Anything but a saint

The Times of India reports that a study by Canadian researchers catches up to what Hitchens told us years ago: “Mother” Teresa did very bad things. The study calls her

“anything but a saint”, a creation of an orchestrated and effective media campaign who was generous with her prayers but miserly with her foundation’s millions when it came to humanity’s suffering.

The controversial study, to be published this month in the journal of studies in religion/sciences called Religieuses, says that Teresa – known across the world as the apostle of the dying and the downtrodden – actually felt it was beautiful to see the poor suffer.

According to the study, the Vatican overlooked the crucial human side of Teresa – her dubious way of caring for the sick by glorifying their suffering instead of relieving it.

Instead, the Vatican went ahead with her beatification followed by canonization “to revitalize the Church and inspire the faithful especially at a time when churches are empty and the Roman authority is in decline”.

Because the Vatican doesn’t actually give a shit about suffering. It has other concerns. Particular nuns and priests care about suffering, but the Vatican doesn’t. The Vatican cares about the Vatican, and the church and its authority, and goddyness.

The article continues to summarize the report, and it’s all familiar via Hitchens. It’s too bad hardly anyone paid any attention to Hitchens’s book and that the myth flourished anyway.


  1. says

    This is a great example of why I regard the fundamental premises of Christianity in particular as profoundly immoral. Ennobling suffering? No fucking thank you. There’s nothing noble about suffering. Sometimes people endure it nobly, but that doesn’t mean suffering ennobles you. It just means you’ve got exceptional mental and physical resilience. God’s not testing anyone. Suffering is pointless and needless. We should be working towards a world in which suffering is unusual and caused by things outside our control. Compared to the current system, where suffering is common and usually caused by human actions.

  2. raven says

    actually felt it was beautiful to see the poor suffer.

    The poor and normal people disagree.

    We in the western world and USA spend huge amounts of money trying to alleviate poverty and suffering.

    Modern medicine, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, job and education programs, and so on.

    Ask the poor and suffering how beautiful it is and do they want to be that way. They are people too and fully capable of expressing their own thoughts. In worst case scenarios they dislike it enough to sometimes pick up weapons and attempt to change their circumstances.

  3. says

    Mother Theresa embodied the worst of two theological dogmas: the Christian doctrine which glorifies pain and suffering as something holy, and the Hindu doctrine which sees pain and suffering as cosmic retribution for past sins which must be endured for an improved next life.

  4. sawells says

    Chekhov had this argument with Tolstoy. Chekhov, being a medical doctor, had actually seen what “the peasant life” means when there’s a cholera epidemic coming in. His verdict: “Reason and justice tell me there’s more love for humanity in electricity and steam than in chastity and vegetarianism.”

  5. deepak shetty says

    This isn’t going to make a difference in India though. She is revered even among non-christians. Goes to show the power of good PR.

  6. iknklast says

    There is another very good book out there on Teresa, by Aroup Chatterjee. It’s called Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict. He’s from Calcutta, so he examines her from the point of view of her impact on Calcutta. She doesn’t come off well. It’s much more thorough than Hitch, and even more damning. It’s also less professionally published, because he didn’t go through a major press, but it’s well written and well worth reading.

  7. iknklast says

    @deepak #7: See my post above; according to this author, she isn’t all that revered in India. He seems to put it down to a western phenomenon.

  8. cag says

    Imagine how much good the disgusting nun could have done had she spread birth control instead of mind control.

  9. says

    Hitchens pointed out a lot of fun facts about her:
    – She took huge donations from “Baby doc Duvalier” of Haiti – money that she had to have known was extorted from some of the poorest people on earth
    – She took huge donations from Keating, a Wall St criminal
    – She never published anything about her foundation’s finances; apparently none of the money was spent on making the dying more comfortable – it was spent enlarging her foundation

    One of the miracles that justified her as a saint was brought to us by Eastman Kodak company, which made an experimental film that produced “godly lighting” by accident when the film crew apparently overexposed it.

    And, now that her memoirs were published (in a rather bizzare decision, against her will) we know she was as much of an atheist as I am, only less honest about it.

  10. helensotiriadis says

    christopher hitchens’ video, ‘hell’s angel: mother teresa’ (a playlist of 3 videos)

  11. says

    I read through the Larivée et al. paper (but don’t ask me to translate it completely – the vocabulary is at the limits of my knowledge of French), and found some of the descriptions in there horrifying – especially that she enforced a policy of not referring even some treatable cases for actual medical care. And taking joy in being with people who are suffering apparently leads to withholding painkillers and not isolating active TB cases. If that is correct, “anything but a saint” seems like understatement.

    But there was one question raised in the paper, and also in some of the sources it used, that I would like to know the answer to: where does the money go?

    The Missionaries of Charity receive considerable donations, both in cash and in kind, but their expenses do not appear to equal their revenue. They apparently do not keep complete records, and are often unwilling to release those records that they do have. A large sum (measured in the millions of USD) has been sent from them to the Vatican Bank and cannot be traced further, but that does not account for all of the missing money. Where has it gone?

