The Truth About Mother Teresa & A Great Alternative
This month, we're highlighting an organization called Responsible Charity. This NGO aims to serve the people of Kolkata who live in poverty. It is a secular organization with a heavy focus on getting kids to school, but here is something unique: Responsible Charity came to be in response to Mother Teresa's abject failure at aid.
That's right! We're here, right now, discussing a secular relief project thanks to Mother Teresa.
Responsible Charity's founder, Hemley Gonzales, actually spent time volunteering for Mother Teresa. He became incredibly disillusioned by her and her organization and quickly decided he could do much better.
Now, some of you might be surprised to hear that Mother Teresa was not all she's cracked up to be. She was supposed to be a saint. Few names are as synonymous with selfless giving as Mother Teresa's. All around the world, the mere mention of her triggers images of love and care and goodness.
So, how can someone become disillusioned with a woman like that?
In an interview with Big Think, Hemley Gonzales explained:
It happened almost instantly, literally on my first day volunteering. I was shocked to discover the horrifically negligent manner in which this charity operates and the direct contradiction of the public's general understanding of their work. Workers wash needles under tap water and then reuse them. Medicine and other vital items are stored for months on end, expiring and still applied sporadically to patients. Volunteers with little or no training carry out dangerous work on patients with highly contagious cases of tuberculosis and other life-threatening illnesses. The individuals who operate the charity refuse to accept and implement medical equipment and machinery that would safely automate processes and save lives.
After further investigation and research, I realized that all of the events I had witnessed amounted to nothing more than a systematic human rights violation and a financial scam of monumental proportions. Not once in its sixty-year history have the Missionaries of Charity reported the total amount of funds they've collected in donations, what percentage they use for administration and where the rest has been applied and how. Since its inception, defectors of the organization and other journalists have placed the figure upwards of one billion dollars (and counting). The mission currently operates over 700 homes and maintains an average of 4,000 workers while consistently failing to provide statistics on the efficacy of their work.
Mother Teresa's organization brings in upwards of one billion dollars in donations.
You would expect that the homes they operate to serve the sick would be state-of-the-art. You would expect they would have the latest medical tech to help their subjects, would you not? So, why do ex-volunteers and employees report old equipment, unsanitary conditions and untrained staff?
Why wouldn't Mother Teresa and her organization better the lives of those they worked with using the money she raked in at an obscene rate?
From Stern Magazine:
For example, Samity, a man of around 30 with no teeth, who lives in the slums. He is one of the "poorest of the poor" to whom Mother Teresa was supposed to have dedicated her life. With a plastic bag in hand, he stands in a kilometre-long queue in Calcutta's Park Street. The poor wait patiently, until the helpers shovel some rice and lentils into their bags. But Samity does not get his grub from Mother Teresa's institution, but instead from the Assembly of God, an American charity that serves 18000 meals here daily.
"Mother Teresa?" says Samity, "We have not received anything from her here. Ask in the slums — who has received anything from the sisters here — you will find hardly anybody."
Another quote from the same piece:
Pannalal Manik also has doubts. "I don't understand why you educated people in the West have made this woman into such a goddess!" Manik was born some 56 years ago in the Rambagan slum, which at about 300 years of age, is Calcutta's oldest. What Manik has achieved can well be called a "miracle." He has built 16 apartment buildings in the midst of the slum — living space for 4000 people. Money for the building materials — equivalent to DM 10000 per apartment building — was begged for by Manik from the Ramakrishna Mission [an Indian/Hindu charity], the largest assistance-organization in India. The slum-dwellers built the buildings themselves. It has become a model for the whole of India. But what about Mother Teresa? "I went to her place three times," said Manik. "She did not even listen to what I had to say. Everyone on earth knows that the sisters have a lot of money. But no one knows what they do with it!"
Susan Shields, who used to serve with Mother Teresa's organization, has been an outspoken critic. Stern magazine's investigation spoke with her, too:
Perhaps the most lucrative branch of the organization is the "Holy Ghost" House in New York's Bronx. Susan Shields served the order there for a total of nine and a half years as Sister Virgin. "We spent a large part of each day writing thank you letters and processing cheques," she says. "Every night, around 25 sisters had to spend many hours preparing receipts for donations. It was a conveyor belt process: some sisters typed, others made lists of the amounts, stuffed letters into envelopes, or sorted the cheques. Values were between $5 and $100.000. Donors often dropped their envelopes filled with money at the door. Before Christmas, the flow of donations was often totally out of control. The postman brought sackfuls of letters — cheques for $50000 were no rarity." Sister Virgin remembers that one year there was about $50 million in a New York bank account. $50 million in one year! — in a predominantly non-Catholic country. How much then, were they collecting in Europe or the world? It is estimated that worldwide they collected at least $100 million per year — and that has been going on for many many years.
