Mother Teresa doesn’t deserve sainthood

This column first appeared on Hemant Mehta’s blog, The Friendly Atheist, and is reprinted with permission.

By Hemant Mehta

Pope Francis recently announced that Mother Teresa would become a saint on Sept. 4. The honor will come nearly two decades after her death.

While many are undoubtedly celebrating the announcement, it’s important to look at what went into the sainthood process, since it makes no sense at all and few people will dare to tell the truth about it. After all, Mother Teresa is one of those people who’s supposed to be immune from criticism.

So what does it take to be a saint?

Simply put, there needs to be proof that you played a role in two separate miracles. And if you think those two concepts contradict each other . . . you’d be right.
The first “miracle” took place in 2003 and was approved by Pope John Paul II. He said that an Indian woman, Monica Besra, had been cured of an abdominal tumor, all thanks to the supernatural intervention of Mother Teresa, who had been dead for several years at that point.

The story went like this: Besra had a tumor. Someone put a locket with Mother Teresa’s photo on her stomach. And then the tumor went away. That’s it.

Clearly, Mother Teresa did it!

That story tends to ignore how Besra suffered for years even after Mother Teresa died and how doctors continued to work on Besra even after the locket was placed on her. But, you know, I’m sure that had nothing to do with it.

There was another, more dangerous, side effect to the “miracle” claim: “The doctors say that if the story of the miracle gets what they describe as undue publicity, illiterate and poor villagers may stop taking medical treatment for their maladies and seek miracle cures,” writes Subir Bhaumik of the BBC.

So that was the first “miracle.” Something that had no definitive proof, gave us plenty of reasons to be skeptical, and could have a disastrous effect on sick people.

What about the second “miracle”? That one involved a Brazilian man with a viral brain infection who was in a coma.

“His wife had been praying for months to Mother Teresa, and on Dec. 9, 2008, as he was about to be taken to emergency surgery, she and her husband’s priest and relatives intensified their prayers,” writes Sewell Chan in The New York Times. “The next morning, the man fully awoke, with normal cognition, according to the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, a Canadian priest who was the postulator, or chief proponent, of Mother Teresa’s canonization. The man did not need surgery, and resumed his work as a mechanical engineer. Moreover, although doctors had previously told him that he was sterile because of his weakened immune system and antibiotics, he and his wife had two healthy children, Father Kolodiejchuk said.”

Let’s grant the idea that even medical professionals don’t know what happened (even though the only medical professionals who said that were convened by the Vatican).

It’s obviously a tremendous leap to then say “Mother Teresa did it.”

Ignorance doesn’t imply the truth of religion. This is just the Mother Teresa version of the god-of-the-gaps fallacy.

By the way, it’s still not clear who the man is. The Vatican hasn’t released his name, age, medical history, etc. Sketchy, no?

And yet it was enough for Pope Francis to call it a “miracle” — the second one — enough to bestow sainthood upon Mother Teresa.

In addition to all that, we have the criticisms levied by Christopher Hitchens in The Missionary Position, like the fact that Mother Teresa opposed abortion and contraception. She may have helped poor people, but her own beliefs made their lives worse in aggregate by causing them to have larger families, compounding their poverty and hunger.

In fact, she believed that being poor wasn’t such a bad thing (all the more reason to keep poverty-stricken people in their place): “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,” Mother Teresa is quoted as saying.

Journalist Terry Firma also pointed this out: “If Mother Teresa can be sanctified for ‘miracles’ she performed posthumously, it also ought to be fair to connect her to what was done in her name after her death. That includes this: The Missionaries of Charity, the organization she founded, announced two months ago that it will no longer be involved in adopting out orphans. Why? Because India opened up adoption to prospective parents who are single, divorced or separated.”

So, again, her beliefs are making life worse for many people who really need help.

This is what it takes to become a saint these days: Two bogus miracles that amount to nothing more than, “We’re not entirely sure what happened.” And a whole bunch of bad ideas, rooted in the Catholic faith, that have hurt countless women and children and families since her death. Don’t forget: There’s reason to believe she wasn’t even really religious during the final decades of her life.

The whole thing is downright ridiculous — and I think people would freely admit that if we were talking about, say, Scientology. But Catholicism is less “weird” because we’re so used to it.

There’s no evidence whatsoever that Mother Teresa has any direct impact on this world anymore, much less that she’s performing miracles in her spare time.

If church officials wanted to honor the work she did during her lifetime, so be it. Instead, they’re making up things she’s been working on since her death and awarding her for their theories.

Freedom From Religion Foundation