10 Misconceptions about Mother Teresa; She was no Saint

Top 10 Misconceptions About Mother Teresa. Hint: She Was no Saint
Top 10 Misconceptions About Mother Teresa. Hint: She Was no Saint

Top 10 Reasons Mother Teresa Was No Saint: 10 Misconceptions about Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa known and celebrated worldwide as the Albanian Nun who received a calling to work with the poor in the slums of Calcutta.  Even now, many years after her death, her name is synonymous with charity, with love and care of the poor.  She was honored with the Nobel Prize for Peace and, shortly after her death the Vatican started an accelerated process for her canonization.

Significant controversy surrounds her life and her missionary work.  Here we list the top 10 reasons why Mother Teresa was not a saint and why claims about her life and work should be treated with caution.

10Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying provides abysmal medical care.

Mother Teresa was no saint because her home for the dying provided terrible medical care


Mother Teresa received a vision from God telling her to help the poor while living among them.  Following some very basic medical training Mother Teresa started to look after the ‘poorest among the poor’., those who were dying, destitute on the streets in the slums of Calcutta.  In 1952 her Missionaries of Charity organization started her Kalighat Home for the Dying – a place where people could come to die in dignity and comfort.  She wanted to make it possible for ‘people who lived like animals to die like angels – loved and wanted’.

When qualified doctors visited the home, however they found that the medical care provided was very poor.  Most of the volunteers had no medical knowledge and yet had to make medical decisions because there were no doctors available.  There was no distinction made between those who were suffering from curable and incurable illnesses so people who might have survived had they been given access to treatment were left to die.  Needles were re-used so many times that they became blunt and they were not sterilized between uses.  In 1981 when the state of care in her facilities was challenged she said ‘There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion.  The world gains much from their suffering’ This shows a very cynical use of the poor to further the ends of others.

There was no proper pain management, meaning people suffered in needless pain while they died.  Mother Teresa promoted this suffering as she felt that it was of benefit to suffer in this world for a better life in heaven.  She is reputed to have once told someone dying in pain ‘you are suffering, that means Jesus is kissing you’.  It is not known whether the sufferer was even Christian but probably not, he screamed back, in pain and distressed ‘tell your Jesus to stop kissing me’.

With regard to her own medical treatment Mother Teresa received only the best.  Although she made public shows of declining free high quality medical treatment she nevertheless had no compunctions about secretly accepting medical care from some of the best institutions in the world including having cataract surgery and having a pace maker installed.  When the time came for her to be ‘kissed by Jesus’ she did not die in one of her own homes for the dying and was not treated with blunt needles.  She passed to meet her maker in the very best of medical facilities.

9Mother Teresa’s goal was missionary work not helping the poor.

Mother Teresa would rather be a missionary rather than help poor people

Despite the extensive donations to Mother Teresa’s homes only a few hundred people are helped at any one time.  At the time she accepted her Nobel Prize for Peace Mother Teresa claimed to have helped about 36,000 people in Calcutta, the reality is that the Missionaries of Charity have helped about 5-700 people.  A survey of charitable organizations operating in Calcutta in 1998 did not even rank her homes in the top 200. Some of the Missionaries of Charity homes are used, not to treat people but to try to persuade them to convert to Catholicism.

There have been well documented cases of people trying to access the services of Mother Teresa’s house for the dying but being turned away.  In one instance in 1979, shortly before the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, a well-known Calcuttan intellectual, Jyotirmoy Datta, tried to obtain the assistance of the House of the Dying for a destitute he found on the street.  He spoke to Mother Teresa herself who refused to help.

Mother Teresa’s organization received and receives extensive donations which would enable them to transform the homes for the dying into modern, clean hospices that provide a decent level of palliative care.  Mother Teresa was not, however, interested in mitigating suffering so much as celebrating it.  As such she concentrated on opening new Missionaries of Charity convents and homes in many different locations around the world as opposed to channeling its extensive funds into their existing homes for the benefit of the people they claimed to be trying to help.

8Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity baptized the dying without their permission.

Mother Teresa’s minions baptized people without their permission

The Missionaries of Charity operate in Calcutta where the majority of people are Hindu or Muslim.  Mother Teresa claimed that the Missionaries of Charity gave the dying the rituals of their faith.

However, in 1992, on a visit to the Vatican she claimed that she and her sisters gave the dying a special ‘Ticket to St Peter by baptizing them.  In essence all who were dying (and probably in pain, incoherent and incapable of making a rational decision) were asked if they wanted a blessing, their sins forgiven and to see God.  It is not clear if this offer was worded so as to make it clear that the offer came with regard to the Christian God or if the offer was made at the same time that they were given the comforts of their own faith.  Most people agreed to this forgiveness, their head was then covered in a wet cloth and the formula for adult baptism repeated very quietly

To impose a religion on someone, to convert them covertly is not the actions of a saint.  Surely if someone’s mortal soul is in peril it would be better to arrange for instruction in the religion and allow people to come to their faith naturally.

7Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity Organization has shady finances

Mother Teresa’s finances allegedly were not above board

Under Indian Law all charities are required to publish their accounts but the Missionaries of Charity have never complied with this requirement.  In Germany, when the Missionaries of Charity were asked how much money they had they responded that ‘it’s nobody’s business’.  In New York a former Sister with the Missionaries of Charity said that in one year the organization banked $50million, she thought that the organization’s receipts worldwide would amount to somewhere in the region of $100m annually.

There equally appears to be no record of expenditures made by the Missionaries of Charity, indeed wherever possible they rely on donations – of food, clothing, buildings etc to cover their start up and operating costs.  It appears that a significant portion of the monies were deposited at the Vatican Bank in Rome and not used to improve the houses of the dying, the orphanages or other charitable operations of the order.  Saving not spending money appears to have been a goal in itself even when the money was plentiful and could have been used to ameliorate suffering and improve conditions for those living in the very worst of conditions.  New missions are given start up assistance from the order but are then expected to be completely self –sufficient.

Many philanthropic organizations exist in order to use money to improve the life of others.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a typical example.  It uses its funds to help improve the lives that people lead, regardless of where they are or how they worship – the foundation is predicated on the belief that every life has equal value.  Its finances are properly regulated, transparent and applied effectively.  Unlike the Missionaries of Charity who hide away their money and promote suffering as noble, admirable philanthropic organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation help people to make the most of the life they have.

6Mother Teresa took money from known fraudsters and refused to refund it – even when this refusal caused real harm to innocent people.

Mother Teresa took money from fraudsters

Mother Teresa was happy to accept donations from any source – even when the source in question was a reprehensible con-man.  She received significant donations from Charles Keating, a leading American catholic and anti-pornography protestor who was convicted and imprisoned for fraud when his Savings and Loan Association collapsed leaving 23,000 investors with worthless bonds and from Robert Maxwell who stole £450m from the pension fund of his employees.  Although it appears that she was not aware of their activities prior to the scandals association with the men she showed little concern for the suffering their actions caused; she believed that the donation of funds could salve the conscience of those who donated them.

Mother Teresa wrote to the judge requesting leniency for Keating because he had made donations to the Missionaries of Charity.  The Deputy District Attorney wrote to her explaining exactly what Keating had done in defrauding small investors of their life savings.  Mother Teresa refused to reply to that letter.  Sadly because of the shady finances of her organization it is impossible to tell whether the money was put to good use which would at least provide some small comfort to the people whose lives were ruined.  From the poor conditions in her House of the Dying and the lack of support given to missions worldwide it would seem these people lost their money for no good reason.

5As well as consorting with fraudsters Mother Teresa was friends with the leaders of some of the most reprehensible political regimes in the world.

Mother Teresa associated with really shady characters. Duvalier regime in Haiti.

Georgios Kollidas / Shutterstock.com

Mother Teresa was an admirer of the Duvalier regime in Haiti.  The rule of ‘Papa’ and ‘Baby’ Doc was known, worldwide, to be brutally oppressive and incredibly cruel to the people of the impoverished country.  Both were known to live a lavish lifestyle at the expense of the people of Haiti, to allow the torture and murder of their detractors and to be involved in the underground trade in both drugs and body parts.  Nevertheless Mother Teresa had no compunctions about accepting an award from Baby Doc and to say of the Duvaliers that they ‘love their poor and their love was reciprocated.’

Mother Teresa did not confine her controversial actions to Haiti.  When she returned to her homeland of Albania in 1989 she visited the widow of the former communist Dictator Enver Hoxha and laid flowers on his grave.  She spent time with many communist party officials and at no time used her visit to condemn the human rights abuses of the communist regime or their brutal suppression of religion.  Even if the reality was that she could not make any negative comments during her visit she could have used her position to make comments and condemnations from abroad.

4Mother Teresa had a hard line stance on abortion, contraception and divorce, except where her Friends were concerned.

Mother Teresa was a hard-line pro-lifer

Mother Teresa did not believe in supporting those deciding whether or not they had to terminate their pregnancies – she wanted only to condemn them whatever their circumstances.  When she accepted her Nobel Prize for Peace she said ‘Abortion is the worst evil and the greatest enemy of peace…If a mother can kill her own child, what will prevent us from killing ourselves or one another?  Nothing.’

Her stance was completely hardline with no exceptions even in the most mitigating of circumstances.  In 1971 the Indo-Pakistan War led to many atrocities including the rape of over 450,000 Hindu women by Pakistani soldiers.  Rather than supporting them in coming to terms with the abuse they had suffered or condemning the atrocities perpetrated against them she chose to speak only on the question of abortion.  For Mother Teresa felt that there should be no choice of whether or not to keep the babies of such a crime she called, very publicly for the victims to keep the babies.    She held fast to this belief her entire life; in 1993 she condemned a 14 year old rape victim in Ireland for seeking an abortion.  Indeed she had no problems travelling around the world specifically to prevent individual cases of abortion and to help anti-abortion campaigns to influence the government policy on abortion in many countries around the world.

