Robbie Travers – Executive Director
I confess to believing in a miracle: the miracle being the near universal acclaim and respected status as a “champion of the poor” that are afforded to one Anjezë Bojaxhiu, more commonly known as Mother Teresa, or also known as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
As you all will be aware, Bojaxhiu is to be canonised due to Pope Frances’ acceptance and recognition with “no doubt”that she has performed two miracles. The actual veracity of these miracles is to be doubted, and in my opinion this is little more than a ploy by the Catholic Church to canonise a popular figure to aid in funding and promoting their activities, but who the Vatican recognise as a saint is solely a matter for them. Importantly though, in my opinion, Bojaxhiu was little more than a ferocious religious conservative, whose fever-pitch puritanical drive for piety led to the oft cruel treatment of the poor in her “Houses of the Dying.” Her image was marketed and used mercilessly to promote a regressive religious doctrine that was an anathema of helping the sick and vulnerable. Bojaxhiu was also a negligent zealot, in terms of providing care for the vulnerable, whose practices not only endangered the poor, but should never receive substantial praise as if they should be echoed and emulated. Bojaxhiu’s practices were inimical to the ideals of anti-authoritarianism and religious freedom.
Bojaxhiu’s legacy is that she continues to affect and endanger lives across the globe with her ultra-conservative positions relating to abortion procedures and contraception. She was also a questionable and arguably incompetent leader who raised an estimated sum of over $100 million a year for her charity, yet only 5-7% of this was ever spent on treating her patients. The Sisters of her order repeatedly refuse to detail her organisation’s spending, which if this organisation was not one of a religious organisation, would likely not be accepted.
So why the squeamishness when someone dares criticise her? Is it because she is an older lady? If so, we should not treat people with differing moral standards in examining their practices and behaviours if they are older. Is it because Bojaxhiu is a woman who gave her live to serving the poor? That should also not preventing us criticising her practices, especially if through negligence, malice and overly zealous beliefs she actually harmed the people she purportedly tried to aid. Regardless, it is our duty to those who allegedly suffered under her negligent care, or substantial lack thereof, to have the capacity as a society to have a conversation about Bojaxhiu. This conversation must be honest and open, rather than one that is hesitant and restrained by the mere possibility of offending those who’s believe in her piety may be shattered.
Bojaxhiu was a believer in the philosophy that “suffering brought people closer to God.” Personally, I have no faith and can never claim to have possessed any, but even as an atheist I can understand the attempt to suggest suffering can enhance people’s faith and make them only resolve further to continue self-betterment and to be kind. However, where I disagree with Bojaxhiu’s philosophy is how she puts it into practice; we should firstly recognise that suffering isn’t desirable and we should alleviate suffering wherever and whenever possible. I feel it would not be an unfair assessment of Bojaxhiu’s treatment of the poor to conclude that often the unnecessary suffering continued because of her fervent religious beliefs preventing sufficient medical treatment. In many areas, Bojaxhiu’s “Houses of the Dying” allowed many people to die and continue to suffer unnecessarily, because she would have to seek adequate medical treatment for all if she did so for one.
Not only is this the case, but Bojaxhiu’s “Houses of the Dying” were unhygienic, often using blunt needles, causing significant pain to the patient. Bojaxhiu refused to allow staff to purchase sharper needles as “spending money would destroy our spirit of poverty.” So what is clear is that Bojaxhiu clearly did not see poverty as something that demanding tackling. This is further emphasised in her decree that since her order should remain “modest,” then it should not invest in modern technology to prevent suffering. I do not think “modesty,” in itself is a poor practice or value to which to strive, but I do not think refusal spending on essential medical equipment, medically trained staff and medication that could save lives, is “modesty.” Rather, I think it is the sign of an order that think its inflated importance and belief in God alone is enough to save the people in its “care.” Bojaxhiu’s order left people to die on a floor, on wooden boards, often with little medication for pain or to treat their illness. One Bojaxhiu supporter noted she “injected hope, decency and love into the world.”
I’d rather she hygienically injected dying people with actual medicine that could prevent or alleviate their suffering.
It doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to argue that Bojaxhiu did not wish to tackle poverty. To the contrary, I think it’s arguable that she wished for the cycle of poverty to continue, to fund her own cult of personality, religious fervour and the teachings of the church. How so? Primarily because she championed anti-contraceptive thought, a school of thought that denies women the ability to control their own reproductive cycle and hence provide women with liberation and the power to form businesses, manage their lives and attend school at crucial formative years. Not only this, but she opposed contraceptives whilst opposing abortion, and failed to see that contraception can prevent the need for abortion.
