Mother Teresa was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.
— Christopher Hitchens
The Catholic Church is in a position to truly help the poor. If they wanted to, they could feed the 14.2 million hungry Filipinos for more than a month. If they wanted to, they could feed the 1.88 million Filipinos who almost always have nothing to eat for almost a year. If they wanted to, they could send a significant amount to the victims of Sendong — a donation that would exceed even the total of their many second collections — greatly helping the victims recover, rebuild, and prepare themselves for potential disasters.
But it seems like the CBCP doesn’t want to. Whatever their motivation for hoarding wealth, we know that their billions are kept invested in corporations, helping rich businessmen become even richer. And as their wealth continues to grow, the poor and hungry continue to suffer.
Well-meaning Catholics could notice this selfishness and ask: “Why can’t the CBCP be more like Mother Teresa?” Well, they already are. And based on their many similarities, no one else would make a better patron saint for the CBCP.
The CBCP claims that theirs is a Church of the Poor. This is a lie. The Catholic Church is a Church of Poverty. What’s the difference? The former would get the poor out of poverty; the latter would keep them in it. This is best exemplified by a true saint of poverty: Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
Saint of Suffering
Who should Catholics emulate in serving the poor? Next to Jesus, the top answer Catholics would give is probably “Mother Teresa.” She has been honored by both secular and religious organizations with awards and adoration. Beatified in 2003, she is only one miracle short of canonization. It may come as a surprise to many that she isn’t already a saint, and most Catholics would agree that she deserves to be one.
But this is only because what they know of her life is even less than what they know about the Catholic Church. In the same way that many are ignorant of the Church’s past atrocities and present scandals most Catholics remain unaware of Mother Teresa’s unsaintly actions.
These actions are based on what a former member of her order called a flawed “theology of suffering.” In Mother Teresa’s words: “The most beautiful gift for a person is that he can participate in the sufferings of Christ.” Therefore, the Catholic who suffers the most is closest to Christ. When you remove suffering, you remove Christ. Instead of minimizing their suffering, Mother Teresa ensured it. Alleviating suffering, let alone eliminating it, was out of the question. Seen from this perspective, her behavior toward her patients makes sense.
Instead of curing them, Mother Teresa gave the bare minimum of treatment, resulting in suffering for most and death for some. She gave insufficient or outdated medicine, reused old syringes, and gave cold baths to all patients, even those who could find comfort in a warm one. She’d refuse to install elevators for the disabled, even when the city government offered to pay for it. Instead of hiring competent doctors, she’d rely on incompetent volunteers because she believed strongly that ignorance was more valuable than expertise (Livemore 93, 156).
Instead of being true hospitals or hospices, the establishments run by Mother Teresa were more like prisons at best: The patients, if they were well enough to escape, probably would. At worst, they were torture chambers. She’d refuse to give painkillers even to dying patients who were suffering unbearable pain. Instead of using painkillers, she’d comfort patients by saying, “You are suffering, that means Jesus is kissing you.” One poor patient replied, “Then tell your Jesus to stop kissing me.”
What makes all this worse is the fact that Mother Teresa had the resources to make things better. Estimates of donations reach the millions — even billions — of dollars. Unfortunately, we can never be sure. In the same way that Mother Teresa’s atrocities remain a secret, Missionaries of Charity remains the only charitable organization in India that refuses to reveal how much money they have and how they spend it:
Missionaries doesn’t keep a tab on the financial transactions that take place. No one other than the sisters knows where the money that is donated is spent.
One such sister is Susan Shields, a former member of Mother Teresa’s order for nine and a half years (emphasis mine):
Our bank account was already the size of a great fortune and increased with every postal service delivery. Around $50 million had collected in one checking account in the Bronx… The donations rolled in and were deposited in the bank, but they had no effect on our ascetic lives or on the lives of the poor we were trying to help… For Mother, it was the spiritual well-being of the poor that mattered most. [Hitchens 31]
That million-dollar bank account in the Bronx was only one of the many bank accounts owned by Mother Teresa around the world. She has admitted to establishing 500 convents in over a hundred countries. So it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Mother Teresa was running a billion-dollar business.
And while the convents and bank accounts benefit from more donations, her hospices remain unfit even for the poorest of the poor — definitely unfit for a billionaire like Mother Teresa. Instead of using one of her own establishments when she herself got sick, she flew first class on Air India to a clinic in the United States.
This hypocrisy pervades her entire order. Dr. Collette Livemore, once known as Sister Tobit, served as a Missionary of Charity for eleven years. But she was disillusioned by many experiences, such as one that she had in Manila (emphasis mine):
One day, when we were having afternoon tea, there was an urgent knock at the door. The portress reported, “A little boy is having trouble breathing.” I started to get up because I had access to the Tahanan medicines and thought I should go to help.
“Sit down, Tobit [Livemore], there is no hurry. We are not running an emergency hospital,” the superior reminded me. I thought to myself, Is afternoon tea more important than assisting the boy and giving comfort to his parents? Yet I obediently waited until after tea to get some salbutamol to relieve his distress. [Livemore 105]
Order of Obedience
Livemore continued to struggle. “I still did not fully accept that obedience to our superior considered more important than our service to the poor.” But she continued trying to help despite the order’s strict rules. Once, she tried to aid a dying child but was scolded for it because no new admissions were supposed to be made on a Thursday. For actions like these, she was removed from an important position.
You had to keep quiet, you had to suppress your intellect. Mother said that God uses the weak to confound the strong and the unintelligent to confound the knowledgeable, so it was almost lack of faith to try and use your head.
She was replaced by someone who was more obedient and, well, more ignorant:
Some of the superiors in the MCs were thrown into positions of power with little education or preparation, yet they were responsible for hundreds of people and many resources. Because Mother believed that God used the weak to confound the strong and intelligent, the Society acted almost as if preparing someone for a managerial role betrayed a lack of faith. The Society showed the same lack of logic by expecting God to make up for ignorance and lack of training in the medical work.
Despite this, Livemore continued to do her best to help. She believed that “if you see another person suffering, it becomes your business right then and there. You can’t just turn away and pretend that you don’t see.”
So who should Catholics emulate in serving the poor? I hope you agree: Dr. Collette Livemore would be a far better answer than Mother Teresa. Actually, so would most decent human beings.
Like Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, the CBCP claims to be on a mission of service to the poor. Both use this claim to collect millions in donations. Both have succeeded. Not in their missions, but in collecting millions.
I encourage all Catholics to ask Mother Teresa to pray for the MC and the CBCP to use their billions in service of the poor. It wouldn’t erase all the evil she committed on Earth, but at least such a miracle would finally make her a saint in Heaven. Unless, of course, the Vatican has an issue with canonizing an atheist.