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Every once in a while, the news gives one pause for thought.

Consider the recent story of the El Salvadoran nun in Italy who gave birth and didn’t realise she was pregnant. What are we to think?

The International Business Times (IBT) reports that the nun gave birth to a baby boy, whom she named after the Pope. The report then discusses parthenogenesis — from the Greek parthenos (virgin) and genesis (birth) — but cites a qualifier from the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that whilst some species of animals are capable of it, it is significantly much less likely that humans are. Oddly, BMJ researchers do not seem to rule it out. Fortunately, they maintain that the probability of it occurring in women is infinitesmal. Furthermore, mammals capable of parthenogenesis give birth to females.

In most cases of alleged ‘virgin births’, it is an attempt to conceal the circumstances behind the pregnancy.

The Virgin Mary’s case was an exception.

The IBT says that the nun, a member of the order of The Little Disciples of Jesus, intends to care for the baby herself. This is surprising. One would have thought that the Mother Superior would ask her to give the child up for adoption. A nun didn’t used to be able to take independent decisions on many aspects of her life as they would also affect the community — religious order — of which she was a part.

However, this is the 21st century and, for better or worse, times are changing. So are members of religious orders.

There are few more uplifting films for family viewing than The Sound of Music, a heartwarming and moving story about the famous von Trapps.

However, the reality was probably not as comforting as much of the film.

Last year, comedienne Sue Perkins wrote an article for the Christmas issue of Britain’s Radio Times (most of it television listings!) in which she investigated the von Trapp story, particularly Maria (Julie Andrews’s character). (The article, ‘Who Was the Real Maria?’, appeared in the 22 December 2012 – 4 January 2013 issue on pages 55 and 57).

Miss Perkins assures readers that she

went in search of the real von Trapp narrative

which was shown in her television programme Climbed Every Mountain: the Story behind the Sound of Music, which aired on December 29, 2012.

Not having seen the documentary, I am not in a position to comment, although there are a few points which struck me about the difference between Perkins’s account, real life and the film.

Baron von Trapp

Georg Johannes von Trapp was a highly decorated officer in the Austro-Hungarian Navy in the Great War (1914-1918). After the war ended in 1918, the Austrian Emperor

in order to avoid having to give the fleet to the victors … gave the entire Austro-Hungarian Navy and merchant fleet, with all harbours, arsenals and shore fortifications to the new State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. They in turn sent diplomatic notes to the governments of France, the United Kingdom, Italy, the United States and Russia, to notify them that the State of SCS was not at war with any of them and that the Council had taken over the entire Austro-Hungarian fleet.

Prior to this, the home port for the Austrian Navy was in Venice, with a supplementary base in Trieste (yes, present-day Italy). Once the Austro-Hungarian Empire was formed, the new naval home transferred to Pola (now Pula, Croatia) with another important base in Fiume (now Riejka, also in Croatia).

Before the First World War, a naval race was occurring amongst the most powerful European countries who were rivalling each other for the greatest seapower technology. It was as important then as the arms race is today and had much to do with the escalation of the war.  Another similarity between the two eras is that later developers, as it were, were able to purchase and improve on the original technology of their future enemies.

Any parent whoGeorg von Trapp Wikipedia 200px-Georgvontrappse child is at a loss for a term paper subject for History class would do well to suggest writing about the Austro-Hungarian Navy and its acquisition of the equipment and improvement on the technology of Germany and Great Britain in this regard. This is an excellent example of history repeating itself. As it was 100 years ago, so it is now — with different players.

Back to the Baron. His father August was also a decorated naval officer. It was through him that the family were elevated to the Austrian nobility. The men would inherit the title of Ritter — Knight, in English.

With regard to fatherhood — more about which below — it should be pointed out that the von Trapp children were unhappy with the Baron’s portrayal in The Sound of Music. Although he had known war and commanded a submarine, privately he was a warm and doting father. He was also interested in music, a pastime he fostered in his children. (See the Winter 2005 issue of Prologue Magazine for the National Archives (United States), ‘The Real Story of the Von Trapp Family’.)

Agathe Whitehead

Four years before the First World War, Georg Johannes was given the command of the Austro-Hungarian Navy’s new submarine, the SM-U6. It happened to be christened by Agathe Whitehead,  the granddaughter of the inventor of the torpedo, an Englishman, Robert WBaron von Trapp Agathe Whitehead Wikipedia 220px-Whitehead-Agather_1909circahitehead.

Soon afterward, Baron von Trapp married Agathe Whitehead, who was also a niece of Sir John Brodrick, 1st Earl of Midleton. As mentioned earlier, in the postwar period, the borders were redrawn, resulting in Austria’s becoming a landlocked country. As a result, von Trapp no longer had a job. It was his wife’s wealth which largely kept the young von Trapp family afloat during this time, and they continued to live in Pola.