Additionally, many of Bojaxhiu’s patients were suffering from diseases like syphilis, which were obviously sexually transmitted illnesses and may have been prevented by the use of condoms. It strikes me that Bojaxhiu was a person not willing to engage with the realities of modern medicine. Bojaxhiu argued that contraceptives were “evil and wrong,” which is another area in which I disagree, and think that devices that can prevent the spread of sexual diseases, sufferers of which Bojaxhiu frequently negligently treated, and pregnancy amongst the young should absolutely be supported. I, myself, believe abortion should be rare, and the best way to prevent it occurring is to ensure women have the ability to control and prevent their pregnancies.
One Bojaxhiu supporter noted she “injected hope, decency and love into the world.”
I’d rather she hygienically injected dying people with actual medicine that could prevent or alleviate suffering.
Bojaxhiu’s fervent anti-abortion beliefs are also still felt dangerously across the world. No, I am not claiming opposing abortions that women opt for on reasons like being unable to support the child or not wanting a child or their proponents are de facto morally contemptible, but Bojaxhiu occupied are totally fervent and uncompromising position that all abortion is wrong. She indeed called it “the greatest threat to global peace,” which in an century defined by global conflicts, nationalism, fascism, communism and rising religious extremism that would later blight the subsequent century, is a bizarre statement. Bojaxhiu’s conservative thinking also fails to consider instances in which abortion is a medical necessity. What about circumstances in which women like Savita Halappanavar were denied abortions because “abortion is wrong,” thus killing the mother? What about in circumstances where women are not well enough to cope with pregnancy in terms of mental health? What about in situations where continued pregnancy would endanger life of the women and child?
Bojaxhiu answers only that “abortion,” is the biggest global threat to security, which is laughable, especially when a rational individual is asked to consider women seeking abortions to save their lives as the largest threat to global peace.
Not only do Bojaxhiu’s positions actually endanger the lives of women, but they also show disregard for the fact outlawing abortions would prevent women having to gain dangerous abortions, in many nations where abortions are illegal and hence women resort to back street procedures, or having to flee nations to have abortions elsewhere. I don’t think it can be compelling argued that Bojaxhiu’s positions were intended to help women, but further a conservative notion that abortion is simply wrong, without considering circumstances in which it can save lives. Bojaxhiu’s philosophy was very much intended for a perfect world, and fails to apply to the realities of the world in which we live.
Bojaxhiu didn’t only oppose the liberation of women via contraceptives, but she also argued it was beautiful for the poor to accept their lot. In the wake of the Bhopal disaster, her advice to the afflicted was not tossed legal remedies for the poisoning of land and people, and the loss suffered via negligence. Her response was simply to “forgive,” and whilst it arguable she was standing against conflict, I think it is also arguable she never wished for the poor to challenge the injustice committed against them by a multi-national corporation. Bojaxhiu also showed a callous and crass disregard for the suffering, saying that it excited her by giving her an ability to oppose abortion, she said “we are so excited because it has affected us.” Were another person to say the petrochemical spill that killed thousands excited them, they would rightfully receive the logical deconstruction they deserve. Not only this, she was a prime example of victim blaming, stating that the Bhopal petrochemical spillage was a “Sin” induced accident. It is somewhat unbelievable a women who cares for the innocent, vulnerable and sick would see it acceptable that people be gassed to death, be disfigured and suffer horrific medical conditions due to a chemical spill.
This women also showed a callous and crass disregard for the suffering, saying that it excited her by giving her an ability to oppose abortion, she said “we are so excited because it has affected us.“
She arguably ensured the resources and funding in her “Houses of the Dying” program were so thinly spread that they could not actually make a difference. The also her practices that actually seemed to make her “houses for the dying” even more dangerous for individuals. As previously mentioned only 5-7% of funding actually reaching the dying across her global empire of “Houses of the Dying”, is it any wonder that it was noted by groups like the Lancet that her “Houses of the Dying” were poorly funded and lacking medical professionals.
