ROLE MODELS: Che Guevara and Mother Teresa
Let us now praise famous men,
and our fathers in their generations.
The Lord apportioned to them[a] great glory,
his majesty from the beginning.
There were those who ruled in their kingdoms,
and were men renowned for their power,
giving counsel by their understanding,
and proclaiming prophecies
Thus wrote in Alexandria around 200's BC the scribe Yeshua Ben Sira. The praising of famous men (and some women) has hardly diminished over time. We continue to admire people who, in our eyes, have done great deeds, gained honour, followers and respect.
We are looking for role models whose behaviour, acts and success might help us to be admired as well; desirable and wealthy. We want our role models to be perfect, without flaws or mistakes. If anyone questions their perfection we might become furious and disparage the culprit who raised doubts about our heroes´ greatness. Without the radiance of these powerful role models our lives would perhaps appear as overly drab. In 1840 Thomas Carlyle wrote in his book On Heroes, Hero Worship, and The Heroic in History:
We cannot look, however imperfectly, upon a great man, without gaining something by him. He is the living light-fountain, which it is good and pleasant to be near. The light which enlightens the darkness of the world […] a natural luminary shining by the gift of Heaven; as I say, of native original insight, of manhood and heroic nobleness; – in whose radiance all souls feel what is well with them.
Nevertheless, is not human perfection a contradiction, an impossibility? After all, a role model has to be human, how else could we admire her/him? Seneca stated that to err is human, and added that persisting in error (out of pride) is diabolical ̶ Errare humanum est, perseverare diabolicum. I' have met more good than evil people, and for some of them I have felt great admiration, not because they were any superior beings ̶ on the contrary, I admired them for their humility, their sincere and unconditional kindness.
Many do not share my opinion. They want to preserve their unblemished role models and worship them as some kind of demigods. When, at one point, I had told a radical teacher colleague that Che Guevara was not really a saintly person, he became furious and busted out that it was people like me who made the lives of our students gloomy and pointless: "They are in dire need of someone to admire. A hero, someone who has realized his ideals, fought for them and been prepared to die for them. A Che Guevara!" "But, was he not a mortal person, with a commons man's fault and flaws." "Not at all! Jean-Paul Sartre admired Che and unlike you he had even met him. Sartre knew his Che."
"Do you know what he wrote about him?" "No." "Come over here and I´ll show you." The colleague waved me over to his desk and after intensive googling he found his favourite quote. He read it aloud:
You know how much I admire Che Guevara. In fact, I believe that the man was not only an intellectual but also the most complete human being of his age: as a fighter, a theoretician who from his personal experience in battle was able to carry out this struggle.
Smiling triumphantly he asked: "Well, what do you have to say about that? Sartre wrote it when he had received the message about Che´s tragic death." I shrugged my shoulders: "Sartre is not my idol either." Apparently, my colleague thought my reply was too dumb to merit his anger: "You're completely hopeless. Is there any human here on earth that you cannot avoid slandering?" "Probably not."
Something similar did occur not so long afterwards. It found myself together with a close friend rowing on the lake close to our house in Bjärnum. She suddenly expressed her great admiration for Mother Teresa, stating she considered her to be kindness and compassion incarnated. When I pointed out that I doubted her boundless perfection, while mentioning some of the criticism that had been directed towards the Saint of the Gutter. My friend got extremely upset: "People like you. Those who criticise the deeds of good people and attack saints deserve to burn in hell." Her words scared me. Why this unrestrained anger about doubting human divinity? Mother Teresa certainly had many meritorious qualities, but was she a saint? What do I know? I did not even know her.
Another friend of mine who had observed my inclination to find beauty spots among the virtuous also became annoyed with me, muttering: "You are completely impossible. You always find flaws with those who are better than us. I cannot help wondering if it is due to some kind of inferiority complex. For sure you are able to badmouth people like Mahatma Gandhi and the Dalai Lama.” "Surely I can, probably because I admire them and thus seek their human side. Something I can identify with.” One of my favourite quotes is Terentius´ dictum Homo Sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto, "I am human, and thus I consider nothing human alien to me."
Let us try to find what is human being behind the grace. Grace? I mean those traits that make us special. God's grace, charis, which makes some of us being born with a natural talent ̶ music, art, mathematics. Those who have been chosen to become geniuses; a Mozart, a Piero della Francesca, an Einstein, who through their talents rose high above the grey masses. Who had received gift of grace, the charisma which makes us admire them, want us to be close to them, to follow them.
