This article was published in the "Editor's File" in
The Textbook Letter, November-December 1998.

She Wasn't My Mother

William J. Bennetta

She never met a dollar she didn't like. She was ignorant and superstitious, but she never lacked for craftiness or cunning. She spouted slogans about compassion and humility while she built a commercial empire and a personal cult by exploiting the poorest of the poor. With help from publicity agents and a phony "miracle," she became an international celebrity and used her fame to promote the Vatican's political aims. She was Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Mother T died in 1997, but the mythic persona which she and her handlers had so assiduously cultivated is still alive. It is even being promoted in McDougal Littell's high-school textbook World History: Patterns of Interaction (1999). Look at this:

One of the most highly respected activists who attended [the United Nations' 1995 conference on the status of women] was the Albanian missionary Mother Teresa. She devoted her life to caring for the poor and sick. In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts on behalf of the homeless on the streets of Calcutta, India. Although she died in 1997, her mission continues to reach more than 25 countries worldwide. [page 955]

For shame! If students need to learn anything about Mother T in a world-history course, they need to learn some truth -- not some claptrap copied from a devotional press release.

Teachers who want to inform their students about Mother T should consult Christopher Hitchens's delectable little book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, published in 1995 by Verso (180 Varick Street, New York City, New York 10014). Hitchens describes what really happened to destitute people who fell under the "care" of Mother T and her Missionaries of Charity. He also exposes Mother T's commercial methods and operations, in some detail, and he describes her connections with such scoundrels as Charles Keating, Robert Maxwell, the Duvalier family, and John-Roger. (John-Roger was the proprietor of a cult called the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness, and he was fond of declaring that he possessed a "spiritual consciousness" superior to that of Jesus Christ. This might have rendered him repellent to many Catholic nuns, but it didn't faze Mother T or keep her from relieving John-Roger of $10,000.)

Hitchens's account of Mother T's alliance with Charles Keating is particularly illuminating. In the early 1980s Keating ran a bogus thrift institution -- Lincoln Savings and Loan -- and specialized in swindling small investors. During the heyday of that operation, Keating gave more than $1 million to Mother T her and organization, while Mother T, in return, allowed Keating to exploit her fame and prestige in his public-relations maneuvers.

Lincoln Savings and Loan eventually collapsed, and in 1992 Keating was brought to trial in Los Angeles. Mother T then sent to the trial judge a letter in which she sought clemency for Keating and exhorted the judge to "do what Jesus would do." The judge didn't reply, but a deputy district attorney, Paul Turley, did. After Keating was convicted of fraud, Turley wrote to Mother T and pointed out that the money which she had received from Keating was, in fact, money that Keating had stolen. Turley then urged Mother T to ask herself what Jesus would do in such a situation, and he offered to help her return the money to its rightful owners. He never got an answer.

William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.


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