Susan goes on to speak of incidents where she asked to buy something to help someone, from bread to communion dresses and was turned down each time. She recalled that during the Ethiopian famine crisis, donations would come in labelled, "For Ethiopia." When she asked if she should keep these donations separate to send them to Ethiopia, the answer was no, but she was to write "For Ethiopia" on the donation receipts she drew up for the gifts.
From another member of the organization, speaking to donors about the orphanage they ran in Calcutta (Stern Magazine):
"On my September visit I had to witness 2 or 3 children lying in the same cot, in totally overcrowded rooms with not a square inch of playing space. The behavioural problems arising as a result cannot be overlooked." Mrs Wiedeking appeals to the generosity of supporters in view of her powerlessness in the face of the children's great needs. Powerlessness?! In an organization with a billion-fortune, which has three times as much money available to it as UNICEF is able to spend in all of India? The Missionaries of Charity has had the means to buy cots and build orphanages — with playgrounds. And they have enough money not only for a handful of orphans in Delhi but for many thousand orphans who struggle for survival in the streets of Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta. Stern was able to confirm in that very same report that, in fact, only 7% of the organization's wealth (according to English authorities) was used for charity.
Even the recipient of Teresa's first claimed "miracle" required for sainthood has since been left to wallow in poverty by Mother Teresa's organization, much to her very vocal disappointment. In Monica Besra's own words:
"My hut was frequented by nuns of the Missionaries of Charity before the beatification of Mother Teresa," said Mrs. Besra, squatting on the floor of her thatched and mud house in the village of Dangram, 460 miles northeast of Calcutta.
"They made a lot of promises to me and assured me of financial help for my livelihood and my children's education.
"After that, they forgot me. I am living in penury. My husband is sick. My children have stopped going to school as I have no money. I have to work in the fields to feed my husband and five children."
So, what do the subjects of this organization gain from this charity? Before the organization was there to "help" these people, they lived in destitution, and after the sisters were there to "help" them, they still lived in poverty. They lived suffering through the pain of illness before the sisters came along, and after they still suffered through the pain of their ailments. They had no medical treatment before the sisters and none after the sisters. Orphans slept huddled together in deplorable conditions before Mother came along, and they did after as well.
It is a perversion of human decency to know that the sisters had more than enough money to help people in the most basic ways and did not. To not offer anything but company while your organization rakes in millions per year, parading as a charitable organization, is gross.
Many Mother Teresa apologists point out that suffering makes a good Christian. From Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble :
When people point to Mother Teresa's "fanaticism," they are usually actually pointing to her living out Christian values. Sure, she did this in an extreme, heroic fashion, but that is why she is a saint. Most of us could benefit from emulating, even slightly, her "fanaticism." Critics who choose to see her remarks on the "gift" of suffering as a newfangled, masochistic theology only reveal a lack of familiarity with a basic Christian idea: that — as demonstrated by the God-man being unjustly tortured and crucified — God brings good from evil, and he is present in a special way among the weakest and the poorest of the poor.
Don't like this message? It's not Mother Teresa you have a problem with, it's Christianity.
The problem here, of course, is that Christ himself fed the poor and healed the sick. If suffering is what is required to be a good Christian, why is there any Christian charity at all? Why are there soup kitchens and Catholic hospitals? Are these unholy ventures? Is it bad to be merciful and giving? Or is it good? Who has it right? Who has it wrong?
If I were a Christian, I would look to the Bible for the answers:
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.
And he answered them, "Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise."
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
There is, of course, also the corruption.
For your contemplation:
What you're looking at is a letter from Mother Teresa to a judge in the case against a financial fraudster, Charles Keating, asking him to consider leniency. This man, Mr. Keating, stole the life savings of many people. People who had families, people who had homes. Mother Teresa, who did not believe in mercy and strongly believed suffering was the true path to holiness, asked for a crook's leniency. She asked for mercy. She couldn't be bothered to offer mercy to any of her sick, poverty-stricken, malnourished and dying subjects back in Calcutta, but she took the time to beg for it for this billionaire crook.
After her letter, you'll see a plea from the prosecutor in Keating's case. He begged Mother Teresa to return the money Keating gifted her. He explained it was stolen from families who now found themselves in poverty. If she returned it, he pleaded, he would see that it got back to those from whom it was stolen.
Unfortunately, the money was never returned.
Of course, Hemley Gonzales was not the first to criticize the "goodwill" of Mother Teresa. Christopher Hitchens took aim at the good Mother in a book and a short documentary on the topic. However, Mr. Gonzales has used the horror and disappointment to fuel what has become the real deal. From the Responsible Charity website:
Unlike some religious-based organizations which have no progressive plans in effect to educate and empower children, women and men out of poverty, Responsible Charity makes advances in areas of education, planned parenthood and self employment.
We invite you to join and support our humanist charity. Our vision is directly aimed at the evolution of compassion; and creating a new and transparent model for others to follow! Together, we are the change we wish to see in the world!
If she were still alive today, Mother Teresa would have something to learn from the team at Responsible Charity. That's for sure. We are proud to be partnering with Hemley and his team to raise funds for these needy communities.