But charisma is not always a gift from God, it may also originate from power. I remember how one of the many bosses I have had, once became lyrical when she praised her superior, the organization's highest manager: "I do not know how to convey my extreme admiration to her, yes ... my love." To me it sounded quite absurd, admittedly the lady in question was elegant and had a knack for languages, but was that enough cause for "loving" her? I assume it was her power that added an additional shine to her personality and dazzled my immediate boss, who was already weak for authority, kow-towing upwards and trampling downwards.
The time I have spent at other organizations has convinced me that great power provides sturdy charisma. A good friend of mine once told me that he had become utterly tired of his almighty boss:
Power has made him perfect in his own eyes. Most people speak badly about him, but in his presence his slanderers soften and express their boundless admiration of any banality that passes his lips. You seek an audience with him as if he is the sole ruler of universe and if you do not represent the donors, or is a senior manager, it is highly unlikely that he will express any interest in seeing you, even less listening to you. But, I assure you that as soon as he has retired and left his position to another demigod, he will become at least as powerless as you and me. All the boundless admiration that once was showered over him will have melted away like last year's snow and nobody will care about him anymore.
It was the sociologist Max Weber who succeeded in releasing the concept of charisma from the religious sphere and began applying it to leadership in other areas as well, though still including religion. He explained charisma as:
[A] certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader ... How the quality in question would be ultimately judged from an ethical, aesthetic, or other such point of view is naturally indifferent for the purpose of definition.
A charismatic person easily becomes the prey of the great appreciation s/he obtains and may thus imagine that s/he really is an extraordinary personality. If you are admired for your views and actions, it is quite natural that you find them all to be completely correct and that your behaviour thus is morally blameless. Your opinions should be adapted by all for everyone's wellbeing. A consequence of such thinking is that it tend to fuel exceptional energies, accompanied by inner and surprisingly stubborn convictions, not limited by anxieties and sense of guilt that tend to plague so many of us common mortals, who are not at all being convinced about our own excellence.
Che Guevara and Mother Teresa were certainly not like most of us. In their case, we may undoubtedly speak of charisma. They have been of great importance and are probably rightly admired. However, they were not any faultless deities and I cannot help but suspecting that they developed an element of narcissism in their personalities.
A few years ago, I read John Lee Anderson's comprehensive biography of Che Guevara. In Anderson's book, the well-known revolutionary appears as an utopian dreamer. Determined and quite reckless Che fought to achieve his predetermined goals and also tried to force others to follow him in the same direction. He was prepared to kill those he considered to be harmful to himself and others.
I am not Christ or a philanthropist, old lady, I am all the contrary of a Christ.... I fight for the things I believe in, with all the weapons at my disposal and try to leave the other man dead so that I don't get nailed to a cross or any other place.
Many years ago, I sat in a bar within a mid-sized Latin American town together with a now deceased, good friend of mine. We shared a couple of beers and some cubanitos when this widely appreciated medical doctor and devoted family man suddenly confessed:
̶ I've never been particularily content with my life.
̶ How come?
̶ I would have loved to be a better man than the one I have ended up to be. To do something for humanity ... to be like Che Guevara.
I have often come to think about this confession, especially since the man who made it was a good, compassionate person. Afterwards I have met and talked with peasants in Latin American conflict areas and also got to know some former guerrilla warriors. Several of them confessed that they were now doubtful if the armed struggle had really been worthwhile. If all sacrifices and victims had been necessary. Had they really not had a different choice than the one they made? It had meant a lot of suffering and grief, bad conscience and injury to innocent people. Can a revolutionary really have and love a family? Can s/he love as ordinary men and women do? Must the revolutionary struggle have to be carried with weapons in hand? Is violence necessary? These doubts did not come from a denial that they were fighting against oppression and injustice. But?
In Guatemala, I met refugees who told me how armed men had arrived in their villages and since they had been dressed in camouflage clothing, the villagers initially thought they were government soldiers. The peasants had been excited when the warriors gathered them in the square, declaring they were entitled to their own land and that great landowners would be driven away, while oppressors would be punished for their injustices. However, the "liberators" proved unable to keep their promises. It all ended with disaster. The guerrilla noised about that they had freed "huge areas", but all they had done was to "speak some rubbish” and establish "revolutionary committees", perhaps even execute one and another "profiteer" and “class enemy”, only to retreat and leave the field open for the regular army.
