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Mother Teresa was 'anything but a saint,' new Canadian study claims

Mother Teresa of Calcutta attends a Mass celebrating the day of St. Peter and St. Paul in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, in this June 29, 1997 file photo.

PLINIO LEPRI/AP

Mother Teresa may be synonymous with selflessness, but according to a team of Canadian researchers, the Catholic nun was "anything but a saint," the Times of India reports.

In a study to be published this month in Religieuses, a French-language journal of studies in religion and sciences, they suggest the nun's approach to caring for the sick was to glorify human suffering instead of relieving it.

Mother Teresa was lavish with her prayers, but penny-pinching with the wealth amassed by her foundation, according to Serge Larivée and Genevieve Chenard from the University of Montreal's department of psychoeducation, and Carole Sénéchal of the University of Ottawa's faculty of education.

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The beatification of Mother Teresa, which the Vatican completed in October, 2003, is the last step before sainthood.

But according to Larivée and colleagues, the Vatican turned a blind eye to Mother Teresa's "rather dubious way of caring for the sick, her questionable political contacts, her suspicious management of the enormous sums of money she received, and her overly dogmatic views regarding … abortion, contraception and divorce."

Mother Teresa believed the sick must suffer like Christ on the cross, they suggest.

"There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ's Passion. The world gains much from their suffering," the journalist Christopher Hitchens reported her as saying.

(Hitchens referred to her as "a fanaticist, a fundamentalist and a fraud.")

The study authors note that doctors visiting many of the 517 "homes for the dying" run by Mother Teresa observed unhygienic conditions and a shortage of actual care, food and painkillers. Lack of funds were no explanation, since Mother Teresa's order of the Missionaries of Charity had raised hundreds of millions in aid money. When the nun herself was in need of medical treatment, "she received it in a modern American hospital," they point out.

According to Larivée and colleagues, Mother Teresa's image of altruism is a myth. Even so, he acknowledges the power of her extraordinary reputation.

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"It is likely that she has inspired many humanitarian workers whose actions have truly relieved the suffering of the destitute and addressed the causes of poverty and isolation," he said. "Nevertheless, the media coverage of Mother Teresa could have been a little more rigorous."

In death, as in life, there's no rest for the weary.

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About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More

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