Was Mother Teresa actually sort of a jerk?

The Week
Should we really not believe the hype?
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Should we really not believe the hype?

A new study claims the beloved nun might not have been as helpful to the poor as she could have been

It's highly likely that one day, the Catholic Church will officially recognize Mother Teresa as a saint, a position she's held in the popular imagination for years. A new study in the religious studies journal Religieuses, however, says that the late Mother Teresa's reputation is mostly hype — a result of a church declining in popularity trying to boost its image.

Mother Teresa's biggest supposed sin? According to the Times of India, it was "her dubious way of caring for the sick by glorifying their suffering instead of relieving it."

How did researchers reach this controversial conclusion? The team of Canadian researchers studied nearly 300 documents, and discovered reports of poor hygiene standards and a shortage of medicine, supplies, and care in Mother Teresa's 517 "homes for the dying" — although not for lack of cash. According to the report, her organization, the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, received hundreds of millions of dollars in donations.  

Of course, this isn't news to fans of Christopher Hitchens, the erudite atheist who made it his mission to battle religious dogma before he died in 2011. He even wrote a book on the topic called, crudely enough, The Missionary Position:     

Bear in mind that Mother Teresa's global income is more than enough to outfit several first-class clinics in Bengal. The decision not to do so, and indeed to run instead a haphazard and cranky institution which would expose itself to litigation and protest were it run by any branch of the medical profession, is a deliberate one. The point is not the honest relief of suffering but the promulgation of a cult based on death and suffering and subjugation. [Salon]

The contentious report also says the Vatican rushed Teresa's sainthood push for publicity's sake, noting that Catholic officials fast-tracked her beatification and ignored evidence that refuted her "miracles." 

Despite the study's inflammatory findings, researchers claim they aren't out to smear Mother Teresa, writing that it is "likely that she has inspired many humanitarian workers whose actions have truly relieved the suffering of the destitute and addressed the causes of poverty and isolation." They did say, however, that "the media coverage of Mother Teresa could have been a little more rigorous."

In the end, this study will probably do very little to hurt Mother Teresa's legacy. She was so popular that nearly 250,000 people flocked to Rome in 2003 to attend her beatification. For her biographer Navin Chawla and countless others, her belief that "each individual was a divine manifestation, each to be comforted, held, rescued, fed and not allowed to die alone" was enough to make up for any other faults.

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