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A Tale of Charles Keating, Judge Lance Ito and Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa-She can't put us out of our misery any more

by Mark Cook

A Maryknoll missionary in Central America was watching television with me one day in the early 1980's when Mother Teresa came on the screen.

"That vile woman!" the missionary said bitterly.

This had been my view for years, but I was surprised to hear it from a member of a Catholic order, even from someone on the outs with the Vatican who daily put her life at risk from government death squads, death squads about which the Vatican said little or nothing.

I later found out that there are many others who cannot find a good word to say about Mother Teresa's institutions. Among them: Franciscans and others who tried to help those who fled from Mother Teresa's establishments.

How can anyone use the word "vile" to describe the work of this woman, who did not shy from helping the poorest of the poor? (Her religious critics, it should be noted, are denouncing, not Teresa as a person, but the institutions she established and the global media campaign that misrepresented what she was doing.)

There is a particularly poignant moment in Alexander Werth's book Russia at War which provides a standard for comparison.

The Nazis have seized a town in the Soviet Union, and have taken Jews and others they considered undesirables down to the river to be killed. A two-year old is crying inconsolably. An 18-year-old German soldier, unable to stop the atrocity, tries to comfort the child. "Hush, little one," he says, bending down and putting his arm around the two-year old. "Death will come soon."

It is understandable that an 18-year old soldier, caught in a massive war machine he could not reverse, might feel unable to do or say anything else. But how is it any different from what Mother Teresa was doing, for decades, in peacetime, to people dying of starvation and poverty-related diseases in downtown Calcutta?

It is one thing to comfort the sick when there is nothing else to do-when someone is dying from an incurable disease, or from thirst in the desert. It is quite another to take the starving off the streets of Calcutta so that the rich do not have to look at them, (an effort for which the rich were immensely grateful, and showed it), to take them inside to die, to do this for years, for decades, without trying to alter the social and economic system that has caused the starvation, or even speak out against it.

Starvation, after all, is not an incurable disease. The remedy was discovered many thousands of years ago.

A defender of Mother Teresa might explain that the worldwide economic system that produces starvation is too vast and too powerful for one person to alter.

If the 18-year old German soldier were asked, after the war, to explain his actions, he might answer, "What else could I do? Open fire on my commanding officers before being cut down myself? Try to organize fellow soldiers to rise up, and die on a torture table?"

Many of us, from the comfortable perspective of peacetime, might answer that such a suicidal effort, even if it only halted the machine for a moment, would be preferable to continuing to serve it. At the very least, he could desert.

Yet these same people have no trouble praising Mother Teresa, who would have been at no personal risk had she spoken out against a monstrously unfair world economic order. She could have used the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony as a forum. The worst she would have suffered would have been a drop-off in tax-deductible contributions from the world's wealthy. But one searches in vain, even for empty platitudes.

Quite the contrary, Mother Teresa's operations were the latest form of "plantation religion," the "God never gives us a greater burden than we can carry" doctrine, dished out to the poor, to serve the rich, as it has for centuries.

Remarkably, for all the attention and adulation she received, almost nobody knows anything about the operations of the Missionaries of Charity which Mother Teresa founded. People believe it is a hospice movement, organized to allow the terminally ill to die in as little pain as possible.

It is not a hospice movement, and people dying of cancer are denied anything stronger than aspirin and ibuprofen.

Moreover, many of those who die were not suffering from any incurable disease and could be treated by readily available medicines, and by a competent medical staff.

In his book The Missionary Position, Christopher Hitchens recounts an on-camera interview with Mother Teresa where she recalled telling a patient suffering pain in the last agonies of cancer: "You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you."

"Unconscious of the account to which this irony might be charged," Hitchens notes, "she then told of the sufferer's reply: 'Then please tell him to stop kissing me.'" Easily Curable Illnesses

Dr. Robin Fox, the editor of the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet, visited her Calcutta facility in 1994. He found that obviously diagnosable diseases like malaria were either misdiagnosed or no diagnosis was attempted. "Could not someone have looked at a blood film? Investigations, I was told, are seldom permissible." Dr. Fox then asked, how about diagnostic questions to determine if many patients were treatable and not terminally ill?

"Again no. Such systematic approaches are alien to the ethos of the home. Mother Teresa prefers providence to planning; her rules are designed to prevent any drift towards materialism."

It should be pointed out that the Missionaries of Charity, recipients of millions in contributions, could have set up excellent medical facilities. (That would have altered the image she sought to project.)

Hitchens notes that Mother Teresa herself "has checked into some of the finest and costliest clinics in the West during her bouts with heart trouble and old age."

But such treatments are not for the poor. One witness featured in Hitchens' book, Mary Loudon, a former volunteer at Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying in Calcutta, recalls her first day on the job.

A boy of 15 was dying from what started as a minor kidney ailment that "had simply grown worse and worse and worse because he hadn't had antibiotics." By then he needed an operation. His transfer to a hospital was refused.

"They simply won't do it," an American doctor treating the boy told her with a mix of anger and resignation. "If they do it for one, they do it for everybody."

Surely there must be more to the story. Maybe the antibiotics were fantastically expensive or they were short of money that month? Why else would Mother Teresa devote herself to the poorest of the poor, unless to heal them?

Was there more to the story? Unfortunately, yes. Hitchens produces more cases: a Guatemalan, dying of AIDS in San Francisco, pleaded not to be sent back to Mother Teresa's "Gift of Love" facility because he would not receive adequate analgesics; an "ex-Mother Teresa" being cared for "at the Franciscans" where "neither he nor the priest have a good word to say for the Sisters at the 'Gift of Love.'"