Early in their marriage, Agathe lived in the Austro-Hungarian home port of Pola. There, she bore the Baron the first of their two children, Rupert and Agathe. Their other children were born in Austria.

In September 1922, young Agathe contracted scarlet fever. The Baron’s wife, Agathe, contracted it from her and died.

Maria Augusta Kutschera

After the Agathes — mother and daughter died — another daughter, Maria Franziska, fell ill and could not attend school. The Baron, with seven children, decided to hire a tutor. By this time, they lived outside of Salzburg, Austria.  The Baron sold the house in Pola.

The Baron enquired at Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg to find out if any of the Benedictine Sisters were available to teach his daughter at home.

Nonnberg Abbey, incidentally, is the oldest women’s religious house in the German-speaking world.

Maria_von_Trapp_2 WikipediaThe convent sent a young teacher who had graduated from the State Teachers College for Progressive Education in Vienna at age 18, in 1923. Maria Augusta Kutschera was a postulant and had every intention of pursuing her vocation.

However, in obedience to her Benedictine superiors, she went to the Baron’s home and eventually taught not only Maria Franziska, but the other children as well.

An important note about Maria’s childhood: Most of us probably thought that young Maria had her eyes set on the convent from an early age. However, Joan Gearin, an archivist at the National Archives and Records Administration, Northeast Region–Boston, wrote in 2005 (emphases mine):

Maria Augusta Kutschera was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1905. She was orphaned as a young child and was raised as an atheist and socialist by an abusive relative. While attending the State Teachers’ College of Progressive Education in Vienna, she accidentally attended a Palm Sunday service, believing it to be a concert of Bach music, where a priest was speaking. Years later she recalled in her autobiography Maria, “Now I had heard from my uncle that all of these Bible stories were inventions and old legends, and that there wasn’t a word of truth in them. But the way this man talked just swept me off my feet. I was completely overwhelmed.” Soon after, Maria graduated from college, and as a result of her religious awakening, she entered the Benedictine Abbey of Nonnberg in Salzburg as a novice. While she struggled with the unaccustomed rules and discipline, she considered that “These . . . two years were really necessary to get my twisted character and my overgrown self-will cut down to size.”

However, her health suffered from not getting the exercise and fresh air to which she was accustomed. When Georg von Trapp approached the Reverend Mother of the Abbey seeking a teacher for his sick daughter, Maria was chosen, partly because of her training and skill as a teacher, but also because of concern for her health. She was supposed to remain with the von Trapps for 10 months, at the end of which she would formally enter the convent.

It is this repudiation of socialism and atheism, I suspect, which grates with the aforementioned Sue Perkins, who tries to make Maria out to be a liar. Perkins doubts Maria’s abuse at the hands of her uncle, casting aspersions on a priest accompanying the von Trapps to America (see below) and on her autobiography in general.

The Baron was quite taken with Maria’s handling of the children. Maria was not without her foibles — and who doesn’t have them? — among them a quick temper. However, Maria was also exacting with the children, cultured and a devout Catholic. Her character as written for the late Mary Martin (Larry Hagman’s mother) and by Julie Andrews did not entirely reflect Maria as she was in real life.

He soon fell in love with her and proposed marriage, which shocked young Maria, who was only 18 at the time she went to the von Trapps. Maria had already made up her mind that she wanted to devote her life to our Lord.

I had two aunts who were nuns and if this turn of events had happened to them, they would have thought likewise. At this point, I would add — for the benefit of the Sue Perkinses of this world — that my aunts enjoyed sports, were popular at school and had boyfriends. They led ‘normal’ lives but decided that the world was not for them. They freely sought the convent — with no family pressure — and pursued the religious life.

The Baron’s proposal put Maria in a serious quandary. Naturally, she discussed the matter with her superiors. The Mother Abbess explained that Maria was meant to follow God’s will; the unstated subtext being that perhaps He wanted a different life for her than she had envisaged. What is it that John Lennon once said? ‘Life is what happens when you’re making other plans’.

Maria returned to the von Trapps and accepted the Baron’s proposal. They were married in 1927. She later wrote that:

on her wedding day she was blazing mad, both at God and at her husband, because what she really wanted was to be a nun: “I really and truly was not in love. I liked him but didn’t love him. However, I loved the children, so in a way I really married the children. . . . I learned to love him more than I have ever loved before or after.”[7]

Financial and political difficulties

The Baron’s first wife, Agathe, had left him money deposited in a bank in London. During the early 1930s, Austrian banks were in economic trouble because of hostile pressure from Germany. To help a friend involved in Austrian banking, he withdrew his savings from England and transferred it to an Austrian financial institution.

Around 1935, that Austrian bank collapsed, leaving the von Trapps penniless. The Baron, distraught by this turn of events, nonetheless did not want to humiliate his family by seeking work. However, the family had sung together and were good enough, Maria thought, to take their act on the road.

