Mother Teresa: Troubled Saint or Pious Fraud?

Mother Teresa (1910-1997)
In her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace
Prize in 1979, Mother Teresa said, “Christ is
everywhere — in our hearts, in the poor we meet,
in the smile we give and in the smile that we
Her correspondence with a series of confessors
she used as psychotherapists suggests that the
woman the Vatican is getting ready to canonize
was, well, lying about her claim that God is
Three months before her Nobel speech, Mother
Teresa confided in a letter to one of her
confessors, Father Michael van der Peet, that
contrary to her Nobel speech, Christ was nowhere
in her life:
“Jesus has a very special love for you,” she wrote
van der Peet. “As for me, the silence and the
emptiness is so great that I look and do not see,
listen and do not hear, the tongue moves [while
she prayed], but does not speak.”
That letter and others she wrote over seven
decades were collected in a book, Mother Teresa:
Come Be My Light, published in 1997 shortly after
her death – and against her wishes to have her
correspondence destroyed.
Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in 1910 in today’s
Republic of Macedonia, she suffered a crisis of
faith that Time magazine said in a review of the
book containing her correspondence seems “as
though it had wandered in from some 1950s
existentialist drama.”
When I read about the Mother Teresa’s disbelief,
the 1961 filmViridiana came to mind. Directed by
the great Luis Buñuel, a Spanish atheist, his
minor masterpiece revolves around a nun who
leaves her convent but continues to do good
works until secular society corrupts her and she
loses her religious moorings.
Mother Teresa lost her way at the moment of her
first triumph. After battling Church bureaucracy,
she finally gained permission to leave her
teaching job in Calcutta and begin tending to the
poor and dying of the city in 1948.
Her mission was divinely inspired she said in
another letter: “I was to leave the convent and
help the poor while living among them.”
What she described as “the call within the call”
came directly from Jesus, who appeared to her on
the cross with orders to leave teaching and
minister to the dying.
Except for a brief period in 1958 that lasted little
more than a month when she regained her faith
after praying to the recently deceased Pope Pius
XII, that was the last Mother Teresa would hear
from God for the rest of her troubled life.
Her cheerful exterior concealed a fear that she
was living a life of deception but not self-
deception. “The smile is a mask, a cloak that
covers everything,” she wrote in a letter to a
spiritual advisor which also described her
“dryness, darkness, loneliness and torture. What

