(Photo: AP Photo / Bikas Das)
A Canadian University journal is preparing to release a paper that seeks to discredit the life and work of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, commonly known as Mother Teresa, the Roman Catholic nun who became a global symbol of charity and goodwill for dedicating her life to helping the poor in India.
Bill Donohue of The Catholic League, America's largest Catholic civil rights organization, has dismissed the claims presented by humanities scholars Serge Larivée and Genevieve Chenard of University of Montreal's Department of Psychoeducation, calling it nothing more than a "rehash" of previously disproven arguments.
The paper, which will be published in March, claims to be peer-reviewed, mostly by atheist critics. The researchers openly admit to have based much of their study on famous atheist writer Christopher Hitchens, who targeted Mother Teresa on many occasions, most notably in his book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, which tries to portray the nun as anything but a saint.
Larivée and his colleagues apparently attack the Catholic Church's beatification of Teresa, which takes her one miracle away from being canonized and declared a saint by the church. The researchers say that they found evidence of "her rather dubious way of caring for the sick, her questionable political contacts, her suspicious management of the enormous sums of money she received, and her overly dogmatic views regarding, in particular, abortion, contraception, and divorce."
The study points out that Mother Teresa had opened 517 missions welcoming the poor and sick in more than 100 countries at the time of her death. She did much of her work in Calcutta, one of the poorest Indian regions, where she took in sick and starving people, orphans, and Dalits, also known as "untouchables," who are rejected by the larger society.
The Canadian researchers, however, say that they found evidence that some of these establishments were called "homes for the dying" by doctors who witnessed a lack of proper care for the sick.
The study also claims that Mother Teresa accepted millions of dollars from world dictators, such as the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti, but a lot of that money did not go into the homes for the sick. The atheists also position that she saw that it was good for the poor to "accept their lot" and suffer, which was reflecting Christ's suffering for the world.
Mother Teresa, who received the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize for her work, was known to openly oppose abortion, which she called one of the greatest dangers facing the world.
The atheist paper says that this is an overly dogmatic worldview, and blames her worldwide appeal on a carefully constructed media campaign by the Vatican, which wanted to increase its political power by constructing the image of a saint.
Much of her known work and many of the things she said directly contradicts that notion, however.
"We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty," she once said.
In a statement released on Friday, Donohue, who had directly clashed with Hitchens a number of times over Mother Teresa, before the famous atheist passed away in 2011, said that the new paper has no credibility.
"Atheists have no reference base to assess someone who comforts the dying, which is why Mother Teresa perplexes them (their way of comforting the dying is to euthanize them). They also don't understand why anyone would say the terminally ill 'are suffering like Christ on the cross,' Donohue wrote.
"Her contacts with dictators like Duvalier of Haiti were entirely justified; they provided her with access to the sick and dying. It is true she took money from the rich, and her clients were delighted she did so. It is also correct to say she was dogmatic in her crusade to defend the civil rights of innocent unborn children."
The Catholic League president reminded readers that Hitchens' book on Mother Teresa "contains no footnotes, no citations of any kind" and "provides not a scintilla of evidence" for its claims – a problem since the Canadian journal relies so heavily on it.
Not only that, but the official Catholic University press release announcing the paper misspells her name four times, adding an "h," which is wrong.
"So much for accuracy, as well as credibility," Donohue stated.
Celeste Owen-Jones of The Huffington Post also wrote a piece questioning the motives behind this attack on Mother Teresa, writing that the Catholic nun and a great deal of famous people throughout history have often had their work questioned.
"I'm sure that Mother Teresa would have been the last one bothered by these criticisms, because she had far more important things to take care of," wrote Owen Jones, an associate producer for HuffPost Live who has volunteered with the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, in Calcutta and in Cuzco.
"Who are we, sitting in our office or in the comfort of our home in our cocoon-like world, hiding behind books and computers, to criticize a woman who abandoned everything to spend her life and bring attention to the forgotten of this world? The day someone will lead a similar life to Mother Teresa's and still criticize the way she acted, then I will truly respect that opinion. But unsurprisingly that day still hasn't come."