She engaged the services of a Catholic priest, the Revd Franz Wasner, as their musical director. Wasner moved into the family home. In 1936, they came to the attention of Austrian luminaries of the day and began earning a living by singing in public. They would eventually tour Europe, giving concerts.

That same year, the Baron was offered another naval commission as Captain, this time for Germany (not the Third Reich, as Austria was not yet under its control). Whilst considering the offer, he happened to see Adolf Hitler and other officers behaving raucously in Munich. He turned down the offer. The political wind was changing, and the Baron decided that it was time for the von Trapps to leave Austria.

As I mentioned above, the pre-war national boundaries were quite different. By the 1930s, the Baron’s birthplace was part of Italy. It was for this reason that the von Trapps left for the United States for their first tour there via Italy, where the Baron and his family were considered to have citizenship. Contrary to The Sound of Music, they were able to leave for Italy by train.

After their singing tour in the United States, they sailed back to Europe for a series of concerts in Scandinavia in 1939. They sailed from Norway to return to the United States, which produced a glitch at immigration on Ellis Island:

apparently because when asked by an official how long they intended to stay, instead of saying “six months,” as specified on their visas, Maria exclaimed, “Oh, I am so glad to be here—I never want to leave again!” The Story of the Trapp Family Singers notes that they were released after a few days and began their next tour.

By this time, the Nazis had confiscated the family’s Salzburg property and they had many bad memories of National Socialist policies, among them:

They were also becoming aware of the Nazis’ anti-religious propaganda and policies, the pervasive fear that those around them could be acting as spies for the Nazis, and the brainwashing of children against their parents. They weighed staying in Austria and taking advantage of the enticements the Nazis were offering—greater fame as a singing group, a medical doctor’s position for Rupert, and a renewed naval career for Georg—against leaving behind everything they knew—their friends, family, estate, and all their possessions. They decided that they could not compromise their principles and left.

Also, there was, in addition to the persecution of their children’s Jewish classmates and their families:

the advocacy of abortion by both Maria’s doctor and by her son’s medical school

Hmm. Sounds like the present day in Western countries.

There is much more to read about how the von Trapps — with the exception of the Baron, who died in 1947 — acquired American citizenship, and most of us know how successful their family business has been since the 1950s.

It seems that had Sue Perkins had done a bit more research into the von Trapps, her documentary would have been somewhat different. Yet, perhaps that is not what Perkins or the BBC wanted. It appears that this programme was an attempt to paint Christians as liars. Certainly, Perkins’s article reads as such.

The von Trapps were survivors. They were also philanthropists for Austrians affected by the war. They have brought happiness to many people over the past 70 years. What is there to criticise?

Nothing other than a God-fearing, Catholic family which survived without compromising their principles or their faith.

Further reading:

Georg Johannes von Trapp – Wikipedia

Maria von Trapp – Wikipedia

The Sound of Music – Wikipedia

‘The Real Story of the von Trapp Family’ – Prologue Magazine (National Archives)

It’s been six months since I’ve posted on the Church of Gaia, so what follows are a few news items of interest.

First, though, who would want to dump a little lamb in a wheelie bin?  The link carries a photo of the beautiful little creature found on Wednesday of Holy Week.  He was trying to kick his way out of the bin.  Amazingly, he was fine apart from an ulcerated eye, for which he is being treated.  He is now with an RSPCA foster carer.  Someone, though, is responsible for putting the lamb in the bin, and the RSPCA are asking for help in finding that person.

Now, on to the Church of Gaia. One could say their creed is the leftist mantra ‘people will have to die’, because as far as many Communists and utopians are concerned, it is the only way of achieving nirvana on this planet.

As many of us suspected, those energy-saving lightbulbs are downright unhealthy. They not only turn your house into a hazchem site if one breaks, but now it transpires they could also cause cancerFrom the Telegraph (emphases mine):

Peter Braun, who carried out the tests at the Berlin’s Alab Laboratory, said: “For such carcinogenic substances it is important they are kept as far away as possible from the human environment.”

The bulbs are already widely used in the UK following EU direction to phase out traditional incandescent lighting by the end of this year.

But the German scientists claimed that several carcinogenic chemicals and toxins were released when the environmentally-friendly compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) were switched on, including phenol, naphthalene and styrene.

Andreas Kirchner, of the Federation of German Engineers, said: “Electrical smog develops around these lamps.

“I, therefore, use them only very economically. They should not be used in unventilated areas and definitely not in the proximity of the head.”

Vorsprung durch technik.  We never had these problems with incandescents, did we? I understand that they are still available if one does an online search for ‘heat balls’.  Incandescents do warm a room.  These new environmentally-friendly ones are not only potentially dangerous but wallet-emptying as well.  They are not meant to be turned on and off but must stay on for long periods of time in order to be economical.  Do a bulk order for the incandescents whilst you can.