The Government forces had been considerably stronger, mightier and more ruthless than the guerrilla. The soldiers claimed that the poor peasants and day labourers had become "communists", that they worshiped the Antichrist. They murdered and tortured them, burned their fields. What could they do? They asked their priests for help, but the Government accused the Church of being guilty of manipulating the peasants by prattling about some ”liberation theology”, that Jesus had been on the side of the poor. The soldiers even slaughtered the priests. A villager told me how they one morning had found the parish priest's severed head laying on the church steps. Some peasants joined the guerrilla, others organized militias to keep the guerrilla at a safe distance:
Several of them were our own sons and daughters, but what could we do? As soon as the guerrilla appeared and began to preach its socialism, the army came and the guerrilleros flew. They were much weaker than the army and we were left alone to be slaughtered. The only solution we could find was to arm ourselves and with weapons in hand ask the guerrilla to stay away from our villages. Nevertheless, all over the world the Leftists declared that we were supporting a corrupt, oppressive regime. We found ourselves between two fires, solutions were almost non-existent.
In El Salvador and Peru, I listened to similar stories. Particularily upsetting was when I was told that both Government forces and the guerrillas used children and adolescents to fight their battles:
Children and adolescents are much more obedient than older people. They do what you tell them to do and take without thinking much greater risks. In addition, we needed a proper and constant supply of food and shelter. The peasants worked in their fields and provided us with food, while their children and young people struggled with us, thus securing their parents´ support.
In El Salvador, I talked to a young woman who by her war experiences had been physically and psychologically injured.
It was terrible. I have seen friends and comrades torn apart, mutilated, killed and harmed for life. I myself am injured in many different ways. My father was forced to do everything the freedom fighters demanded. He gave me away to them. I fought for them. I escaped back home. They came to pick me up. I cried and screamed, clinging to one of the veranda poles, but my father said I had to come back to them, otherwise my whole family would be killed as traitors.
What I heard in the Latin American countryside transformed my former revolutionary romanticism into something more complicated than I had previously imagined. The fight for freedom and justice ended up in the background. At the centre were misery, fear, violence and random killing. People who had fought with weapons in their hands told med how violence bred violence. The first kill was the hardest one, then it became a lot easier. Several assumed that it was far more practical to kill an enemy and traitor than to let him/her live.
I now read about Che Guevara in a different manner than I had done before. The asthmatic kid whose hypersensitivity forced him to be bedbound for long periods, compelled to reading and dreaming of adventures in the big world. A longing that later made him practice football and rugby, always with the inhaler close at hand. Fighting against his physical weaknesses, educating and disciplining himself, constantly fighting his disabilities with winning charm and willpower. Relentlessly appearing to be virtuous and strong, while convincing himself that others' appreciation made him healthier and that he through his fitness and sharp intellect could help others out of their misery.
In 1958 we find Che in Cuba's jungle-covered mountain ranges, in the Sierra Maestra in the southern parts of the island. Fidel Castro's guerrilla forces had captured Eumetio Guerra, a peasant who previously had been their comrade in arms, but finally had been convinced that for thousand pesos he could reveal his companions´ hideout to Fulgencio Batista's troops. Among the guerrilleros it had been agreed that such a crime must be punishable by death. But, who was willing to kill Eumetio?
Che wrote in his diaries that at all costs he had to prove himself strong, being an example for his combatants. Not avoid any responsibility. At the same time, he acknowledged that it was important for the asthmatic leader to discipline himself, strengthen his willpower. Should an execution prove to be an excessive blow to his sensitive conscience? As before, it was about testing himself. To kill Eumetio did not prove to be particularly difficult and several executions followed, it was not the last time he shot someone in the back of his head:
The situation was uncomfortable for the people and for Eutimio Guerra so I ended the problem giving him a shot with a .32 pistol in the right side of the brain, with exit orifice in the right temporal [lobe]. He gasped a little and was dead. Upon proceeding to remove his belongings I couldn´t get off the watch tied by a chain to his belt, and then he told ne in a steady voice farther way than fear: “Yank it off, boy, what does it matter …..” I did so and his possessions were now mine. We slept badly, wet and I with something of asthma.
A simple, cool statement by a cold-blooded executioner, though with several unique details. Was it the medical doctor's instinct that prompted Che to point out that the shot went through the right “temporal lobe” and out through the left? And what does the strange incident with seizing Eumetio's clock indicate? In any case, Che found that the killing did not make him feel as bad as he had feared.
