The Rush to Canonize Mother Teresa

The Rush to Canonize Mother Teresa September 7, 2016

Surprising no one, the Vatican has declared Mother Teresa to be a saint.

Under the church’s rules, canonization requires two verified miracles. But the evidence that the church has put forward as proof of her miraculous powers is less than completely convincing:

The [first] approved miracle involved Monica Besra, a 30-year-old Kolkata woman who said praying to the nun cured a stomach tumor. The Vatican committee said in October 2002 that it could find no “scientific explanation” for the woman’s recovery.

The church claims they can find “no scientific explanation” for her recovery. They must not have searched very hard, because according to the woman’s own doctors, she was receiving a course of standard medical treatment which worked as expected:

“This miracle claim is absolute nonsense and should be condemned by everyone,” Dr Ranjan Kumar Mustafi, of Balurghat Hospital in West Bengal, said. “She had a medium-sized tumour in her lower abdomen caused by tuberculosis. The drugs she was given eventually reduced the cystic mass and it disappeared after a year’s treatment.”

If the canonization process was genuinely scientific or objective, they’d take this into account. Instead, officials at the hospital report that the church was pressuring them to say that they had nothing to do with it and that the cure was miraculous.

The woman’s husband also said, initially, that her recovery was thanks to the doctors and that the miracle claim was a hoax. He later changed his mind when the church showered his family with material benefits:

Her husband initially shared this scepticism. “This miracle is a hoax,” he told an interviewer last year. “It is much ado about nothing. My wife was cured by the doctors.” Since then, however, he is full of praise for Mother Teresa and her order.

“It was her miracle healing that cured my wife,” says Selku Murmu, whose family converted to Christianity after his wife’s recovery. “Our situation was terrible and we didn’t know what to do. Now my children are being educated with the help of the nuns and I have been able to buy a small piece of land. Everything has changed for the better.

Meanwhile, the second miracle attributed to Teresa is this:

“Marcilio Haddad Andrino, a now-42-year-old mechanical engineer from Santos, Brazil, struggled with a bacterial infection in the brain that caused severe brain abscesses and agonizing head pain. A priest friend encouraged the recently married young man and his wife, Fernanda Nascimento Rocha, to pray for Mother Teresa’s help. Andrino, however, slipped into a coma as treatments failed, and while Rocha prayed, he was taken in for last-ditch surgery. When the surgeon entered the operating room, he found Andrino awake and asking him what was going on.” (source)

This recounting comes from the National Catholic Register, which presents it in a considerably neater and more sanitized form than the original. As pointed out by Stop the Missionaries of Charity, the original version of the story is full of holes and has a bewildering timeline.

Supposedly, Andrino fell deathly ill on his honeymoon. But rather than the excellent university hospital nearby, he was inexplicably taken to an obscure hospital over 1000 km away, close to his hometown, so that his wife could conveniently go to their local church and confer with their priest. The original report also claims that when it was time for Andrino’s surgery, the doctors wheeled him into the operating theater, left him there unattended (?!), then returned half an hour later so they could witness his dramatic recovery. All these implausible flourishes are the hallmarks of a story that’s been hugely exaggerated if not fabricated entirely. (This allegedly happened in 2008 and wasn’t brought to the Vatican’s attention for years, plenty of time for details to grow or mutate in the telling.)

But none of this matters, because it’s obvious what the real agenda is. As the Telegraph points out, Teresa was put on an unprecedented canonization fast-track:

Mother Teresa’s elevation has also been criticised for its speed. After a Vatican commission recognised Monica Besra’s healing as a miracle, the Pope personally intervened to “fast track” the nun’s beatification, making it the swiftest in the Church’s history.

Under normal Church rules, at least five years must pass after a person dies before the procedure for sainthood can begin, first with beatification and later with canonisation. The process started in 1999, less than two years after Mother Teresa’s death, aged 87.

There’s no mystery about what’s going on here. Mother Teresa is a widely beloved figure, and declaring her to be a saint is good press for a church struggling to repair its public image. It’s a welcome distraction from sickening child-molestation scandals and the accurate perception that the church continues to push bigotry against LGBT people and jeopardize women’s lives by denying them medical care.

Even today, credulous mainstream reporting praises Teresa as an “anti-poverty crusader”, even though – to paraphrase Christopher Hitchens – no one has the bad manners to ask what she did or even what she claimed to do in the service of fighting poverty.

As my friend Mary Johnson, a former member of the Missionaries of Charity, says, “Mother Teresa’s sisters offer simple care and a smile, not competent medical treatment or tools with which to escape poverty… Mother Teresa could have done more, but she always saw helping the poor as a means to a supernatural end, never a good in itself.”

Mary Johnson herself, during her time in the order, tried to start a sewing co-op that would teach poor women useful skills and put them on the path to self-sufficiency, but her superiors put a stop to it.

But, again, none of this matters. It doesn’t matter that journalists like Donal MacIntyre, who worked undercover in a Missionaries of Charity care home, documented nauseating squalor and brutality: disabled children tied to beds and force-fed; basic supplies like diapers, soap and hot water unavailable; while all the time tens of millions of dollars in donations from the well-meaning sat unused in MC bank accounts. He calls it “barbaric treatment of the most vulnerable”.

Another skeptic, Dr. Aroup Chatterjee, labels the MC homes a “cult of suffering”. From interviews with former volunteers, he collected accounts of untrained workers who handed out expired medicines and washed feces-stained blankets in the same sink as dishes.

This and other evidence of negligence is totally irrelevant, because the conclusion of the canonization inquiry was decided in advance. There wasn’t the slightest chance that the investigators would fail to find “evidence” confirming it. The church set out to obtain a PR coup, even if they had to do violence to the truth to obtain one.

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