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Published on Monday, October 22, 2007 by CommonDreams.org
Mother Teresa, John Paul II, and the Fast-Track Saints
by Michael Parenti
During his 26-year papacy, John Paul II elevated 483 individuals to
sainthood, more saints than all previous popes combined, it is
reported. One personage he beatified but did not live long enough to
canonize was Mother Teresa, the Roman Catholic nun of Albanian
origin who had been wined and dined by the world's rich and famous
while hailed as a champion of the poor. The darling of the corporate
media and western officialdom, and an object of celebrity adoration,
Teresa was for many years the most revered woman on earth, showered
with kudos and awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for
her "humanitarian work" and "spiritual inspiration."
What usually went unreported were the vast sums she received from
wealthy contributors, including a million dollars from convicted
savings & loan swindler Charles Keating, on whose behalf she sent a
personal plea for clemency to the presiding judge. She was asked by
the prosecutor in that case to return Keating's gift because it was
money he had stolen. She never did. She also accepted substantial
sums given by the brutal Duvalier dictatorship that regularly stole
from the Haitian public treasury.
Mother Teresa's "hospitals" for the indigent in India and elsewhere
turned out to be hardly more than human warehouses in which
seriously ill persons lay on mats, sometimes fifty to sixty in a
room without benefit of adequate medical attention. Their ailments
usually went undiagnosed. The food was nutritionally lacking and
sanitary conditions were deplorable. There were few medical
personnel on the premises, mostly untrained nuns and brothers.
When tending to her own ailments, however, Teresa checked into some
of the costliest hospitals and recovery care units in the world for
Teresa journeyed the globe to wage campaigns against divorce,
abortion, and birth control. At her Nobel award ceremony, she
announced that "the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion." And
she once suggested that AIDS might be a just retribution for
improper sexual conduct.
Teresa emitted a continual flow of promotional misinformation about
herself. She claimed that her mission in Calcutta fed over a
thousand people daily. On other occasions she jumped the number to
4000, 7000, and 9000. Actually her soup kitchens fed not more than
150 people (six days a week), and this included her retinue of nuns,
novices, and brothers. She claimed that her school in the Calcutta
slum contained five thousand children when it actually enrolled less
than one hundred.
Teresa claimed to have 102 family assistance centers in Calcutta,
but longtime Calcutta resident, Aroup Chatterjee, who did an
extensive on-the-scene investigation of her mission, could not find
a single such center.
As one of her devotees explained, "Mother Teresa is among those who
least worry about statistics. She has repeatedly expressed that what
matters is not how much work is accomplished but how much love is
put into the work." Was Teresa really unconcerned about statistics?
Quite the contrary, her numerical inaccuracies went consistently and
self-servingly in only one direction, greatly exaggerating her
Over the many years that her mission was in Calcutta, there were
about a dozen floods and numerous cholera epidemics in or near the
city, with thousands perishing. Various relief agencies responded to
each disaster, but Teresa and her crew were nowhere in sight, except
briefly on one occasion.
When someone asked Teresa how people without money or power can make
the world a better place, she replied, "They should smile more," a
response that charmed some listeners. During a press conference in
Washington DC, when asked "Do you teach the poor to endure their
lot?" she said "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."
But she herself lived lavishly well, enjoying luxurious
accommodations in her travels abroad. It seems to have gone
unnoticed that as a world celebrity she spent most of her time away
from Calcutta, with protracted stays at opulent residences in Europe
and the United States, jetting from Rome to London to New York in
Mother Teresa is a paramount example of the kind of acceptably
conservative icon propagated by an elite-dominated culture,
a "saint" who uttered not a critical word against social injustice,
and maintained cozy relations with the rich, corrupt, and powerful.
She claimed to be above politics when in fact she was pronouncedly
hostile toward any kind of progressive reform. Teresa was a friend
of Ronald Reagan, and a close friend of rightwing British media
tycoon Malcolm Muggerridge. She was an admiring guest of the Haitian
dictator "Baby Doc" Duvalier, and had the support and admiration of
a number of Central and South American dictators.