British journalist and author Christopher Hitchens
agrees with her self-admitted hypocrisy. In his
1997 biography of Mother Teresa, The Missionary
Position, Hitchens wrote, “She was no more
exempt from the realization that religion is a
human fabrication than any other person, and
that her attempted cure was more and more
professions of faith could only have deepened the
pit that she had dug for herself.”
An atheist and author of 2007’s God Is Not Great,
Hitchens deplored Mother Teresa’s cozy
relationships with Latin American dictators who
gave money to the nun in the hope that some of
her saintliness would rub off on them and
diminish their reputation as psychopaths. Enver
Hoxha, the Stalinist dictator of her native land,
Albania, was another object of her mystifying
Hitchens wanted to call a 1994 BBC documentary
based on his book Holy Cow, but the producers
objected and changed the title to the equally
inflammatory Hell’s Angel.
In the book and documentary, the investigative
journalist exposed and explored Mother Teresa’s
friendship with the murderous dictator of Haiti,
Papa Doc Duvalier, and her efforts to reduce the
sentence of American swindler Charles Keating,
who had donated more than a million dollars to
her order, the Missionaries of Charity.
Hitchens also criticized his subject’s opposition to
the legalization of divorce in Ireland and her
condemnation of abortion. The nun’s self-
confessed hypocrisy not only involved her lack of
faith but her concept of charity, which Hitchens
felt was relative and unfair.
The dying patients in her hospitals in India
received substandard care, but whenever she
required medical attention, Mother Teresa flew to
the West for state-of-the-art treatment, according
to Hitchens.
If religion is politics by other means, to
paraphrase von Clausewitz’s famous epigram
about war as diplomacy by other means, Mother
Teresa was the religious equivalent of a paleo-
conservative who would have felt at home as a
commentator on the Fox Channel. Besides
condemning divorce and abortion, she opposed
the liberalizing efforts of the Second Vatican
Council in the early 1960s.
In the course of writing his book and the
accompanying documentary, Hitchens was
delighted to find filmed proof of Mother Teresa’s
association with dictators, including footage of
“her groveling to the Duvaliers: licking the feet of
the rich instead of washing the feet of the poor.”
To a non-believer like me, Mother Teresa’s
spiritual torment calls for a psychological
interpretation. If the various priestly confessors
she used as psychotherapists had been trained
psychologists, they might have recognized the
symptoms of depression she displayed in her
In particular, Mother Teresa seems to have
suffered from anhedonia, which the DSM-IV, a
manual of mental disorders, calls “the inability to
find pleasure in previously pleasurable things” – in
Mother Teresa’s case, Jesus.
God had been what she once called her “joy,” but
since 1948 and her crisis of faith, that form of joy
no longer existed in her life.
After winning a prize for charitable works in the
1960s, she wrote to a confessor and armchair
psychologist, “This means nothing to me because
I don’t have Him.”
Psychologists believe that high-achievers, like
politicians who destroy their careers with
inappropriate sexual behavior, feel the need to
punish themselves for success they consider
For my 1997 biography of Sharon Stone, I
interviewed Beverly Hills psychologist Dr. Brian
Miller in search of an explanation for her risky
sexual behavior in public.
Dr. Miller called self-sabotage “getting in your own
way, ruining your self-stated goals” and
nicknamed the behavior “Hugh Grant Syndrome.”
The afflicted, he said, believes, “I don’t deserve
success. I’ve risen too high too fast. I haven’t
paid my dues.” And so a successful individual
punishes himself with behavior that sabotages his
In Mother Teresa’s case, she apparently felt the
need to punish herself for the self-perceived sin of
pride, which she mentioned in at least one letter
and which expressed itself in her desire “to love
Jesus as He has never been loved before.”
Dr. Richard Gottlieb felt that goal was “daring,”
but Mother Teresa condemned it – and herself.
“Any taking credit for her accomplishments is
sinful,” the New York-based psychoanalyst and
teacher told Time magazine in 1997.

The letters in Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light
were collected and edited by Father Brian
Kolodiejchuk, a member of her order. The priest
compiled the book for his job as “postulator,”
someone assigned by the Vatican to petition for a
saintly figure’s canonization.
Despite or maybe because of his atheism, the
Vatican secretly interviewed Hitchens as Devil’s
advocate, someone who argues against
canonization, a job the card-carrying atheist is
eminently qualified for.
For canonization, three miracles have to be
attributed to the intercession of a candidate for
At least one miracle has allegedly been performed
by Mother Teresa according to British author and
political commentator Malcolm Muggeridge, who
made a documentary about the nun in 1969
which contained footage of her hospice in
Muggeridge reported that a “divine light” had
enveloped Mother Teresa while filming. The
documentary’s cinematographer offered a less
inspiring explanation. He had used a new kind of
film stock that compensates for inadequate
When the cameraman tried to explain the halo
effect, Muggeridge interrupted him, exclaiming,
“It’s a miracle, it’s divine light.” A former
agnostic, Muggeridge converted to Catholicism at
the age of 70 after making the documentary and
abandoning his life-long skepticism about religion.
One miracle down, two more to go in the
sainthood sweepstakes.
It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to predict which
advocate, Father Kolodiejchuk or Hitchens, will
prevail in the battle for Mother Teresa’s
posthumous reputation and ultimate destination,
heaven – or if Hitchens and other atheists
believed in the concept – hell.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Pingback: Lorraine
  2. Frances says:

    Mother Theresa is a human being. As a human being, temptations, sin, greed exist, just like you and I. Living in poor conditions of India, her down spirit is being judged by this author. Everybody has good and bad times! I personally think this author has psychological issues….looking for problems, instead of looking at the good she has done. Simply put, a pessimist!


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