Mother Teresa: Controversies surrounding the 'Saint of the Gutters'

The issues of abortion to her beatification and sainthood, Mother Teresa's work and life has been subjected to intense scrutiny, judgement and criticism.

Mother Teresa: Controversies surrounding the 'Saint of the Gutters'

New Delhi: After 19 years of her death, Pope Francis on Tuesday approved sainthood for Mother Teresa, the missionary nun who became a global, if controversial, symbol of compassion for her care of the sick and destitute.

The pontiff set 4 September as the date for her canonisation, elevating the Nobel peace laureate to an official icon for the Catholic faith.

However, from the issues of abortion to her beatification and sainthood, Mother Teresa's work and life has been subjected to intense scrutiny, judgement and criticism.

Teresa, who was 87 when she died in 1997, was revered by Catholics and and many others around the world.

Known as the "Angel of Mercy" or "Saint of the Gutters", she won the 1979 Nobel peace prize for her work with the poor.

But she was also a controversial figure with critics branding her a religious imperialist whose fervent opposition to birth control and abortion ran contrary to the interests of the communities she claimed to serve.

Here are the controversies:

First miracle

Path to sainthood requires at least two miracles. The first miracle attributed to Mother Teresa was recorded in 1998, when an Indian woman Monica Besra was reportedly cured of an abdominal tumour after nuns prayed for her, and placed a Mother Teresa medallion on her stomach.

Her husband later said doctors at an Indian hospital cured his wife, but hospital records of Ms Besra's treatment went missing, apparently taken by a sister of the Missionaries of Charity.

Besra insisted she was healed by a miracle. Mother Teresa was beatified by then pope John Paul II in a fast-tracked process in 2003, in a ceremony attended by some 300,000 pilgrims. Beatification is a first step towards sainthood.

Anjeze, as she was known as a child, was drawn to religion and missionary work at the early age of 12. She joined the Sisters of Loreto at 18 and was known as Sister Teresa, after the patron saint of missionaries, Saint Therese de Lisieux.


Second Miracle

The second miracle involved a 35-year-old Brazilian man who had not long been married when he was diagnosed with eight brain tumours in 2008, according to Vatican expert Andrea Tornielli. On 9 December, the man was wheeled into the operating room in an induced coma, but doctors were forced to delay the medical procedure by half an hour because of technical problems.

While they waited, the man's wife led prayers to Mother Teresa in the hospital's chapel. When the surgeon returned to the operating room, he is said to have found the patient awake, sitting up and asking "what am I doing here?".

"I have never seen a case like it," the surgeon was quoted as saying, after a CAT scan showed that the Brazilian's tumours "had suddenly and inexplicably disappeared", Tornielli said in La Stampa daily.

However, the critics of Mother Teresa have said that she opposed contraception and abortion, setting back the progress of women.

While she was lauded for founding the Missionaries of Charity that ran hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, many of the criticisms against her sprouted due to the conflicts of between her religious beliefs and her role as a social worker.

Anti-abortion stance:

Critics had decried Mother Teresa for her anti-abortion stance. After receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she had espoused the anti-abortion cause. Some even went so far as to say that she used her influence to further the Vatican stance on abortion. Other critics have been of the view that her charity work is a part of a larger scheme to fight 'abortion and contraception'.

Hypocrisy and controversial associations:

Mother Teresa has been accused of hypocrisy on some occasions. Known to embrace and idolise a life of suffering and poverty, she had once 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," as mentioned in Hitchens' work. However her association with and open support to corrupt businessmen Charles Keating and Robert Maxwell as well as dictatorial family Robert Duvalier received harsh criticism and disapproval.


Hitchens and others have also pointed at the duplicity that while her patients suffered from the lack of pain-relieving and illness-combating medical support in her charitable organisations, Mother Teresa herself would check into expensive and sophisticated clinics and hospitals in the West.

Saint of the Gutters:

Despite posthumously published letters revealing that she suffered crises of faith throughout her life, Teresa has been fast-tracked to canonisation in unusually quick time, underlining her status as a modern-day icon of Catholicism.

With AFP inputs

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