Soon-to-be-canonized Mother Teresa was voted by Americans as the most admired person of the 20th century. She is a figure almost universally beloved. Almost.
Mother Teresa has had her critics, during her lifetime and beyond. Author and researcher Bill Donohue has stepped in with a new book published by Sophia Institute Press, which takes aim at rebuking the claims of these critics. Donahue spoke with Angelus News recently about his book, “Unmasking Mother Teresa’s Critics.”
Angelus News: What is the reasoning behind the timing of the book and who is the intended audience?
Donohue: The audience is both the friends and the foes of Mother Teresa. The friends want to know, “Is there anybody out there who has ever answered her critics?” And of course the critics need to be answered because they’ve either lied about her or they have an agenda.
I put it out now is because she is going to be canonized on Sept. 4, and in anticipation of the media always going to the dark side of any good news in the Catholic Church. Some of these people are trying to knock Mother Teresa down a few notches because they don’t like that she has this preeminent status.
There hasn’t been any book out there to really deal with the critics one-on-one. Christopher Hitchens was the most famous critic. He passed away in 2011. There’s been a number of others that have made what I consider pretty cheap shots against Mother Teresa. Unlike Hitchens, who wrote a 98-page book with no footnotes, no endnotes, no bibliography, no attribution at all, just 98 pages of unsupported opinion, I have a short book too. But I actually have more footnotes than I have pages in the book. That’s because I want people to check my sources.
AN: What is the agenda for a critic like Hitchens? Is it just a lack of understanding or are there other motives besides that?
Donohue: I think it is called politics. There’s an agenda here. I went through [the critics] and I thought, “What is it that unites them? What is the common denominator?” Two salient characteristics are clearly marked in these major critics of Mother Teresa. Number one is easy to understand: militant atheists. Not just atheists. You can be an atheist and love mother Teresa. In fact, I point some out in the book. Militant atheists.
The other is that they are socialists. If you put militant atheism together with socialism, you have a problem here. The problem from the socialist mentality that she represents is this: socialists believe that the poor should be helped by the state, by programs. They see voluntary effort as an obstacle to the ambitions of the state. Someone like Mother Teresa — whose volunteerism is faith-based, that it’s because of Jesus that she is out there helping the destitute — that gets their backs up. It is startling, but it happens to be true. They really believe that she is a threat to the ambitions of the state.
She wasn’t opposed to government efforts. She said that if you want to help the poor, you’ve got to love them. That’s not something a bureaucrat is typically going to do.
AN: Is it a lack of understanding of the message of the Gospel and redemptive suffering or that the Gospel is so incompatible with their worldview?
Donohue: She believed in Jesus, she believed in redemption, she believed in redemptive suffering. They don’t believe in Jesus, they don’t believe in redemption and they think redemptive suffering is sick, that there’s something mentally wrong with you.
They resent the concept of altruism. When you talk about the subject of altruism — selflessly giving of yourself to others, expecting nothing in return — let’s face it, most of us can’t do that. She certainly could. People who have been altruists throughout history have typically been faith informed. That’s been the driving force. If you’re a socialist and if you’re an atheist, and you’re very strong on both, people like Mother Teresa represent that altruism which, as far these statists are concerned, is not something they want to tout. There are not too many secularists in history who are known for their altruism.
AN: Can they have any understanding of her faith in redemptive suffering?
Donohue: Let’s say I’m an atheist. The idea of redemptive suffering, that I can unite my sufferings to Jesus, is what historian James Hitchcock has called one of the most radical ideas in history. I can understand an atheist saying, “I don’t get it. I can’t relate to it. There is suffering, but the idea that I can unite my sufferings to Christ is not something that I can identify with.”
We are taught in American society to understand aboriginal peoples who may have customs and traditions which might seem bizarre and strange to us. But not when it comes to Catholics. If [her critics] did, they would make a sincere attempt to look at the world through the eyes of a Catholic who believes in redemptive suffering. Instead, [some] in their arrogance say it is borderline insane to believe such a concept.
That’s one of the main reasons for writing the book. There’s a whole slew of other people who take really cheap shots against [Catholics], so I decided to pull together all of the criticisms lodged against her by the most serious people and take them on one by one, refuting them, taking a look at the evidence. I didn’t skirt one major criticism of Mother Teresa. I took them all on.
AN: How could they claim to understand who she was?
Donohue: [Her major critics] never interviewed a single person who worked with her, not one of the nuns. They never attempted to talk to any of the people whom they helped. They simply put out their own propaganda, making no effort to fact check anything. As a scholar who has written many books, I pride myself on giving documentation. Otherwise you are just left with someone’s unsupported opinion.
Why is it that some people — I’m talking about a tiny minority, many of them in the media, in academia and higher education — have this vendetta against religion in general? Mother Teresa is the greatest exponent of Catholicism that I’ve seen in my lifetime. If you really want to take a shot at Catholicism, you’ve got to take a shot at Mother Teresa. You can’t let that target go. She told the world in 1997 when she got the Nobel Peace Prize that abortion is the greatest violation of peace. Whoa — these people are all pro-abortion.
She represents a threat.
This is a minority of people, admittedly, but they are in influential circles. They are teaching college kids, they are people on radio and TV, they are people in the media. My feeling is that people who are on our side have heard some of this before, but they scratch their heads and say, “Is there any one place where we can go get a fast rejoinder?”
The book is not big. It’s easy to read. People are busy, I respect that. But if you just want to put your hands on something that is well-documented, not just unsupported opinion, that’s what “Unmasking Mother Teresa’s Critics” is all about.