Che was a writing person and it appears that he used his diaries as the basis for literary creation, perhaps he also intended them to be published. Several years later, he wrote a story about his execution of Eumetio and had it published in a Cuban journal. He called his literary anecdote A traitor's death. I found that story telling considerably brighter than the original diary entry. Gone was the factual, chilly description of a real event, being replaced by a romanticising whipped cream about a traitor who, before his execution acknowledged the grievous sin of betraying his revolutionary duty for money and asking his executioners to tell the truth to his children and take care of them. Che's depiction of Eumetio's last minutes in life was overly dramatic:
A heavy storm broke and the sky darkened. In the midst of the deluge, lightning streaking the sky, and the rumble of thunder, one lightning bolt struck followed closely by a clap of thunder, and Eutimio Guerra's life was ended. Even those compañeros standing near him could not hear the shot.
When he wrote the article, Che Guevara had taken an active part in the settlement of disputes with the former regime's soldiers and henchmen. On the first of January 1959, the southern city of Santiago fell to Fidel Castro's guerrilla troops and the day after they entered the capital, La Havana. The search for Batista officials and supporters began immediately. Che became the highest in command for cleansing the army. Previous experiences from Guatemala had convinced him that this country's radical regime's fall had been due to the fact that it had treated the earlier defeated Army too mildly.
Now the Cuban revolutionaries had to clean out the weed as quickly as possible. Che became commander of the La Cabaña fortress by the entrance to the port of Havana, where most of the old regime conformists who had been captured in the capital were detained. For two months, under the supervision of Che, at least fifty-five prisoners were executed. He was also responsible for the estimated five hundred and fifty executions that later followed in the rest of Cuba.
Opponents to the Castro regime have been accused of grossly inflating the number of death sentences, though the above figures seem to have been more or less accepted by the current regime. They are at least defended by John Lee Anderson who found that virtually all executions were preceded by regular trials, although Che always had the last word. According to Anderson, Che Guevara did not appreciate his power over life and death, but considered it to be a necessity.
The life of a single human being is worth a million times more than all the property of the richest man on earth.
Che had always been prepared to die for his convictions and expected other soldiers, whether they were among the Cuban military or the rebels, to consider their obligations in the same way as he did. This was the result of his struggle in Sierra Maestra. Exactly the same rules for loyalty and justice are applicable for whatever task you have and the task of a soldier was to kill his enemy:
Hatred is an element of struggle; relentless hatred of the enemy that impels us over and beyond the natural limitations of man and transforms us into effective, violent, selective, and cold killing machines. Our soldiers must be thus; a people without hatred cannot vanquish a brutal enemy.
In this context, it must be acknowledged that Che's killing spree was different from Cuba's present First Secretary of the ruling Communist Party and former president of the country - Raúl Castro, brother of Fidel. For example did Raúl eleven days after the revolutionary forces had conquered Santiago de Cuba, without trial order the execution of at least seventy-two individuals. They were forced to bow down in front of tombs previously dug at the height of San Juan, just outside the city. Raúl personally gave the coup de grâce to several of the victims and after the massacre bulldozers refilled the pits. In the picture below we see how Raúl blindfolds a man who is to be executed. In 1966, the mass graves were opened and the bodies thrown into the sea.
Che Guevara subsequently became Minister of Finance and also travelled around the world to promote Cuba's good reputation and personally contact various world leaders. He was as always charismatic and eloquent. On December 11, 1964, he gave a controversial and eloquent speech at the UN General Assembly in New York. However, Cuba's economic policies had proven to be disastrous and it was not only the United States´ embargo that had caused the bad results. Despite his efforts and theoretical knowledge, Che was not a keen administrator and, unlike Castro, he had become increasingly sceptical of the Soviet influence over Cuban politics. Che was more inclined to support China's Maoism.
After visiting the UN, Che travelled to Africa where he visited Congo Brazzaville, Guinea, Dahomey, Ghana, Tanzania and Egypt. The trip ended with his good friend Ben Bella in Algiers. This last visit coincided with the fact that Che was participating in the organizing committee for a major Afro-Asian conference, a sequel to the legendary Bandung conference held ten years earlier. However, the timing was unfortunate. Ben Bella, who led Algeria after the country´s liberation from France, had like Che tried to implement a host of reforms aimed at autogestion, i.e. making the nation largely self-sufficient.
Large farms had been collectivized and, like Cuba that existed in the dark shadow of a hostile US, Algeria found itself in the shadow of the old, repressive, colonial power of France, and, like in Cuba, the Algerian economy was dwindling. Ben Bella´s regime had become increasingly dictatorial. He was accused of acting in an increasingly eccentric and arrogant manner. He was actively encouraging a cult of himself and spent more time on foreign affairs than domestic politics. Four months after Che´s departure for Cuba, Ben Bella was overthrown in a coup.