Next, 1960s cult leader and convicted murderer Charles Manson, 76, is deeply concerned about climate change. Now what does that tell us, boys and girls? The Telegraph gives us a few bon mots from his recent interview for the Spanish edition of Vanity Fair magazine:

Referring to the crimes for which he was sentenced to death, a penalty later commuted to life imprisonment when California abolished the death penalty, Manson said: “I live in the underworld, I’m very mean, I’m a very bad man

During the interviews with Spain’s Vanity Fair magazine, published on Tuesday, he said: “You have to accept yourself as God. You have to realise you’re just the Devil just as much as you’re God, that you’re everything and you’re nothing at all.”

Refusing to discuss whether he still posed a danger to society ahead of a parole review scheduled for next year, he instead warned of a “greater danger” – that of global warming.

Everyone’s God and if we don’t wake up to that there’s going to be no weather because our polar caps are melting because we’re doing bad things to the atmosphere,” he said.

“The automobiles and fossil fuels are destroying the atmosphere and we won’t have air to breathe.

“If we don’t change that as rapidly as I’m speaking to you now, if we don’t put the green back on the planet and put the trees back that we’ve butchered, if we don’t go to war against the problem …” he added, trailing off.

Note how he believes the theosophical, New Age notion that each of us is divine.  This is called pantheism, and it is a heresy. Charles Manson is the best advert yet against adopting New Age and environmentalist beliefs.  Quick, someone tell Oprah, because she has done more than many — through the magical media of television and the internet — to spread this nonsense.  Read my posts from April 2011 on Oprah and Eckhart Tolle and Oprah and New Age beliefs. Another post from the same week ties together the common threads between New Age, environmentalism and Communism:  ‘Theosophy, New Age, the Venus Project and Zeitgeist films’.  Also tied in with that is what I call secular pietism.

And neatly encompassing all this is Bolivian President Evo Morales’s new edict — in line with UN policy — to give rights to Mother Earth, Gaia. (He was not the first, Ecuador paved the way, so to speak, in 2008.) The Daily Mail reports (be sure to note the comments beneath the article — staggering):

Bolivia is drawing up a draft UN treaty which would give Mother Earth the same rights as humans, including the right to life, to pure water and clean air …

It aims to establish 11 new rights for nature which include: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.

Bolivia’s large indigenous population is ruled by Latin America’s first indigenous president Evo Morales, who was elected in 2006.

Morales is an outspoken critic in the UN of countries which are not prepared to limit climate change by holding temperatures to a 1C rise.

Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN, Pablo Salon, says his country seeks to achieve harmony with nature, and hinted that mining and other companies would come under greater scrutiny …

The radical new conservation measures have been drawn up to reduce pollution and control industry.

In a pamphlet circulated soon after his election Morales drew up 10 ‘commandments’ as part of Bolivia’s plan to save the planet, beginning with the need ‘to end capitalism’

The treaty is part of a complete restructuring of the Bolivian legal system and has been heavily influenced by a resurgent indigenous Andean spiritual world view which puts the environment and the earth deity known as the ‘Pachamama’ at the centre of all life.

The draft of the new law states: ‘She (the Pachamama/Mother Earth) is sacred, fertile and the source of life that feeds and cares for all living beings in her womb.

‘She is in permanent balance, harmony and communication with the cosmos. She is comprised of all ecosystems and living beings, and their self-organisation.’

There is so much to say on this.  First, Bolivia’s president is openly Marxist.  From Wikipedia:

Morales is an outspoken supporter of the iconic Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, who was executed by CIA-assisted Bolivian soldiers in 1967. On October 8, 2009, at a ceremony in Vallegrande, marking the 42nd anniversary of Che’s death, Morales remarked that “Guevara is invincible in his ideals, and in all this history, after so many years, he inspires us to continue fighting, changing not only Bolivia, but all of Latin America and the world.”

Second, Morales practices a syncretism of Incanism and Roman Catholicism.

Third, has he stopped to think about how his people will be fed if the Bolivian economy slows down as a result of these new measures?  For as long as I can remember (Maryknoll was the first magazine I started reading as a small child), the indigenous Bolivians have been among the world’s poorest people.  They need more food than they can raise and they also need better basic healthcare.  I guess it will continue to be up to the missionaries to provide both.

Finally, he obviously doubts the ability of God to care for and rejuvenate the Earth.  Granted, as the article states, Bolivia has had natural disasters and some parts of it have been ruined by invasive mining techniques.  However, there is not only a prediction of natural disasters before the end of the world but also a call to repentance, as Jesus stated in Matthew 24.

Unfortunately, the Catholic Church is complicit in the cult of Pachamama, especially among nuns. Yes, by all means, industry and we as individuals should be taking care of our surroundings, but a cult of Gaia and Communism isn’t going to solve those problems.  In fact, the inevitable result will be that people — those beings with souls — die.  And that would be tragic, indeed.

