Beatification by the Catholic Church requires one miracle, while the process of becoming recognized as a saint requires proof of at least two miracles. Mother Teresa was beatified in 2003 after Pope John Paul II accepted as authentic a miracle attributed to her. He judged that the curing of an Indian woman suffering from an abdominal tumor was the result of the supernatural intervention of the late Mother Teresa.
Weirdly enough, not everyone believed that, and some actively debunked it. Indian rationalists including Prabir Ghosh pointed out that the supposed miracle — effected by a picture of the Albanian nun placed on the Indian woman’s abdomen — did not preclude the patient from subsequently suffering years of pain. Also, more to the point, the patient underwent oncology treatment at the hands of trained doctors and nurses before the cancer, and the threat to her life, subsided. Perhaps in an effort not to give godless skeptics any ammunition this time, the Vatican is keeping the second, just-“confirmed” miracle under wraps. But no worries, we can totes trust the Catholic Church to tell the truth.
There are few details about the recovery of the Brazilian man, whose life the Vatican says was saved in the second miracle. His identity has not been disclosed to maintain the discretion needed for the investigation, the Catholic New Agency has said.
That’s not how verification works in the real world. It ought to be subject to disclosure and scrutiny. Guess we’ll just have to take this one on faith.
Let’s look briefly at some aspects of the prominent nun’s life for which there are eyewitness accounts and other pretty solid evidence, including Teresa’s own words. Reading the news of Mother Teresa’s becoming a bona fide holy woman reminded me of Mary Johnson’s memoir, An Unquenchable Thirst. When she was 17, Johnson spotted a picture of Teresa on the cover of Time magazine, and thought she’d found her calling. She was still a teenager when she joined Teresa’s organization, the Missionaries of Charity, becoming a nun and thus a “bride of Christ.” Soon, however, doubts began to plague her. The L.A. Times summarized:
Over time, Johnson began to chafe at the political maneuvering and less-than-holy behavior of her superiors, several of whom she names in the book while disguising rank-and-file nuns and priests with pseudonyms. Even Mother Teresa herself doesn’t escape Johnson’s sharp eye and sense of injustice. While Johnson clearly loved the “living saint” and admired her life’s work, Mother Teresa comes off as a control freak who senses her chance at sainthood under the congenial Pope John Paul II and strictly adheres to the rules set by Rome, including several of the Catholic teachings that have kept women in a place of powerlessness.
It’s still an altogether more charitable depiction of the world’s number-one nun than the one painted by the late Christopher Hitchens, who famously called her “a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud,” and who published The Missionary Position, a book that takes Mother Teresa to task for allegedly promulgating poverty rather than fighting it. To bolster his case, Hitchens offered, among other things, such damning Mother Teresa quotes as:
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.
The greatest destroyer of peace today is the crime of the innocent unborn child [abortion]. If a mother can murder her own child in her own womb, what is left for you and for me to kill each other?
Hitchens, while also not a fan of abortion, nevertheless pointed out that Teresa’s life-long opposition to abortion, and even to “non-natural” birth control, inevitably resulted in bigger families and more mouths to feed — and therefore, in more poverty, hunger, and sickness. He wrote:
Tenderness about the unborn is an emotion that I share myself. But tenderness about the unborn also becomes an overtly political matter when it’s preached by a presumable virgin who also campaigns against birth control.
If the word presumable seems a bit unkind, Hitchens might in fact have been wise to the forbidden sexual peccadilloes that were hardly uncommon at the Missionaries of Charity. This is where we return to Mary Johnson’s memoir, and to the L.A. Times‘ summary of it:
What overwhelms Johnson [is her] battle against loneliness and the lack of emotional and physical intimacy. Although Missionaries of Charity nuns are forbidden any physical contact — even a friendly hug — Johnson engages in sexual relationships with other nuns on several occasions, including one affair with a sexual predator that the Missionary of Charity leadership knew about but chose to retain on the roster.
After 20 years, and more religious misbehavior — including sex with a priest — Johnson left the Missionaries of Charity. She ultimately also abandoned her Catholic faith, just as Teresa turned out to have been faithless for the last 40 years of her life (not something the Vatican will bring up, we can rest assured). By the way, 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. A spokeswoman explained:
The new guidelines hurt our conscience. They are certainly not for religious people like us… What if the single parent who we give our baby [to] turns out to be gay or lesbian? What security or moral upbringing will these children get? Our rules only allow married couples to adopt.
That’s well within the conservative-Catholic doctrine that Teresa espoused her whole life. Sounds holy, right? (Image via catwalker / Shutterstock.com. Large portions of this article were published earlier)