Furthermore, Bojaxhiu’s workforce often used unsterilised needles, a massive problem, not only spreading the infections, but in wards that were not separated by illnesses or even into fatal or infectious sections, this was a fatal practice that caused disease. Not only did these needles cause pain, but they also spread other blood related infections like HIV and hepatitis. In terms of pain treatment offered to individuals, she refused pain relief to terminally ill cancer patients. Many have noted, including the Lancet, that Bojaxhiu’s staff did not use powerful or notable pain management drugs, also because Bojaxhiu felt that suffering brought people closer to God.
Bojaxhiu also said all should be equal, and all should be treated equally in her “Houses of the Dying”. This idealistic religious dogma was arguably made with good intentions, but fails to understand that in a modern world full of differing conditions, one cannot treat a cancer patient in the same way that one treats a sufferer of dysentry. That Bojaxhiu failed to separate these people into separate wards added to the fact that very few of those who entered the “Houses’s of the dying” left them, alive, with her patients in close proximity spreading disease. Bojaxhiu was not able to even hire Doctor’s to assess the problems and potential treatments of those dying, so they were left simply receive treatments from the kindness of Doctor’s.
But the nurses in Bojaxhiu’s weren’t solely benign: the veritable factories of death that Bojaxhiu’s order cultivated fuelled another of Bojaxhiu’s vulture like practices. Bojaxhiu instructed her workforce to ask the dying, obviously not of the reasonable state of mind due to the pain they are enduring, to ask if they wished salvation, and would practice forced conversions if they agreed to wishing to enter heaven. This disgraceful practice is utterly repulsive, the fact that Bojaxhiu’s nuns would in the last moments and days of those dying in agony, often because she refused to obtain adequate pain management drugs or because of infections by shared needles, and convert them to Christianity despite having been of different faiths and in differing states of mind is worthy of not only contempt, but being branded a practice of evil.
This practice of converting the vulnerable through baptisms when they are not in sound mind shows the dark side of an order determined to spread Catholicism through any means. Look at Bojaxhiu’s order globally, some “Houses of the Dying,” have zero actual “patients,” and simply have missionaries preaching and spreading her conservative brand of Catholicism.
And what of Bojaxhiu’s plea to remain “modest,” did she accept the treatment to the poor that she administered? No, unlike any of her patients who she refused to send to hospitals, she accepted nothing bar the best health care in a comfortable hospital, whilst people under her charity died, possibly due to the very conditions she created, on a unsterilised plank of wood, often in agony and after being forced to convert to Christianity. In fact, Bojaxhiu could be safely argued to be a poverty fetishist, she argued that “The world gains much from the suffering[of the poor],” if not psychopathic, telling one patient “you are suffering just like Jesus is on the cross, that means Jesus is kissing you.” Bojaxhiu speaks almost as if it is desirable that people suffer like Jesus did via crucifixion.
Bojaxhiu also had an interesting, if not totally questionable, relation with politics in India and abroad, she supported Indian PM Indira Gandhi’s removal of civil liberties for the employed: “People are happier. There are more jobs. There are no strikes.” During the period known as the “Emergency,” Bojaxhiu support for Indira Gandhi is questionable and somewhat irreconcilable with Gandhi’s practices, which included suspending elections through suspending the constitution, the imprisoning of political rivals and oppositions parties, and press censorship including the arrest of religious journalists, alongside mass sterilisation. Bojaxhiu had no problem supporting those who desired her support, or whom supporting would have furthered her image and spreading the Church and her message, even at the price of contradicting her own positions.
It wasn’t simply within India that her politics of siding with authoritarians and standing against her beliefs manifested, take the fact she laid flowers on the tomb of authoritarian dictator Enver Hoxha, a man who reportedly shot his Prime Minister dead at cabinet, along with torturing, imprisoning and murdering a 100,o00 Albanians. Not only this, Hoxha brutally enforced an atheist regime that regularly punished and persecuted the religious. Bojaxhiu saw no contradiction in honouring him, and praising his state that deprived individuals of religious freedom. Her other questionable relations include saying the deposed Duvalier regime, a regime that ordered the torture and murder of their detractors and to be involved in the underground trade in both drugs and body parts. Bojaxhiu obviously saw no problem in musing that “love their poor and their love was reciprocated.”
It’s time the myth of “Blessed Teresa,” died along with Bojaxhiu. We should accept that in canonising Bojaxhiu, the Vatican has canonised a woman so blinded by her unrivalled by her fervour to the point of negligence, that she qualifies for sainthood only through the two miracles: that she is well so respected and for even being considered for canonisation.