‘You shall not murder’ (Exodus 20:13) — which Jesus also said (Matthew 5:21, Matthew 19:18, Mark 10:19 and Luke 18:20).

Yesterday’s post introduced some disturbing insights into the late ‘holy’ nun, Mother Teresa, about whom little of a critical nature has been written.

Why that is, we do not entirely know.  However, as we saw yesterday, the woman suffered a continuing crisis of faith for most of her life, caused her own Sisters to suffer, hoarded vast sums of donations in a bank account and did little to care for the sick and needy.

Today, we look at what others have found out about this candidate for Catholic canonisation.  (Today’s photo is courtesy of cardinalseansblog.org.)

Some of the people mentioned in today’s post were introduced in yesterday’s, so if you missed Part 1, you might wish to read it before continuing.  Emphases mine below.

An investigative reporter’s shock

If you live in the UK, you have no doubt seen Donal McIntyre’s investigative documentaries.  McIntyre was raised a Catholic and was growing up when Mother Teresa’s community was making world headlines.  He believed her to be a good, generous and holy woman.  So, imagine his surprise when he went to Calcutta to see her community’s work first hand.

Writing for the New Statesman after filming a 2005 documentary for Channel Five, he tells us:

I worked undercover for a week in Mother Teresa’s flagship home for disabled boys and girls to record Mother Teresa’s Legacy, a special report for Five News broadcast earlier this month. I winced at the rough handling by some of the full-time staff and Missionary sisters. I saw children with their mouths gagged open to be given medicine, their hands flaying in distress, visible testimony to the pain they were in. Tiny babies were bound with cloths at feeding time. Rough hands wrenched heads into position for feeding. Some of the children retched and coughed as rushed staff crammed food into their mouths. Boys and girls were abandoned on open toilets for up to 20 minutes at a time. Slumped, untended, some dribbling, some sleeping, they were a pathetic sight. Their treatment was an affront to their dignity, and dangerously unhygienic.

Volunteers … did their best to cradle and wash the children who had soiled themselves. But there were no nappies, and only cold water. Soap and disinfectant were in short supply. Workers washed down beds with dirty water and dirty cloths. Food was prepared on the floor in the corridor. A senior member of staff mixed medicine with her hands. Some did their best to give love and affection – at least some of the time. But, for the most part, the care the children received was inept, unprofessional and, in some cases, rough and dangerous. “They seem to be warehousing people rather than caring for them,” commented the former operations director of Mencap Martin Gallagher, after viewing our undercover footage …

I was shocked. I could only work there [Daya Dan] for three days. It was simply too distressing. . . We had seen the same things in Romania but couldn’t believe it was happening in a Mother Teresa home,” one told me. In January, she and her colleague had written to Sister Nirmala, the new Mother Superior, to voice their concerns. They wrote, they told me, out of “compassion and not complaint”, but received no response. Like me, they had been brought up in Catholic schools to believe that Mother Teresa was the holiest of all women, second only to the Virgin Mary. Our faith was unwavering, as was that of the international media for about 50 years. Even when the sister in charge of the Missionaries of Charity’s Mahatma Gandhi Welfare Centre in Kolkata was prosecuted and found guilty of burning a young girl of seven with a hot knife in 2000, criticism remained muted.

What to say?  Yes, Mother Teresa had died in 1997, but as we read yesterday, she had not exactly imbued her Missionaries of Charity with an ethos for compassion, mercy or healing.

Whilst McIntyre acknowledges that some poor and painful medical practices stopped, many other things had not improved:

One nurse told me of a case earlier this year where staff knew a patient had typhoid but made no effort to protect volunteers or other patients. “The sense was that God will provide and if the worst happens – it is God’s will.

her homes are a disgrace to so-called Christian care and, indeed, civilised values of any kind. I witnessed barbaric treatment of the most vulnerable.

If God provides money which is used for appropriate medical care and the patient dies, that’s one thing.  But if God provides and the order does nothing with His provisions (i.e. via donations), then it is at fault — grievous fault.

Before she started the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa was a Loreto sister.  Some of my readers have had Loreto sisters for teachers and speak very highly of them years later.  Teresa had to gain permission from the Catholic hierarchy to establish her own order over 60 years ago.

Yet, not all those from the Loreto community wished her well.  From the Times (London) archive (not behind the paywall, incidentally):

Accusations and rumours spread among the Loreto nuns and the Daughters of St Ann. Mother Teresa confided to the Archbishop of Calcutta, the Most Rev Ferdinand Périer:I am well compared to the Devil, and the work as his work and so on. Someday all will be clear. I love Loreto just as much if not more now as I did for so many years. I pray for them often, and their ‘persecution’ makes me love my new vocation more.”

Perhaps her Loreto critics knew more than we do about Teresa’s true character.

