Mother Theresa no saint? Australian theologian’s controversial new thesis

Australian theologian Dr Rollan McCleary has again gone where angels fear to tread and issued a critique of the late nun Mother Theresa, suggesting she is not a viable candidate for sainthood.

The Catholic Church’s most famous nun in modern times died in a much publicized crisis of faith, but McCleary argues it was a crisis largely of her own making. He’s published a challenging essay and poem on Mother Theresa, arguing that she treated patients appallingly in the belief that suffering was an expression of God’s love.


“Is it possible MT pursued romantic visions of suffering at people’s expense? It looks like a love of poverty (arguably even plain selfish amid the self-flagellating humility) plus inflexible attachment to fanatical private vows making herself and nuns  “victims of Christ’s love” dedicated to living like beggars, prevented use of medicines and modern equipment put at the order’s disposal.

“Not only did the Mother oversee a primitive system of care with effects some thought scarcely better than Belsen (and how can one, even dare one, presume to tell someone dying of cancer that the pains they endure were Jesus kissing them, an expression of the extreme of his love), but the fact is a kind of idolatry got mixed up with the whole enterprise. Especially someone claiming, at least originally, to be totally dedicated to “saving souls” for Jesus, would not need to be guilty of advising patients to pray to other gods (Life in the Spirit, pp 81-82) – she herself celebrated the 25th anniversary of the foundation of her order by praying in front of a Buddha image. (In Catholicism you can’t be divorced or gay but even those in line to be saints can practice what Judaeo-Christian tradition ranks as idolatry!).  MT might have expected her “lover”, Jesus, to prove a “jealous God” on that subject and turn from her.

“The possibility of real failures of character and belief in MT should be so obvious it’s astonishing devotees have not seen it. Failure to do so nonetheless belongs to the quiet, almost Christian-atheist revolution MT launched and which is somewhat echoed today in Pope Francis’ notions of a poor church for the poor and a heaven for atheists and free forgiveness for almost everyone whether they want it or believe it or not.  Basically MT undermined the whole notion of mission in favour of the idea religion is almost nothing but works of charity. Like the Dalai Lama who declares, “My religion is kindness”, there is now no faith (“without which it is impossible to please God” Heb 11:6) to talk about. A new and effectively heretical world faith (an apocalyptic possibility where Christianity is concerned) is born and Mother Teresa, who said she wasn’t interested in heaven and couldn’t imagine going there, is the patron saint of that, no more, no less,” writes McCleary on his blog.

In one telling extract from his poem, McCleary openly links Mother Theresa’s claim of demonic affliction shortly before she died, with her abandonment of preaching the Gospel in favour of simply doing good works:

At night, there’s more torment, my sleep
Is disturbed , some claim, and I fear, from
Devils I need a good priest to expel.
Everywhere I see Jesus. He’s the bread
On the altar, he’s the sick on the streets
He’s the reason I declare to all peoples
Please never abort – no different I say
From murdering God, for God’s every thing,
Though nowhere I feel him in heart or
In mind despite all the places we know
That he hides. I’ve said I love all religions,
And your vicar, oh Jesus, has agreed that
Wherever we feel that there’s truth
There it is, and on that we should build.
When Hindus are dying I tell them just
Pray to your gods and to Buddhists the same
While the Muslims who know Allah as God
I tell them pray to him too. No belief should
Divide us, all are children of God. I care nothing
For saving of souls, salvation’s secured by
Just doing good. Our missions are missions
Of mercy, we have faith God is just
So Jesus, I hope I have earned a good place
Why is it you seem to betray every trust?

McCleary is no stranger to controversy. Another essay in 2007 examined John Lennon’s belief in Hell.