Mother Teresa was canonized over the weekend. The atheist blogosphere is all “Mother Teresa failed to help suffering people!” and the pro-life blogosphere is all “Look at all these great pro-life Mother
Teresa quotes!” and I’m in the middle all “Awwwwkward…”
The most serious of the many criticisms against Mother Teresa is that the clinics she ran for the poor in Kolkata failed to meet basic standards, “allowing practices like the reuse of hypodermic needles and tolerating primitive facilities that required patients to defecate in front of one another.” In addition, volunteers allege that “workers with limited medical training administered 10- to 20-year-old medicines with patients, and blankets stained with feces were washed in the same sink used to clean dishes.”
We don’t tolerate those kinds of reports when the subject is Kermit Gosnell, or Planned Parenthood of Delaware, or James Pendergraft, or Stephen Chase Brigham, or… you get the idea. The pro-life movement is quick to condemn unsanitary abortion facilities; failing to address similar conditions when discussing Mother Teresa is hypocritical.
Granted, some problems are to be expected when a medical clinic first opens in a developing country with few resources. Maybe Mother Teresa’s clinic wasn’t any worse than what was already available there at the time. But once you become an international icon and inspire people to donate millions of dollars to the cause, improvements should come swiftly. Instead, it doesn’t appear that serious reforms were implemented until after her death.
I understand why people are hesitant to criticize Mother Teresa. It’s not like I’ve uprooted my comfortable Western life to minister to the most downtrodden people in the world, so how can I possibly judge her? And there’s no question she articulated the pro-life position very well when she famously said: “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want.” Nor was it just talk; her adoption program saved thousands of children from abortion. I don’t want to disrespect anyone who owes his or her life to Mother Teresa’s efforts.
And obviously, if you’re Catholic, everything I’ve just said is amplified by religious loyalty.
The bottom line is that we have to engage honestly with the criticisms. If you dispute the veracity of the allegations, that’s fine; make your case. But don’t just ignore it or chalk it up to “those ridiculous liberals.” Quoting Mother Teresa as a moral authority without any further analysis isn’t going to cut it.