Was there an explanation? Again, yes. Mother Teresa's real agenda was not providing medical care to the poor and the outcast. It was saving souls for her church. Hindus and Muslims in Calcutta were baptized-quietly, Hitchens reports, so as not to attract the attention of the Indian government. Even the dying patients would not be aware that they had been "saved." They would be asked if they wanted a "ticket to Heaven." If they seemed to say yes, that was judged sufficient. The sister would touch them with a damp cloth and murmur the necessary words.

If you think this sounds like a cult, read Hitchens' book for more. Mother Teresa has been presented as providing medical care for the poor. In fact, she was saving their souls in the hereafter and teaching them to accept their economic fate in the here and now.

She made no effort to hide her rightwing views: she attacked Nicaragua's Sandinistas (who did commit themselves to provide free, quality medical care to all), she provided political cover for the murder regime in Guatemala, and she extolled Haiti's Duvalier regime. If people were fooled, it was because they wanted to be, not because she hid her agenda. "Right Way" to See Poverty

None of this will change with Mother Teresa's death. Her successor, Sister Nirmala, declared at a pre-funeral press conference that she, like Mother Teresa, was not interested in what causes poverty, which Sister Nirmala described as "beautiful," or in changing the social environment in which it thrives.

"Poverty will always exist," Sister Nirmala declared, according to The New York Times. "We want the poor to see poverty in the right way-to accept it and believe that the Lord will provide."

As Mother Teresa had declared on a 1981 visit to Washington, "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."

The desire by the world's affluent to sanctify Mother Teresa may speak more of a guilty conscience than of anything Mother Teresa did or failed to do.

For a Wall Street lawyer who uneasily spends his days robbing the world's poor to benefit his ludicrously wealthy clients, using the spurious justifications of the New World Order, or even for a reasonably affluent American planning to pay for the children's education from mutual fund holdings into which investments it is best not to inquire too closely, Mother Teresa is the perfect saint. She spent her life with the poorest of the poor, yet she never questioned the system that holds everyone captive. On the contrary, she defended it, rushing to Bhopal after the Union Carbide chemical explosion to urge the victims and their families to "forgive, forgive, forgive." Should the poor forgive the rich, when the rich had not even asked for forgiveness?

Like Albert Schweitzer, who received similar adoration in the world media in the 1960's and is now remembered, if at all, with embarrassment, she was what Hitchens terms "The great white hope meets the black hole." A hand on the brow, not on the brow of the poor, but of the wealthy donors in need, as always, of self-satisfaction.

Any criticism of Mother Teresa provokes sharp, often infuriated responses, not just from billionaires looking to Mother Teresa for indulgences, but from well-meaning and honest people. Invariably, some accuse the critic of being "anti-Catholic."

But many of Mother Teresa's strongest critics are Catholic missionaries who have devoted their lives to working with the poorest of the poor. They neither seek nor receive the adulation of the transnational corporate media, and they are often killed by government death squads because they refuse to teach the poor to accept their fate.

I write this knowing that there is a convention not to speak ill of the recently deceased. The idea is to comfort loved ones, and to put forward the best possible presentation for the benefit of the recording angel.

But the recording angel is probably finished by now. Mother Teresa, may God be good to her, received a funeral where the world's rich and powerful sat in comfortable easy chairs while Calcutta's poor were prevented from viewing the funeral cortege and were clubbed by police when they tried. It was entirely fitting.

  Mark Cook is a New York-based free lance journalist.  
A Tale of Charles Keating, Judge Lance Ito and Mother Teresa:

"If God wants this work done, he will provide the money"

In 1992, Mother Teresa wrote to the then still-unfamous Judge Lance Ito, pleading with him to show mercy in his sentencing of convicted Savings & Loan swindler Charles Keating. Keating has "always been kind and generous to God's poor," she declared. She asked Ito to "do what Jesus would do."

Christopher Hitchens notes the small problem that the $1.25 million Keating gave to the poor (or more accurately, to Mother Teresa's organization) did not quite belong to him. It was part of the $252 million he was accused of stealing from Savings & Loan depositors.

"You ask Judge Ito to look into his heart-as he sentences Charles Keating-and do what Jesus would do," prosecutor Paul W. Turley wrote to Mother Teresa in response. "I submit the same challenge to you. Ask yourself what Jesus would do if he were given the fruits of a crime,...if he were being exploited by a thief to ease his conscience? I submit that Jesus would promptly and unhesitatingly return the stolen property to its rightful owners. You should do the same...."

"Three years later," Hitchens notes, "Mr. Turley has received no reply."

Arguably, stolen money donated by Keating is no more shameful than stolen money donated by many other multimillionaires-less so, since the robbery victims weren't Bolivian miners or Haitian sweatshop workers.

Still and all, as Hitchens notes, Mother Teresa had declared in her reputation-making BBC-TV interview that "we cannot work for the rich; neither can we accept any money for the work we do." Her claim that the rich receive no quid pro quo is conspicuously missing from her letter to Judge Ito.

"Money, I never think of it. It always comes. The Lord sends it," is a famous Mother Teresa saying regularly cited by her admirers. "We do His work; He provides the means. If He does not give us the means, that shows He does not want the work. So why worry?"

Perhaps Charles Keating was the unwitting instrument of the Lord. Either that or, as Hitchens less charitably suggests, "Mother Teresa reigns in a kingdom that is very much of this world." (Quotes are from The Missionary Position)

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