Ahmed Ben Bella was like Che Guevara a war veteran and a revolutionary. He was also a football fan, though a significantly better player than Che. Both liked to shine on the international stage, but failed as economists. Perhaps Che had a notion of what was threatening Ben Bella´s stay in power. In a speech he gave to the Afro-Asian committee, he acknowledged his failure as a finance minister:
We have had to learn from practice, by our errors… one cannot plan everything when the economic conditions present do not allow it… The revolutionary leaders consisted only of a group of fighters, with high ideals but insufficient knowledge… The superstructure of the capitalist neo-colonial state was intact; we had to work to destroy it and to rebuild our society.
Warfare was far easier; to give and follow orders, be killed or kill. After his return to Cuba, Che Guevara disappeared from view. Only after seven months, Fidel Castro published a letter of resignation in which Che terminated his official tasks, requested his withdrawal from the Communist Party and gave up his Cuban citizenship. Che and Fidel denied that it was a suicide letter. Che was committed to support the world revolution. In a later letter, Che wrote to his parents: ”Once again I feel beneath my heels the ribs of Rocinante”. Rosinante was Don Quijote's wretched horse and like the Knight of the Rueful Countenance Che had given up the world of comforts for a futile battle against the evils of oppressing powers.
After seven months of unsuccessful guerrilla fighting in Congo's jungles, ”we can't liberate by ourselves a country that does not want to fight”, Che ended up in Bolivia where he finally met his death. When his resignation letter was published, the Cuban troubadour Carlos Puebla wrote a beautiful and sentimental song in Che´s honour. While listening to it I come to think of Thomas Carlyle's light-dazzled hero worship:
Aprendimos a quererte
Desde la histórica altura
Donde el Sol de tu bravura
Le puso cerco a la muerte
Aquí se queda la clara
La entrañable transparencia
De tu querida presencia
Comandante Che Guevara.
From the historic heights
we learned to love you,
where the sun of your bravery
put siege on death.
Here remains the clear
and endearing transparency
of your beloved presence,
Commander Che Guevara.
Mother Teresa's admirers are, generally speaking, to be found in a different sphere than Che's devotees. When someone wants to point out that s/he is not a flawless self-sacrificing saint, it has become common to say: "I´m not Mother Teresa".
Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu came as a nineteen nun from the Macedonian town Skopje to Calcutta, where she became a teacher, principal, founder of a nun order, a widely admired Christian humanist and advocate of the poor and helpless. A life course that ultimately brought her to the Nobel Peace Prize and after her death ̶ sainthood. She decided to devote her life to the poor, the humiliated, the needy, after having received a revelation during a train journey. A voice told her: "Come be my light. I cannot go there alone - they don´t know me, so they don´t want me. Go down among them, carry me with you."
Her order, Missionaries of Charity, is currently active in 610 places in 123 nations, where it administers nursing homes and shelters for people with leprosy, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS (despite the fact that Mother Teresa once declared that AIDS was "a fair retribution for indecent sexual acts"). Mother Teresa travelled around the world, not only to proclaim her Christian faith and to find generous donors, but also to help the poor and distressed. She visited victims of starvation of Ethiopian camps, Chernobyl radiance sufferers in Ukraine and earthquake victims in Armenia.
What I write here is not due to an intention to deny the faithful their belief in a saint like Mother Teresa, though I cannot avoid mentioning my surprise when I during a visit to Haiti in 1981 on television saw how Mother Teresa received a medal from the dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier and as a token of appreciation embraced him, while celebrating his Christian faith. I was shocked and disgusted. How was this even possible? The Duvalier regime, the son had taken over the dictatorship after his even more sinister father, kept the entire country in a grip of terror. Even I and Rose had already encountered a representative of the infamous Ton Ton Macoute, Duvaliers´ private militia, when we arrived in Port-au-Prince, a harrowing experience.
This was something that did not match my former appreciation of this dedicated woman, a declared saint already during her lifetime. I read Malcolm Muggeridge's book Something Beautiful for God and found his hagiography to be almost suffocating, probably a reason to why I appreciated Christopher Hitchens´s The Missionary Position as a fresh breeze, in spite of his boundless contempt for Mother Teresa and the establishment that supported her probably was far too defiant, though so far, I have not come across any account that effectively debunks Hitchens´s quite outrageous statements.