While no one could question her personal feelings on the sanctity of life she was not the person suffering in these circumstances, she was not the person facing the choice and, in the case of the Hindu women was speaking from a religious view point that was not applicable to them.  Her views were not, however, immutable.  When her close friend Indira Ghandi imposed a state of emergency in India, suspending the constitution and instituting a reign of terror against her detractors Mother Teresa publicly supported her.  This support did not waiver even when Indira Ghandi’s regime started a campaign for the forced sterilization of the poor.

Mother Teresa was as passionately anti divorce as she was anti-abortion.  She believed that marriages were sanctified by God.  At the time the country was considering legalizing divorce Mother Teresa wrote to the people of Ireland telling them that ‘If a father and mother are not willing to give until it hurts to be faithful to each other, and to their children they are not showing their children what it means to love…These children will grow up to be spiritually poor’.   However, when her good friend Princess Diana obtained her divorce from Prince Charles Mother Teresa praised the divorce as a good thing because the love had left the marriage, there was no thought given to the spiritual poverty in which her children would grow up.  No condemnation as there would have been for an ordinary Irish couple looking for a divorce.

3Mother Teresa was rarely in Calcutta preferring to fly around the world to promote her opinions. 

Mother Teresa the real Flying Nun. She’d rather be up in the air than on the ground in Calcutta helping the poor

Whether it was anti-abortion campaigning in the US or Japan or convincing the people of Ireland to vote against the legalization of divorce Mother Teresa spent a lot of time traveling around the world to promote her beliefs and the work of her Missionaries of Charity.

She was not well known in Calcutta, she used the poverty of the city as a background to her work and media image but she spent very little time interacting with other social or cultural institutions.  Even her spiritual advisor Edward Le Jolly confirmed in his book on Mother Teresa that she was in Calcutta only infrequently.  While away she would often say she was unhappy to be absent from Calcutta but she typically would spent time in Rome following a trip abroad instead of returning directly to India.

2Mother Teresa liked to be seen to help but provided very little actual help.

Mother Teresa like to promote a certain image

catwalker / Shutterstock.com
As mentioned above Mother Teresa helped only a fraction of the people she claimed to have taken from the streets of Calcutta.  She liked to be seen to be present at huge disasters.  When the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal became the site of the largest ever industrial accident in the world Mother Teresa lost no time in flying down there to be photographed. On seeing the carnage she exhorted the victims to forgiveness before starting a tour of the hospitals to ‘help’.  She visited some of the survivors but the Missionaries of Charity failed to direct any of their extensive funds to the local mission which would have enabled them to engage in and provide concrete assistance to the afflicted.

When the 1993 earthquake of Latur killed 8,000 people and left 5m people homeless Mother Teresa  failed to direct any of her Missionaries of Charity nun or volunteers to help nor did she make any funds available for re-building although many other charities in India, of many religious denominations and non, did participate in the relief effort.  Nevertheless Mother Teresa had no difficulty in posing for photographs showing her presenting the deeds of new houses to some of the people of Latur.  That same year India was struck with an outbreak of Bubonic Plague.  Despite having no involvement in treating the victims Mother Teresa was photographed entering ‘quarantine’ on arrival in Rome, the photographs were then sent worldwide to promote the belief that she had been struggling to help deal with the outbreak.

1There have been no miracles attributed to Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa did not perform any miracles.

There is a very strict process that he Catholic Church has to follow in order to declare someone a saint.  Typically investigations cannot start until five years after a person’s death in order for any hysteria surrounding a  much loved person to die down.  The Catholic Church fast-tracked the process of canonization, starting the process within less than two years of Mother Teresa’s death and she was beatified in 2003.

Beatification, the first step to full sainthood requires the performance of a miracle.  In 2002 the Catholic Church recognized that Mother Teresa had cured an Indian woman of an abdominal tumor a year after her death after Missionaries of Charity prayed for Mother Teresa’s help and applied a locket with her picture in it to the site of the tumor.

While the woman believed that Mother Teresa cured her it appears that her doctors say that she was not suffering from a tumor but from a cyst which was cured by the medicines prescribed by the local hospital.  The woman’s medical notes are in the possession of the Missionaries of Charity who refuse to release them.  Doctors at the local hospital have claimed to have been subjected to pressure from the Catholic Church to declare the cure a ‘miracle’.

So was Mother Teresa a Saint or was she a hard-nosed public relations specialist who used her status as a charitable icon to travel the world, rubbing shoulders with a dubious elite and  pushing her own beliefs on abortion, contraception and divorce (extreme even for the Catholic Church).  Was she an angel of mercy providing tender care to the poorest of the poor in their last moments of suffering or did she glorify that suffering and see it as a benefit in and of itself.  Did she help tens of thousands of poor around the world or provide assistance to a few hundred as a front to her missionary organization?  Has she performed miracles or are ordinary events being manipulated to make us think she has?  What is indisputable is that, in stark contrast to properly managed and transparent philanthropic institutions, despite the extensive donations to the Missionaries of Charity, the assistance they provide is as limited in terms of care and medical aid as it was when Mother Teresa started her organization.   Whatever the truth, questions should be asked and answers given.