Indian lawmaker says Mother Teresa should be stripped of civilian honour over baby-trafficking scandal

Mother Teresa photographed in New Delhi, India, Aug. 25, 1993.
Mother Teresa photographed in New Delhi, India, Aug. 25, 1993. AP Photo/File

It’s been nearly 40 years since Mother Teresa was conferred India‘s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India), but there are growing calls for the accolade to be rescinded.

Last week, Indian authorities said they busted a baby-trafficking racket in a shelter run by the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order set up by the late Albanian-Indian missionary in 1950.

Child welfare authorities said a nun and one other person linked to the charity were selling babies to childless couples for between $550 and $1,450.

READ MORE: Nun who worked in home run by Mother Teresa’s order charged with baby trafficking

It’s the latest in a litany of scandals that have largely simmered beneath the surface for decades, but now threaten to explode in full view, with high-profile figures linked to India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leading the charge to revisit Mother Teresa’s legacy.

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On Thursday, Subramanian Swamy, a senior BJP MP, said Mother Teresa’s Bharat Ratna award should be rescinded if the Missionaries of Charity group is found guilty.

“I 100-per-cent support it,” Swamy told India Today when asked if he was in favour of rescinding the honour posthumously if the allegations are proven true.

Police stand outside a home which provides shelter for pregnant unmarried women run by the Missionaries of Charity, Ranchi, India, July 4, 2018.
Police stand outside a home which provides shelter for pregnant unmarried women run by the Missionaries of Charity, Ranchi, India, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Swamy said his stance wasn’t merely influenced by the baby-trafficking scandal, saying he saw it as the last straw in a long line of criticisms levelled at Mother Teresa over many years.

He cited her loyalty to the late American financier Charles Keating, who was convicted of swindling millions of dollars from small investors in the 1980s — Teresa’s charity benefited greatly from Keating’s donations, and she even wrote to a California Superior Court judge seeking clemency for Keating on account of his being “kind and generous to God’s poor,” according to a letter published by Christopher Hitchens in his book, “The Missionary Position.”

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Keating was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in prison, but only served a third of the sentence before his conviction was overturned on a technicality. He died in 2014, two years before the Catholic Church pronounced Mother Teresa a saint.

WATCH: Mother Teresa declared a saint by Pope Francis

Click to play video: 'Mother Teresa declared a saint by Pope Francis'
Mother Teresa declared a saint by Pope Francis

“I’m saying, if you have multiple examples of criminality by Mother Teresa, why should she be a person who should be celebrated in our country?” Swamy told India Today.

“We are not rubbishing the entire [Mission]. We are rubbishing the so-called ‘saint’ status of Mother Teresa.”

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Indian critics aren’t the only ones to have challenged the acclaim afforded to Mother Teresa, however.

In 2013, a trio of Canadian academics published a scathing critique, titled “The dark side of Mother Teresa,” in which they said her beatification in the media was at odds with her true character.

Their review, published in the journal Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses, listed a number of allegations.

READ MORE: Is Mother Teresa worthy of sainthood? Some researchers don’t think so

They included Mother Teresa’s tendency to glorify human suffering at the cost of providing proper care to the poor, her ties with dubious political figures (including the Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier), her dogmatic stance on abortion, contraception and divorce, and her habit of being “very generous with her prayers, but rather stingy with millions of her foundation in the sufferings of humanity,” among other complaints.

Mother Teresa famously spoke out against abortion in her acceptance speech at the 1979 Nobel Prize ceremony, calling it “a direct murder by the mother herself.” You can watch the video of her speech below.

The basis of Mother Teresa’s canonization by the Catholic Church has also come under dispute.

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Eligibility for sainthood requires at least two posthumous miracles — Mother Teresa’s first “miracle,” her supposed role in curing a Kolkata woman of a stomach tumour, has been contested by the woman’s husband and doctors, who said it was medical treatment rather than miraculous intervention that saved her life, as reported by The Hindu and TIME in 2002.

The second miracle attributed to Mother Teresa was the inexplicable cure of a Brazilian man who was suffering from brain infections, his sudden recovery in 2008 attributed to his wife’s prayers to Mother Teresa.

READ MORE: Pope Francis approves miracle needed to make Mother Teresa a saint

Mother Teresa and her NGO have found support in some quarters in India, however.

Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal state (which includes Kolkata) and a political rival of the BJP, accused the BJP of being “malicious” in trying to tarnish Mother Teresa’s reputation.

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The Bishop of the Archdiocese of Ranchi, the city where the baby-trafficking reportedly took place, rubbished the allegations against the Missionaries of Charity, accusing the government of a “deliberate attempt to malign” the organization, The Times of India reported.

A spokesperson for the Missionaries of Charity told India Today that the allegations were “nonsense.”

On Saturday, Indian police shared a clip of a nun confessing to the sale of three babies, NDTV reported.

— With files from Reuters

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