In September 1962, she wrote the following to her then-spiritual adviser the Right Rev Lawrence Picachy [later Archbishop of Calcutta]:

People say they are drawn closer to God seeing my strong faith. Is this not deceiving people? Every time I have wanted to tell the truth – ‘I have no faith’ – the words just do not come, my mouth remains closed. Yet I still keep on smiling at God and all.

So, was the smile her only way of hiding what she really wanted to tell us?  Who knows?  Nonetheless, let’s not be deceived about her perceived goodness.  I have a feeling she will be canonised sooner rather than later because of populist pressure.

An Indian journalist’s perspective

C R Sridhar, writing for Desicritics.org, tells us more about the first of Teresa’s ‘miracles’, which secured her beatification.  Keep in mind that John Paul II abolished the post of Devil’s Advocate, which would have examined this more closely:

The first miracle- the healing of a tumour in the abdomen of an Indian woman, Monica Besra, following the application of a locket containing Mother Teresa’s picture – was mired in controversy as the medical doctors attending on her and her husband claimed that the tumour was cured by conventional medicine

Christopher Hitchens, an author and journalist, who declared Mother Teresa as a pious fraud, challenged the beatification and canonization of Mother Teresa. He said ‘her intention was not to help people’ but ‘she was working to expand the number of Catholics.’ His objections were overruled by the Roman Curia who saw no obstacle to the canonization of Mother Teresa. Hitchens alleged that there was no examination of the witnesses who claimed that Monica Besra was not cured by a miracle but by prescription medicine. It was also alleged that Monica Besra had tubercular cyst not malignant tumour as claimed by her order. All these claims were perfunctorily examined without critical scrutiny raising doubts that the standards were deliberately lowered to put the canonization of Mother Teresa on a fast track.2

As I mentioned yesterday, the Church called upon an atheist — Hitchens — to play the role of Devil’s Advocate, previously a serious, pious priest, well versed in Canon law.  Calling an unbeliever to fill in for this essential role serves as an excuse for the Church to disregard what he says.  Not that I agree with Hitchens the rest of the time — this is likely to be a one-off!

Sridhar discusses Teresa’s rise to fame:

The reputation of Mother Teresa as a saviour of the poor received a turbo boost when Malcolm Muggeridge filmed Mother Teresa’s work in Calcutta titled Something Beautiful for God, which was shown on BBC. He wrote a book with the same title, which sold more than 300,000 copies … reprinted 20 times and translated into 13 languages. There was no looking back for the obscure Albanian Nun who catapulted to world celebrity. The hagiography industry churned out books with titles helper of the poor, protector of the sick, and friend of the friendless, which established the icon status of Mother Teresa as a living example of a saint.

It must be said to the credit of Hitchens that he initiated the critical process of challenging the status of Teresa and the hagiography industry devoted to the sanctimonious humbug of deifying Teresa. In 1994 he produced a documentary film called Hell’s Angel, which was broadcast on Channel 4. The film was vilified and the author was subjected to abuse. Undeterred, Hitchens meticulously researched the life of Mother Teresa and published a book called The Missionary Position. In this book, Hitchens rakes up controversial issues about Teresa and calls into question the credulous nonsense written about the saviour of the poor.

He mentions Malcolm Muggeridge above.  That would have been 1969.  A few years later, someone came to speak at our high school about Mother Teresa.  I thought highly of the nun until the conversation at university which I recounted yesterday.

Not everyone in Teresa’s care admired her bedside manner.  Sridhar tells us:

There is a memorable anecdote about her attitude to suffering. A patient was approached by Mother Teresa who dished out theological platitudes instead of providing painkillers to the patient. ‘You are suffering like Christ on the cross,’ Mother Teresa allegedly told the patient. ‘So Jesus must be kissing you.’ The patient is said to have replied, ‘Then please tell him to stop kissing me.’7

Dr Robin Fox, the then-editor of the esteemed British medical journal The Lancet, visited her Home for Dying Destitute in Calcutta in 1991 and found it wanting:

He observed that sisters and volunteers, some of whom had no medical knowledge, had to make decisions about patient care, because of the lack of doctors in the hospice. Dr. Fox specifically held Teresa responsible for conditions in this home, and observed that her order did not distinguish between curable and incurable patients, so that people who could otherwise survive would be at risk of dying from infections and lack of treatment.’8

Moreover, the formulary at the facility Fox visited lacked strong analgesics. Fox also wrote that needles were rinsed with warm water, which left them inadequately sterilised, and the facility did not isolate patients with infectious diseases. There have been a series of other reports documenting inattention to medical care in the order’s facilities. Some former volunteers who worked for Teresa’s order have also expressed similar points of view. Mother Teresa herself referred to the facilities as “Houses of the Dying”.