    I suppose this is a lesson for all charitable donations: make sure it is clear where the money is going.

  12. Richard Smith says

    A few months ago, I saw Woody Allen’s “Alice” with my mother and her sister. Not too bad, but not really my type of movie anyway, but I had to fight the urge to comment on the fawning over Mother Theresa near the end of the movie. Blech.

  13. says

    “Anything but a saint”

    Mother Teresa’s speedy journey to beatification created great controversy at the time. As one of the prerequisites of beatification is the performance of a miracle — which opponents say she did not perform. One Dr. Ranjan Mustaphi who was one of the doubters, questioned the Vatican’s belief that Mother Teresa ever performed a miracle. He was really astonished, and was convinced it was nothing, but a farce.”

    The controversy centred on a woman, Monica Besra, and her claim that in 1998 her large stomach tumour vanished after praying to Mother Teresa. After months of study, including lengthy interviews, Rome cleared it as a miracle. One doctor who treated Besra said at the time that there was no scientific explanation for her recovery. But the doctor who first diagnosed Besra, said that the church should not push Besra’s case because it was medication, not a miracle that cured her. He said at the time that it was ‘scientifically proven’ that the tumour she had was linked to tuberculosis, and it had responded to an anti-tubercular drug.

  14. says

    @Marie-Thérèse O’Loughlin:

    As I understood that case from reading the Larivée paper, which is confirmed by Wikipedia and its sources:

    The doctors who treated Ms. Besra state that she had tuberculosis and a large tuberculosis-produced ovarian cyst – not a tumor. It was diagnosed as a potential tumor on initial exam, but disappeared after the course of anti-TB drugs. TB-caused cysts can be confused with both benign and malignant ovarian tumors, but that was not the case here.

  15. says


    “TB-caused cysts can be confused with both benign and malignant ovarian tumors, but that was not the case here.”

    Ah – I see exactly where your’e coming from and also where Dr. Ranjan Mustafi points out it was ‘a farce’.

    “…[D]r. RanMustafi, 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.”[111] According to Besra’s husband, “My wife was cured by the doctors and not by any miracle.”[112]” wiki.

    I got my information from the BBC”

    “…[A]mong those attending Sunday’s ceremony was Monica Besra, a young Indian woman who claimed in 1998 that her large stomach tumour vanished after praying to Mother Teresa.”

    So according to Besra’s husband she was ‘cured by the doctor,’ and according to the BBC and other media sources from where I stumbled across the story, ‘Monica Besra claimed the ‘tumour’ ‘vanished’ after praying to MT.

    Nevertheless – controversially the Vatican desperately tried to ‘fast track’ the beatification to mark the pontiff’s celebrations of 25 years as head of the Roman Catholic church.


    “In 2002, the Vatican recognised as a miracle the healing of a tumor in the abdomen of an Indian woman, Monica Besra, after the application of a locket containing Mother Teresa’s picture.”

    Yes: She’s called the ‘Saint of the Gutters’…

    Thanks for the clarification.

  16. Ulysses says

    Where did Mother Teresa’s money go? Apparently it went to the Vatican Bank, which is extremely secretive about what happens to any money it controls. IOW it disappeared into a black hole.

  17. says


    But is it documented that all or even a majority of Missionaries of Charity’s funds were deposited at the Vatican Bank? I have not seen that. If so, their finances are tied to the Vatican Bank’s own serious problems.

    If their purpose was to build an endowment for the organization, so that it was not dependent on year-to-year variations in funding, an extended period of revenue being more than expenses might be understandable. But then I would expect a financial consultant to oversee the money, suitable documentation, and a diversified set of low-risk investments.

  18. Ulysses says

    But is it documented that all or even a majority of Missionaries of Charity’s funds were deposited at the Vatican Bank?

    That’s why I qualified my remarks in post 19. Nobody knows where the money went but it’s a reasonable assumption that it went to the Vatican Bank. Here’s what wikipedia says about that bank:

    The Institute for Works of Religion (Italian: Istituto per le Opere di Religione – IOR), commonly known as the Vatican Bank, is a privately held institute located inside Vatican City and run by a CEO who reports directly to a committee of cardinals, and ultimately to the Pope (or the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church during a sede vacante). Since its assets are not considered property of the Holy See, it is not overseen by the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, and it is listed in the Annuario Pontificio not under “Holy See” or “Vatican City State”, but after the pages on religious institutes, and cultural institutes, and placed with charitable foundations such as the John Paul Foundation for the Sahel. The bank’s most recent President, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, was removed from his post by the board of directors in May 2012, for dereliction of duty.

    The IOR is charged with overseeing Catholic charities’ finances, which makes it a reasonable place for a religious order to stash their money.

  19. says


    It is plausible, and would be disturbing if so, given the history of the Vatican Bank. But apparently the Missionaries aren’t telling anyone (including themselves, if the reported lack of record-keeping is correct).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *