Mother Teresa is commonly depicted in such a saintly manner that it’s difficult for most people to imagine she has even one bad bone in her body. After all, the religious sister is responsible for founding the Missionaries of Charity, a religious congregation that provides free care for the sick, the hungry, the orphaned, and the dying. Moreover, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and was beatified as “Blessed Teresa of Calcutta” by the Catholic Church in 2003. And yet, to this day, eighteen years after her death, numerous critics still insist that Mother Teresa is not the saint many people believe her to be.
Of course it’s easy to dismiss the criticisms against Mother Teresa as the biased rantings of anti-Catholic skeptics who aim to discredit her. But perhaps, it is wiser to look into the evidence these critics present before making a judgment on the life of a woman once dubbed “the living saint.” Here are ten of the most serious accusations that have been brought up against Mother Teresa of Calcutta:
10. Forced Catholicism Unto Others
Because Calcutta (now “Kolkata”) is composed predominantly of Hindus, they are responsible for many of the criticisms against Mother Teresa, most especially with regard to her conversion of Calcuttans into Catholics. An example of such a critic is head of an Indian Hindu nationalist group Mohan Bhagwat who, in a public speech, said, “It’s good to work for a cause with selfless intentions. But Mother Teresa’s work had ulterior motive, which was to convert the person who was being served to Christianity.” In support of Bhagwat’s claim, researchers revealed that nuns at Mother Teresa’s institution secretly baptized the dying regardless of the patients’ religious affiliation. More specifically, Mother Teresa was said to have taught nuns how to ask the dying if they wanted a “ticket to heaven,” after which a positive reply would be followed by cooling the dying’s head with a damp cloth while the nun softly uttered the words for Catholic baptism.
9. Substandard Quality of Medical Care
Mother Teresa established the Kalighat Home for the Dying in 1952 by converting an abandoned Hindu temple into a free hospital. As the name of the facility suggests, its main purpose is to provide its patients with an opportunity to die with dignity. However, in 1991, the editor of the medical journal The Lancet paid a visit to the hospice and observed that conditions there were far from ideal. More specifically, Robin Fox described the quality of the care provided to dying patients as “haphazard,” including unacceptable practices like the reuse of needles and the mixing of tuberculosis-infected patients with the uninfected. Worse, no distinction was made between the dying and the curable, thus leaving even curable patients to waste away. Furthermore, other critics pointed to the hospital’s disregard for modern medical practices, including the most basic of diagnosis procedures. However, Mother Teresa’s defenders countered the accusations by pointing out that the facility was only meant to serve as a refuge for the dying.
8. Support for the Suspension of Civil Liberties
“The Emergency,” which took place from June 25, 1975 until March 21, 1977, is one of the most controversial intervals in India’s history. During the period, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed a dictatorship whereby civil liberties were suspended and most of her political enemies were imprisoned. Furthermore, the press was heavily censored, and a shocking mass-sterilization campaign was said to have been carried out by the Prime Minister’s son. Mother Teresa, however, seemed to have failed to recognize the oppression present at that time. Of the period, she commented, “People are happier. There are more jobs. There are no strikes.” Well, the Indians of the time certainly seemed to disagree with Mother Teresa as during elections in 1977, Gandhi and her son lost their seats in parliament, and the opposition was overwhelmingly swept into power.
7. Warped Understanding of Suffering
The Catholic Church is often criticized for allegedly teaching its followers to revel in suffering, and Mother Teresa is said to have been among the teaching’s most prominent purveyors. During a Washington, D.C. press conference in 1981, for example, Mother Teresa was asked, “Do you teach the poor to endure their lot?” and she replied,
I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.
This response is said to exemplify the crooked mentality behind Mother Teresa’s insistence on keeping her facilities substandard despite the availability of funding to improve their services.
6. Inconsistency in Teachings and Actions
Perhaps even worse than allegations of her warped understanding of suffering are accusations of Mother Teresa’s hypocrisy. These are rooted in the advanced treatments she received for her illnesses despite her supposed appreciation for the value of suffering. More specifically, in 1985, Mother Teresa underwent cataract surgery, including the implantation of an artificial lens, at the St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan. Then later, in 1989, the “Saint of the Gutters” received a pacemaker at the Woodlands Nursing Home in Calcutta. Furthermore, Mother Teresa has been accused of being selective in her values, such as when she openly opposed the legalization of divorce but supported Princess Diana when she divorced Prince Charles.