The Loreto nuns could have been right.  Keep in mind that by then, the Missionaries of Charity had a tremendous amount of money.  Money which wasn’t going anywhere, although Sridhar cites a journalist who says it was. As I could not find an article of his which affirms the allegation, I have not included it here.

Nevertheless, Christopher Hitchens believes the bank account is worth plenty. In an interview for Free Inquiry, he said:

HITCHENS: Well, I have the testimony of a former very active member of her Order who worked for her for many years and ended up in the office Mother Teresa maintains in New York City. She was in charge of taking the money to the bank. She estimates that there must be $50 million in that bank account alone …

Donal McIntyre says that former member of the order is Susan Shields (see Part 1).

But remember that Teresa said that suffering, even when it could be alleviated, was sanctifying.  So unbiblical.  So unconscionable.

Universalism, not conversion

Some believe that Mother Teresa wanted to make Catholics out of those in her care.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Way of Life Literature has investigated what many traditional Protestants would call an extremely negligent view of Mother Teresa’s towards spreading the Gospel according to Christ’s Great Commission.

Way of Life has come up with several quotes concerning both Teresa and her Sisters:

Mother Teresa called AIDS sufferers “children of God” and said, “Each one of them is Jesus in a distressing disguise” (Time, Jan. 13, 1986).

In the biography Mother Teresa: Her People and Her Work, she is quoted by Desmond Doig as follows: “If in coming face to face with God we accept Him in our lives, then we … become a better Hindu, a better Muslim, a better Catholic, a better whatever we areWhat God is in your mind you must accept.”

The April 7-13, 1990, issue of Radio Times told the story of Mother Teresa sheltering an old Hindu priest. “She nursed him with her own hands and helped him to die reconciled with his own gods.”

When Mother Teresa died, her longtime friend and biographer Naveen Chawla said that he once asked her bluntly, “Do you convert?” She replied, “Of course I convert. I convert you to be a better Hindu or a better Muslim or a better Protestant. Once you’ve found God, it’s up to you to decide how to worship him” (“Mother Teresa Touched other Faiths,” Associated Press, Sept. 7, 1997).

In 1984 we discovered that Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity nuns in Nepal teach Hindus to trust in their own gods. In November of that year my wife and I conducted a taped interview with Sister Ann of the Missionaries of Charity in Kathmandu. She was working with aged Hindus who lived in a temple area in the city and were waiting to die by Nepal’s “holiest” river, believing that they would gain spiritual benefits for doing so.

I asked, “Do you believe if the Hindus die believing in Shiva or Ram they will go to heaven.”

Ann replied: “Yes, that is their faith. My own faith will lead me to my God, no? So if they have believed in their god very strongly, if they have faith, surely they will be saved.”

Again, ‘Blessed’ Mother Teresa is no saint.  One day we shall find out just why she was given a free pass on so many issues: lack of faith, severe negligence, hoarding money and so forth.  Apparently, that moment will not be coming any time soon.

I would urge you not to fall for the hype surrounding this woman who, even today, is lauded and revered as someone holy and glorified in God.

Mother Teresa relied on mystical communication with Jesus and Mary.  She wondered why God was deserting her when she took such poor care of those dependent on her — her own community and the desperately needy.

Take no notice of an earthly beatification of this woman.  Let’s take a lesson from this.  No matter how they appear, mysticism and media hype lead nowhere fast — perhaps for eternity.

For many  years I have been of two minds about Bl. Mother Teresa.  What turned me off was a roundtable discussion I had with my friends at university — all of us Catholic at the time.  One said, ‘She doesn’t even dispense aspirin.  They’re just lying there on pallets.  The nuns step over them.’

At the time, I couldn’t believe it, but I’ve kept that in mind ever since.

(The image on the left is a note from Mother Teresa, courtesy of kicks.org.uk.)

It’s extremely rare to read any criticism of Mother Teresa.  This was true when she was alive and equally so since the Catholic Church beatified her in October 2003 (during Pope John Paul II’s papacy).  The beatification bestows the title ‘Blessed’. One more miracle makes her eligible for canonisation as a formally recognised Catholic saint.

Yet, the story behind Mother Teresa is darker than even I would have imagined.  It serves as a cautionary tale for those who wish to play around with contemplative prayer and other mystical practices.  Never mind what Fullerites like Richard Foster, John Ortberg and others tell you.  Mystical prayer is hazardous to your soul.

What ‘Jesus’ said

Mother Teresa notionally communicated regularly with Jesus.  He had harsh things to say about  her as a person, apparently.  It’s not that He criticised what she was doing;  he allegedly criticised her being, her personality.

Time magazine ran a lengthy article on the nun’s self-diagnosed ‘spiritual dryness’ (errgh) on August 23, 2007, ‘Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith’.  Some of what you read below are excerpts from the book Time examined, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday), compiled and edited by the Revd Brian Kolodiejchuk, a Catholic priest with the Missionaries of Charity,  Mother Teresa’s religious order.  He is also her postulator (sponsor) for her canonisation.