Some of Hitchens´s attacks on the pint-sized nun, with worn feet and wrinkled face, seem to be unfair, particularly considering her magnanimous efforts to relieve the suffering of the poor, the outcasts; our unacknowledged misers. Her driving force was to win souls for God. Aging and dying people were gathered up in the slums and brought to Mother Teresa's charity institutions. In her Home of the Dying patients were asked if they wanted "a ticket to heaven". If they agreed the Sisters of Mercy made the sign of the Cross above them, put a soothing cloth with water on their foreheads and silently pronounced words: ”I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
On several occasions, Mother Teresa explained that her principal aim was to increase the number of Catholics and that she thus was abiding to Jesu´s mission command:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
This was an essential part of Jesus' teaching. Had He not, after all, declared that ”the poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me?” Mother Teresa explained:
I'm not a social worker. I don't do it for this reason. I do it for Christ. I do it for the church.
She found some kind of beauty in poverty; a message from God:
I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.
Not at all! No one have to be comforted by suffering, though many use it to their own benefit. I read the novel by Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance, which partially takes place in 1975-1978, during the so-called Emergency, when Indira Gandhi ordered mass sterilization, imprisonments without court decisions and the demolition of vast slum areas, resulting in arbitrary police violence and torture. When asked about these draconian actions Mother Teresa replied: "People are happier. There are more jobs. There are no strikes."
Perhaps she was right, but the poverty that Mistry depicts is not at all beautiful. It is a tough struggle for survival, where the weakest draw the shortest straw. A section of his impressive novel describes how a legless beggar praises his Beggarmaster's creative imagination.
His work is not easy, there is much to do. He pays the police, finds the best place to beg, makes sure no one takes away that place.
This cynical profiteer cares for his servants, making them participate in his "Theatre of Misery". He provides them with suitable parts within his miserable spectacle, designs their costumes and instructs them how to care for their wounds:
Also, Beggarmaster has to be very imaginative. If all beggars have the same injury, public gets used to it and feels no pity. Public likes to see variety. Some wounds are so common, they don´t work anymore. For example, putting out a baby´s eyes will not automatically earn money. Blind beggars are everywhere. But blind, with eyeballs missing, face showing empty sockets, plus nose chopped off -- now anyone will give money for that. Diseases are also useful. A big growth on the neck or face, oozing yellow pus. That works well.
The Indian medical doctor Aroup Chatterjee, who for several years had been active in Calcutta's slums, resented Mother Teresa's cult of suffering. After visiting several of her mission houses and interviewing nuns and patients, he did in 2002 write a book called The Final Verdict. What he had found to be particularly upsetting was an appalling lack of hygiene. For example, hypodermic needles were reused after rinsing them in hot water, the nuns and volunteers from all over the world had received inadequate medical education, physicians were insufficient, diagnoses and follow-up were rudimentary and in accordance with Mother Teresa´s notions about the "healing power of pain", painkillers were used extremely sparingly.
A journalist who for some time served as a healthcare provider at Mother Teresa's Calcutta establishments was equally shocked by the conditions and wrote that the nursing homes “seem to be warehousing people rather than caring for them."
Chatterye's data were later confirmed by a Canadian study published in 2013, which furthermore pointed out that Mother Teresa´s foundation refused to undergo independent auditing processes and that the use of the million-dollar provisions given to her organization were not at all reported. This is remarkable, especially since the standard of the Organization's worldwide homes for the sick and dying, generally speaking, does not correspond to the quality expected considering the large sums they are expected to invest. Economizing and simplicity were a and o in all of Mother Teresa´s endeavours. However, the Canadian scrutiny found that, as far as the scope of the organization's activities in Calcutta was concerned, it was not in line with what most other charities active in the city were achieving.
Lack of proper accounting for the use of donated funds has been a constant nail in the eye of Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa's organization. Why are they not upgrading the care they are providing within their various establishments? Susan Shields, formerly active within the Mother Teresa´s organization, reported in 1997 that just within their New York account the Missionaries of Charity had no less than more than 50 million USD and she was surprised that so much money was allowed to be dormant within accounts in different financial institutions (the US accounts were just a part of other global savings).
In this context, it has often been pointed that Mother Teresa voluntarily approached suspicious individuals and tended to defend them in various dubious contexts. As an example, the British media magnate Robert who was sentenced to pay back £ 450 million that he had misappropriated from his employees' pension funds.
When multi-billionaire Charles Keating in 1989 was accused of earning more than 10 billion on bankruptcy and racketeering, Mother Teresa wrote to the judge:
Whenever someone asks me to speak to a judge, I always tell them the same thing. I ask them to pray, to look into their heart, and to do what Jesus would do in that circumstance.
