Agnes Gonxha, the Albanian nun who became famous as Mother Teresa, was a political tool of the Vatican, adroit in legitimising corrupt dictators and outright crooks rather than in serving the sick and dying in whose name she earned her enviable reputation and fabulous wealth. Far from being a saviour, she was a suppressor of the poor, according to Christopher Hitchens, author of Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice.
Teresa is currently the subject of scrutiny by Canadian researchers Serge Larivee and Genevieve Chenard of the University of Montreal’s department of psychoeducation and Carole Senechal of the University of Ottawa’s faculty of education. The trio debunks her sainthood as the creation of an orchestrated media campaign, a fact that Der Spiegel and author Aroup Chatterjee have long exposed as the brainchild of BBC documentary filmmaker Malcolm Muggeridge. Many have since attributed Teresa’s sustained glorification as part of Cold War propaganda regarding the ‘humanitarian face’ of the West as opposed to the stodgy harshness of the Soviet bloc.
One of Christopher Hitchens’s most startling exposes of Teresa pertain to her association with Robert Maxwell and Charles Keating, Jr. The flamboyant Maxwell somehow involved her in a fund-raising scheme run by his newspaper group, the Mirror Group. He then made off with the money. In fact, after his death it was revealed that he had even misappropriated the group’s pension fund. Many wondered how Mother Teresa had time to spare for such a wicked man.
Actually, she was exceedingly generous with her time when it came to rich (and dubious) persons. In the 1980s, Charles Keating (sentenced to 10 years in jail for his role in the Savings and Loan scandal, then among the greatest frauds in American history) set his eyes on the savings of small investors. Five US Senators doled favours to him in return for huge campaign donations disguised as other people’s money.
Keating donated $1.25 million to Teresa at the height of his success, though not out of his own pocket. He gave her the use of his private jet. Teresa, on her part, permitted Keating to exploit her prestige and gave him a personalised crucifix which he carried everywhere. But in 1992, after several political and financial crises, Keating was finally brought to trial. It was certain he would receive the maximum sentence permissible under California law.
Teresa made a dramatic intervention in the trial, writing to Judge Lance Ito for clemency for Keating, but omitted to mention her original involvement with him. Clearly expecting her reputation to do the trick, she said, “We do not mix up in Business or Politics or courts. Our work, as Missionaries of Charity is to give wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor. I do not know anything about Mr Charles Keating’s work or his business or the matters you are dealing with. I only know that he has always been kind and generous to God’s poor, and always ready to help whenever there was a need. It is for this reason that I do not want to forget him now while he and his family are suffering. Jesus has told us ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brethren … YOU DID IT TO ME’. Mr. Keating has done much to help the poor, which is why I am writing to you on his behalf. Whenever someone asks me to speak to a judge, I always… ask them to pray, to look into their heart, and to do what Jesus would do in that circumstance. And this is what I am asking of you, your Honour.”
The false innocence of this appeal riled Paul Turley, Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles, who was one of the prosecutor’s in the case. He crafted a response on his own initiative and as a private citizen, which he sent to Teresa.
This letter, which was made available to Christopher Hitchens exclusively, states, inter alia, “I read your letter to Judge Ito, written on behalf of Mr Keating, which includes your admission that you know nothing about Mr Keating’s business or the criminal charges presented to Judge Ito. I am writing to you to provide a brief explanation of the crimes of which Mr Keating has been convicted, to give you an understanding of the source of the money that Mr Keating gave to you, and to suggest that you perform the moral and ethical act of returning the money to its rightful owners.
“Mr Keating was convicted of defrauding 17 individuals of more than $900,000. These 17 persons were representative of 17,000 individuals from whom Mr Keating stole $252,000,000. Mr. Keating’s specific acts of fraud were that he was the source of a series of fraudulent representations made to persons who bought bonds from his company and he also was the repository of crucial information which he chose to withhold from bond purchasers, thereby luring his victims into believing they were making a safe, low-risk investment. In truth and in fact, their money was being used to fund Mr. Keating’s exorbitant and extravagant lifestyle.
“It is not uncommon for ‘con’ men to be generous with family, friends and charities. Perhaps they believe that their generosity will purchase love, respect or forgiveness. However, the time when the purchase of ‘indulgences’ was an acceptable method of seeking forgiveness died with the Reformation.
“You urge Judge Ito to look into his heart – as he sentences Charles Keating – and do what Jesus would do. I submit the same challenge to you. Ask yourself what Jesus would do if he were given the fruits of a crime; what Jesus would do if he were in possession of money that had been stolen; what Jesus would do if he were being exploited by a thief to ease his conscience?
“I submit that Jesus would promptly and unhesitatingly return the stolen property to its rightful owners. You should do the same. You have been given money by Mr Keating that he has been convicted of stealing by fraud. Do not permit him the ‘indulgence’ he desires. Do not keep the money. Return it to those who worked for it and earned it! If you contact me I will put you in direct contact with the rightful owners of the property now in your possession.”
Needless to add, Turley received no reply from Teresa. This episode bears repetition as it is the best documented evidence of the hypocrisy and priorities of the person being fast-tracked to sainthood by a Church challenged by sexual and financial scandals.