5. Questionable Associations and Silence on Abuse
Mother Teresa has been documented to have associated with several individuals whose records of uprightness are questionable at best. In 1981, for example, she visited Michèle Duvalier, then the wife of Haiti president Jean-Claude Duvalier, who was later overthrown by popular uprising because of the terrible abuses of his regime. However, Mother Teresa instead ended up singing praises for the people’s familiarity with the First Lady and even accepted a national award from the government — all the while remaining silent on the numerous human rights violations of the regime. Another similar encounter took place in 1989, when Mother Teresa visited communist Albania. At that time, the government there was widely perceived to be openly oppressive to anyone who opposed it, and yet, Mother Teresa met with the nation’s leaders without commenting on their abuses.
4. Accepted Donations From Criminals
Connected to Mother Teresa’s questionable associations is her practice of keeping donations from criminals. One example involved Robert Maxwell, a British Member of Parliament who donated to Mother Teresa’s charities but was later found to have misappropriated the pension funds of his media company. Even more infamous was the case involving Charles Keating, a moral crusader who donated millions of dollars to Mother Teresa’s charities and even had her use his private jet. Later though, despite Mother Teresa sending the court a letter to attest to Keating’s kindness and generosity, he was found guilty of multiple counts of fraud that deprived thousands of people of their life savings. Then, after Keating had been convicted, the Deputy District Attorney wrote Mother Teresa a letter asking that the money she had received from Keating be returned. She did not reply.
3. Lack of Transparency With Funding and Expenses
With all of the positive attention that Mother Teresa commanded and still commands, it is uncontested that her charities have received millions in donations from various sources. And this has led her critics to ask, “Where is all the money?” In fact, even Susan Shields, a former nun at the Missionaries of Charity, has asked the question. Shields claims she was assigned to record donations at the institution, and despite the fact that she regularly wrote receipts for donations of up to $50,000, the nuns continued to beg for supplies and reuse syringes. Furthermore, Stern, a German magazine, exposed that despite Indian laws requiring charitable organizations to publish their finances, the Missionaries of Charity never did. Stern also reported that only 7% of the 5.3 million Deutsche Marks donated in England in 1991 had been used for charitable purposes. The rest? Head of the Missionaries chapter in England, Sister Teresina, insisted, “Sorry, we can’t tell you that.”
2. Doubtful Miracle Attributed to Her
This item is not an accusation directed at Mother Teresa but rather at those responsible for her beatification. However, the issue does raise doubts on the integrity of those defending her legacy. The matter in question has to do with Mother Teresa’s beatification, which like all those before her, required the documentation of a miracle performed with the candidate’s intercession. In the case of Mother Teresa’s beatification, the “miracle” certified by the Vatican as genuine involves the healing of Monica Besra, a woman from Calcutta.
On September 5, 1998, exactly one year after Mother Teresa’s death, Besra applied a medallion bearing Mother Teresa’s image over what she believed was a tumor in her stomach, and this act purportedly caused the growth and the pain it caused to disappear instantly. However, the doctors who handled Monica’s case over several months claim that the growth in Monica’s stomach was not a full-grown tumor and that treatments they had administered could have been responsible for the cure. In fact, even Monica’s husband, Seiku, believes that his “wife was cured by the doctors and not by any miracle.” Adding to the mystery, the medical records of Besru’s case were taken away by a certain Sister Betta of the Missionaries of Charity, and a call to her by Time magazine simply had her responding, “No comment.”
1. False Claims About the Impact of Her Work
Even the harshest critics of Mother Teresa concede that she had a positive impact on some people’s lives, but how many lives, really? Aroup Chatterjee, an atheist who performed extensive research on Mother Teresa, claimed that “the living saint” deliberately misled the public several times about how many people the Missionaries of Charity were helping. For example, Chatterjee noted that Mother Teresa repeatedly changed the figures — from as low as 1,000 to as many as 9,000 — relating to how many people her charities in Calcutta had fed, sometimes in speeches delivered within just days of each other. Then there’s Mother Teresa’s claim of a “modern school [in Motijheel]. . . with over 5,000 children in it” even if no such school established by her with such a large number of students actually exists.