She also weighed in that Keating ”has been kind and generous to God's poor, and always ready to help whenever there was a need.” San Francisco's public prosecutor answered her:
No church, no charity, no organization should allow itself to be used as salve for the conscience of the criminal. We all are grateful that forgiveness is available but we all, also, must perform or duty. That includes the Judge and the Jury. I remind myself of the biblical admonition of the Prophet Micah: “O man, what is good and what does the Lord require of you. To do justice, love, mercy and walk humbly” […] 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 keep the money. Return it to those who worked for it and earned it!
Paul Turley's letter remained unanswered. In view of Mother Teresa's visit to Baby Doc I also wonder why she during her visit to Albania in 1991 allowed herself to be praised by Nexhmije, the brutal dictator Enver Hoxha´s widow:
Mother Teresa was a true patriot. A great Albanian. She showed the world how to help the poor and devoted her life to the neediest without interfering in political issues. Just like any religious leader should do. [...] I don't believe in God. I'm a Marxist. I believe in man and in the people. But we liked Mother Teresa. You know, she felt at home here. She came with an open mind and praised our achievements.
Well, why not? Although Mother Teresa was born in Macedonia, her mother tongue and both parents were Albanian. She would furthermore be obliged to express gratitude for a generous offer of economic support to her foundation of a nursing home for the poor in Tirana. But, was it really necessary for her to place flowers on Enver Hoxha's grave? Hoxha, who initiated his totalitarian regime by the execution of seven Franciscans and Jesuits, after which he banned all religious practice and sentenced remaining priests and monks to detention, torture and often death, within his various concentration camps.
Among the few who survived this unimaginable anguish was the Jesuit Anton Luli, who after 42 years of Albanian punishment and imprisonment died in Rome in 1998. During Hoxha's 41 years in power, about 5,000 Albanians are estimated to have been executed by the country's secret service, Sigurimi, and by the dictator´s death 35,000 Albanians were detained. It has been argued that of Albania's three million inhabitants, one million had at some time during their lifetime been imprisoned by the regime. No opposition was accepted. Hoxha's long-standing Prime Minister, Mehmet Shehu, declared:
Who disagrees with our leadership in some point, will get a spit in the face, a blow onto his chin, and, if necessary, a bullet in his head.
Á verdict entirely in line with his leader's great appreciation of Stalin:
We Albanian communists have successfully applied the teachings of Stalin. […] His rich and very valuable experience has guided us on our road and in our activity.
Immediately after Mother Teresa had left the country, Nexhmije Hoxha was arrested for planning a coup. In 1993, she was sentenced to nine years in prison for embezzlement of state assets, though due to her advanced age she was released after four.
Mother Teresa wholeheartedly supported the Church hierarchy. The popes´ fixation to sexual morals have been allowed to influence almost all of the Vatican´s stances about women´s equality, policies about abortion and the use of contraception. The latter has even been regarded as a rebellion against God's will and thus a form of murder. Probably, this provides an explanation to why such a good and merciful woman as Mother Teresa considered abortion to be a greater crime than even executions and warfare. Maybe that was also a reason to why she could be forgiving towards outrageous killers like Hoxha and Duvalier?
I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? … By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems.
This apparent cruelty towards despairing mothers and the merciful attitude that thus is displayed regarding irresponsible men and sexual offenders, which may be discerned behind Mother Teresa´s statements may seem to be softened by the comforting words that Mother Teresa's friend, Pope John Paul II, gave to women who had suffered an abortion:
The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly.
Nevertheless, I cannot help finding the same inclination behind both statements – a biased condemnation of women. The logic of equalling abortion with murder might, in accordance with my opinion, be a reason to extremely strange utterances like the one provided by Benedict XIV, who stated that:
There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.
Obviously, it is difficult to establish boundaries between Jesu´s teaching and ethical/moral issues. In addition to the persistent scandals of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, most recently in Pennsylvania where 300 priests have been accused of child molestation, which harass the Vatican, it is furthermore forced to deal with recurrent irregularities within its bank ̶ IOR, the Institute of Religious Operations. Great mystery surrounds this very specific bank and its transactions. With reason it has been labelled "the world's most secrete bank”.
