India has been dedicated to him, where a monument has been built in his honour.
The son of a prosperous Calcutta lawyer, Vivekananda found the narrowness and hierarchy of Hinduism repugnant, which led him to found his own movement. He freely admitted that he had been impressed by the zeal of the 19th century Christian missionaries in India and borrowed from them many aspects of his movement, such as organisational structuring, communal worship etc. In his version of Hinduism, apathy shown towards the underdog from the karmic viewpoint does not have a place.
Gandhi was a lifelong admirer of Vivekananda and the French philosopher, musicologist, author, pacifist (and Nobel laureate) Romain Rolland said of him:'Vivekananda's words are great music, phrases in the style of Beethoven, stirring rhythms like the march of Handel choruses. I cannot touch these sayings... without receiving a thrill through my body like an electric shock.'
The charitable functions of Mother Teresa's organisation and those of the Ramakrishna Mission in India are difficult to compare (because of the gulf of difference between the two) but I have attempted it here, taking a random year 1993-94:"
|Natural Calamity :
|| Whether Organisation
Provided Aid :
|Drought in Bihar||yes||no|
|Drought in Gujarat||yes||no|
|Floods in Assam (Karimganj)||yes||no|
West Bengal (much of it
around Calcutta) Contai
|Fires in Andhra Pradesh
|Assam (near Karimganj)||yes||no|
(Malda and Barasat)
|Tornado in West Bengal
(Sargachi, near Calcutta)
|Cyclone in Tamilnadu||yes||no|
|Earthquake in Latur
(a massive operation)
"During the same year 1993-94, the Ramakrishna Mission undertook the following house building
programmes for the needy:
1. In earthquake devastated Latur, 161 earthquake resistant houses were built and another 320 were in the process of construction.
2. In West Bengal the following houses were built: 55 houses in Purulia district, 100 houses in Jalpaiguri district, 143 houses in Jalpaiguri district, 108 houses in Sagar island, under the 'build your own house' scheme.
3. In Tamilnadu (Kanyakumari district) 71 houses were built The Missionaries of Charity do not have a house building programme for the poor - it is not one of their functions. In the early 1990s, they however did build 48 houses for the poor in a suburb of Calcutta called Hatgachia on disused government land. They did not pay for the land, which caused a prolonged wrangle with the municipality. In the end it relented and let them have the land for free. All very good (although I feel a token contribution to the cash strapped civic body would have been a nice gesture, especially as Mother Teresa's order can afford to run numerous nunneries in Scandinavia) but it turned out that 43 (93%) of the 48 families that moved in to the houses were Catholic - a remarkable coincidence in a city where the Catholic population is less than 1.5%.
The following is a table comparing the ongoing activities of the Ramakrishna Mission and the Missionaries of Charity "(in Calcutta only):
|Function :|| Whether Organisation
Provided that Function :
|Basic Charitable Dispensary||yes (treats 100,000 yearly)||yes (treats 10,000 yearly)|
|Orphanage||yes||yes (two, including one in Howrah)|
|Home for Destitute Mentally Ill||no||yes|
|Home for Convicted Mentally Ill Destitute||no||yes (two)|
|Hospital||yes (large modern)||no not free for everybody|
|School of Nursing||yes||no|
|Community Health Service||yes||no|
|Modern charitable dispensary (having xray and investigations facilities)||yes (treats 500000 yearly)||no|
|Specialised School for the Handicapped||yes||no|
|Formal schools||three (not free for everyone)||no|
|Village Adoption Schemes||yes||no|
|Slum Redevelopment Schemes||yes||no|
|Higher Educational and Cultural Activities (such as foreign language tuition)||Yes (not free)||no|
|Ecological Projects (Part Funded by the Ford Foundation)||Yes||no|
|Total annual income (from Calcutta and other sources)||c. Rs 750 million||undisclosed|
"Under their 'Village Adoption Scheme' the Ramakrishna Mission, at any given time take on twenty villages near Calcutta where an integrated method is implemented to improve all aspects of rural life, with particular emphasis on children's and adult education, provision of basic health and antenatal cares, and the teaching of vocational skills to young people. Family planning is also high on the agenda. Till 1997 9,000 villages were helped under the scheme.
Indeed, the rural development programme of Ramakrishna Mission is so extensive that a separate semi independent arm (called Ramakrishna Mission Lokshiksha Parishad) has been entrusted to look after that activity. Many of the village development activities are sophisticated, such as soil testing, and artificial insemination of cows.
It is not within the remit of the Missionaries of Charity to improve conditions in Indian villages."
"Mother Teresa's order does not have any facilities for poor pregnant ladies of Calcutta. Although 'Go forth and multiply' was one of the major inspirations of her life, and despite her obsession with the fetus, she did not set up for Calcutta's pregnant women or their (unborn) children any antenatal (prenatal) clinics, any maternity clinics, any obstetric units, any mother and baby units or any child health clinics. Incidentally it runs at least ten mother and baby centres in the United States and one in Rome."
Here's a horror story written by a volunteer at one of the missions.
Believe it or not, there's a very good answer to this rhetorical question that religious people sometimes ask, as though churches, and the Roman Catholic Church in particular deserve almost exclusive credit for the creation of "charitable institutions". Although I am a Christian clergyman, truth and fact are higher values for me than promoting any undeserved reputation for religion. And so I recommend the following answer from www.americanatheist.org/aut03/T1/ittner.html.
"After Mother Teresa's death in 1997, the Holy See began the process of beatification, the third step towards possible canonisation. This process requires the documentation of a miracle performed from the intercession of Mother Teresa.
In 2002 the recognised as a miracle the healing of a tumour in the abdomen of an Indian woman, Monica Besra, after the application of a locket containing Mother Teresa's picture. Besra said that a beam of light emanated from the picture, curing the cancerous tumour. Some of Besra's medical staff and Besra's husband said that conventional medical treatment had eradicated the tumour.Dr. Ranjan Mustafi, who told The New York Times he had treated Besra, said that the cyst was not cancer at all but a cyst caused by tuberculosis. He said, "It was not a miracle.... She took medicines for nine months to one year." According to Besra's husband, "My wife was cured by the doctors and not by any miracle ... This miracle is a hoax." Besra's medical records contain sonograms, prescriptions, and physicians' notes; Monica Besra said that Sister Betta of the Missionaries of Charity took them away. Time magazine said that calls to Sister Betta and to the office of Sister Nirmala, Mother Teresa's successor as head of the order, elicited no comment on this. The officials at the Balurghat Hospital where Besra was seeking medical treatment said that they were being pressured by the Catholic order to say her cure was miraculous.
Journalist Christopher Hitchens was the only witness, as far as he knew, called by the Vatican to give evidence against Teresa's beatification and canonisation process, because the Vatican had abolished the traditional "devil's advocate" role which fulfilled a similar purpose.Hitchens said that "her intention was not to help people", and that she lied to donors about the use of their contributions. "It was by talking to her that I discovered, and she assured me, that she wasn't working to alleviate poverty", he said, "She was working to expand the number of Catholics. She said, 'I'm not a social worker. I don't do it for this reason. I do it for Christ. I do it for the church.' "
When Aroup Chatterjee offered to make worthwhile contributions to the Vatican's investigation into the worthiness of Mother Teresa for canonization, the Vatican rebuffed his offer.