Teresa was Pope John Paul II's kind of saint. After her death in
1997, he waved the five-year waiting period usually observed before
beginning the beatification process that leads to sainthood. In
2003, in record time Mother Teresa was beatified, the final step
But in 2007 her canonization confronted a bump in the road, it
having been disclosed that along with her various other
contradictions Teresa was not a citadel of spiritual joy and
unswerving faith. Her diaries, investigated by Catholic authorities
in Calcutta, revealed that she had been racked with doubts: "I feel
that God does not want me, that God is not God and that he does not
really exist." People think "my faith, my hope and my love are
overflowing and that my intimacy with God and union with his will
fill my heart. If only they knew," she wrote, "Heaven means nothing."
Through many tormented sleepless nights she shed thoughts like
this: "I am told God loves me-and yet the reality of darkness and
coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul." Il
Messeggero, Rome's popular daily newspaper, commented: "The real
Mother Teresa was one who for one year had visions and who for the
next 50 had doubtsup until her death."
Another example of fast-track sainthood, pushed by Pope John Paul
II, occurred in 1992 when he swiftly beatified the reactionary Msgr.
José María Escrivá de Balaguer, supporter of fascist regimes in
Spain and elsewhere, and founder of Opus Dei, a powerful secretive
ultra-conservative movement "feared by many as a sinister sect
within the Catholic Church." Escrivá's beatification came only
seventeen years after his death, a record run until Mother Teresa
In accordance with his own political agenda, John Paul used a church
institution, sainthood, to bestow special sanctity upon ultra-
conservatives such as Escrivá and Teresaand implicitly on all that
they represented. Another of the ultra-conservatives whom John Paul
made into a saint, bizarrely enough, was the last of the Hapsburg
rulers of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Emperor Karl, who reigned
during World War I.
John Paul also beatified Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac, the leading
Croatian cleric who welcomed the Nazi and fascist Ustashi takeover
of Croatia during World War II. Stepinac sat in the Ustashi
parliament, appeared at numerous public events with top ranking
Nazis and Ustashi, and openly supported the Croatian fascist regime.
In John Paul's celestial pantheon, reactionaries had a better chance
at canonization than reformers. Consider his treatment of Archbishop
Oscar Romero who spoke against the injustices and oppressions
suffered by the impoverished populace of El Salvador and for this
was assassinated by a right-wing death squad. John Paul never
denounced the killing or its perpetrators, calling it only "tragic."
In fact, just weeks before Romero was murdered, high-ranking
officials of the Arena party, the legal arm of the death squads,
sent a well-received delegation to the Vatican to complain of
Romero's public statements on behalf of the poor.
Romero was thought by many poor Salvadorans to be something of a
saint, but John Paul attempted to ban any discussion of his
beatification for fifty years. Popular pressure from El Salvador
caused the Vatican to cut the delay to twenty-five years. In either
case, Romero was consigned to the slow track.
John Paul's successor, Benedict XVI, waved the five-year waiting
period in order to put John Paul II himself instantly on a super-
fast track to canonization, running neck and neck with Teresa. As of
2005 there already were reports of possible miracles attributed to
the recently departed Polish pontiff.
One such account was offered by Cardinal Francesco Marchisano. When
lunching with John Paul, the cardinal indicated that because of an
ailment he could not use his voice. The pope "caressed my throat,
like a brother, like the father that he was. After that I did seven
months of therapy, and I was able to speak again." Marchisano thinks
that the pontiff might have had a hand in his cure: "It could be,"
he said. Un miracolo! Viva il papa!
Michael Parenti's recent publications include: Contrary Notions: The
Michael Parenti Reader (City Lights, 2007); Democracy for the Few,
8th ed. (Wadsworth, 2007); The Culture Struggle (Seven Stories,
2006). For further information visit his website:
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