When IOR in 1968 lost its Italian tax-exempt status the financial giant Michele Sindona was hired to diversify its investments. With its extensive global network and worldwide, difficult to track commitments to charity, an activity that is often tax-exempt and not as strictly controlled as other types of business, IOR was unfortunately an excellent source for money laundering. It soon became known that Sindona had frequent contacts with the Mafia and other fuzzy stakeholders engaged with Italian murky politics and wealthy financial circles.
When the Pole Karol Wojtyła in 1978 was elected as pope, Paul Marcinkus was appointed head of IOR. Marcinkus was born in Chicago to Lithuanian parents and he already knew Wojtyła quite well. Lithuania has historically been a part of Poland and the acting pope Wojtyła relied on the athletic and outward Marcinkus as a friend and confidant, especially as a support against the indigenous Italian hierarchy of the Curia. Many members of the Holy See regarded the energetic Pole as an alien whose energetic manner of dealing with business and minutiae threatened to destroy their centuries-old control of the Vatican and its finances.
Marcinkus was strong, cynical and experienced. Once upon a time, he had personally saved Wojtyła´s life when a crazy priest armed with a bayonet had attacked him in Fatima in Portugal. Marcinkus´s nickname within the Vatican was The Gorilla. Marcinkus was well aware that economic power brings social and political strength, "Ave Marias´ cannot run a Church". Under Marcinkus´s leadership IOR's became increasingly powerful. For God´s Greater Honour money was welcomed from all directions. Unfortunately, it ended in disaster when Marcinkus had become increasingly involved in various dubious affairs, resulting in murder and bankruptcy. Italian authorities demanded Marcinkus´s extraction, but he continued to be protected by his friend Karol Wojtyła, who obviously appreciated how IOR´s increasing funds could be used in his struggle against communism, not the least in his native Poland. However, in 1990 the situation became unsustainable and the Vatican succeeded in enabling Marcinkus´s return to the United States, where he died in 2006 and into his grave brought with him a host of unpleasant secrets.
Dark shadows of these economic irregularities continue to hover above the Vatican and have led to speculations about a presumed assassination of John Paul I and Benedict XVI´s resignation, both events associated to their inept efforts to control IOR.
In 2013, Pope Francis inaugurated a commission to gather information about IOR´s legal status and to monitor the various activities the Bank. Remarkably, a laity woman has been chosen to participate in this commission. However, Mary Ann Glendon, a law professor from Harvard and the United States´ ambassador to the Vatican, is hardly a libertine. In 1995 she represented the Vatican at the Women's Conference in Bejing, where she obtained great attention through her statement that
The Holy See in no way endorses contraception or the use of condoms, either as a family planning measure or in HIV/AIDS prevention programs.
When the Boston Globe in 2002 received the Pulitzer Prize for its disclosure of Catholic priesthood´s sexual offenses, she stated that this reward was quite in line with "giving Nobel Peace Prize to Osama bin Laden." Despite the conservative views shared by all members of the IOR Commission, many Catholics hope that it will eventually succeed in washing up all the dirty linen enclosed in IOR's valves.
In January this year, the journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, who focuses on scandals related to the Vatican and furthermore apparently counts upon fairly reliable sources within this secretive State, published a book revealing that a large part of IOR's capital derives from funds destined to Madre Teresa´s foundation:
The funds held in Mother Theresa's name on behalf of her charity had made her the Bank's biggest client, and amounted to billions. Had she made substantial withdrawals, the Bank would have risked default.
Nuzzi claims that he is not aware if the same large amounts originating from Mother Teresa's organization are still with IOR. The Vatican has neither confirmed nor refuted Nuzzi's allegations. Catholic bloggers with contacts within the Vatican have only commented that they do not understand Nuzzi's concerns, after all "the money is intended for charity purposes." However, Nuzzi believes that the presence of the large sums deposited by the Missionaries of Charity within the IOR may be one of the reasons to why donors have not seen more impressive results of their gifts than expected.
Heroes and role models are probably a necessity. They make life easier and more exciting. However, to condemn those who do not believe heroes and heroines are divine, is in my opinion an idiotic mistake. Every human phenomenon should be examined and if a hero cannot come away from such a scrutiny entirely unscratched this does not at all mean that s/he is despicable. On the contrary, it provides a human dimension to our role models and make it easier for us regular mortals to understand them. To find deficiencies in heroes´ behaviour and in the goals they support and try to reach, like totalitarian communism, or conservative dogmatic Catholicism, does not mean that we deny their personal sacrifices, the inspiration and strength the provide, their preaching of equal worth of each and every one, or the importance of demonstrating compassion and acting to bring about something good. However, let us not forget Jesu´s own words:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
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