Mother Teresa did not wish for her correspondence to be retained posthumously, but the Catholic Church, it seems, overruled her request.  What follows is some of that correspondence (emphases mine).  Not all of these are in chronological order.

To a confessor, the Revd Celeste Van Esem:

Jesus gave Himself to me.

To Archbishop Ferdinand Périer in 1947, a prayer dialogue she recounts:

[Jesus:] Wilt thou refuse to do this for me? … You have become my Spouse for my love — you have come to India for Me. The thirst you had for souls brought you so far — Are you afraid to take one more step for Your Spouse — for me — for souls? Is your generosity grown cold? Am I a second to you?
[Teresa:] Jesus, my own Jesus — I am only Thine — I am so stupid — I do not know what to say but do with me whatever You wish — as You wish — as long as you wish. [But] why can’t I be a perfect Loreto Nun — here — why can’t I be like everybody else.
[Jesus:] I want Indian Nuns, Missionaries of Charity, who would be my fire of love amongst the poor, the sick, the dying and the little children … You are I know the most incapable person — weak and sinful but just because you are that — I want to use You for My glory. Wilt thou refuse?

In a letter from 1948, shortly after her arrival in Calcutta:

My soul at present is in perfect peace and joy.

Also from 1948, still recently arrived in the city:

… we went to Taltala Bazaar, and there was a very poor woman dying I think of starvation more than TB … I gave her something which will help her to sleep. — I wonder how long she will last.

Two months later in 1948:

What tortures of loneliness.  I wonder how long will my heart suffer this?

March 1953, to Archbishop Périer:

Please pray specially for me … for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything were dead.  It has been like this more or less from the time I started ‘the work.

In 1955, to Archbishop Périer:

The more I want Him — the less I am wanted.

In 1956:

Such deep longing for God — and … repulsed — empty — no faith — no love — no zeal. [Saving] souls holds no attraction — Heaven means nothing

In 1958, Pius XII dies and Teresa feels a brief respite of peace as she prays to him for the Sisters:

proof that God is pleased with the Society … then and there … disappeared the long darkness … that strange suffering of ten years.

In 1959, her crisis of faith resumes:

What do I labour for?  If there be no God — there can be no soul — if there is no soul, then Jesus — You also are not true.

To Jesus (at a confessor’s suggestion):

Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love — and now become as the most hated one — the one — You have thrown away as unwanted — unloved. I call, I cling, I want — and there is no One to answer — no One on Whom I can cling — no, No One. — Alone … Where is my Faith — even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness — My God — how painful is this unknown pain — I have no Faith — I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart — & make me suffer untold agony.

So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them — because of the blasphemy — If there be God — please forgive me — When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven — there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. — I am told God loves me — and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?

To the Revd Michael van der Peet, a spiritual confidant:

Jesus has a very special love for you … [But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak … I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand.

To Fr van der Peet 11 weeks later:

Christ in our hearts, in the poor we meet, Christ in the smile we give and in the smile that we receive.

To an unnamed spiritual adviser:

I spoke as if my heart was in love with God — tender, personal love.  If you were [there], you would have said, ‘What hypocrisy’.

You get the idea.  Time recounts a revolving door of spiritual advisers:

Teresa progressed from confessor to confessor the way some patients move through their psychoanalysts. Van Exem gave way to Périer, who gave way in 1959 to the Rev. (later Cardinal) Lawrence Picachy, who was succeeded by the Rev. Joseph Neuner in 1961. By the 1980s the chain included figures such as Bishop William Curlin of Charlotte, N.C. For these confessors, she developed a kind of shorthand of pain, referring almost casually to “my darkness” and to Jesus as “the Absent One.”

It would seem doubtful that Jesus would ever tell someone they are ‘incapable’. Unthinkable and blasphemous is the possibility of some sort of simulated conjugal rapture. (Yes, I know that other saints who were nuns had the same ‘mystical’ experience.  So wrong.)

Yet, had Teresa read the Bible instead of messing with contemplative prayer, she probably would have not had a 50-year crisis of faith.

Some theologians speculate that she had adopted an apophatic outlook — a negative theology — in her Christianity.  Wikipedia explains:

positive theology is always inferior to negative theology, a step along the way to the superior knowledge attained by negation.[10] This is expressed in the idea that mysticism is the expression of dogmatic theology par excellence.[11]

Negative theology has a place in the Western Christian tradition as well, although it is definitely much more of a counter-current to the prevailing positive or cataphatic traditions central to Western Christianity. For example, theologians like Meister Eckhart and St. John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz), mentioned above, exemplify some aspects of or tendencies towards the apophatic tradition in the West. The medieval work, The Cloud of Unknowing and St. John’s Dark Night of the Soul are particularly well-known in the West.

One would be forgiven for asking how the Catholic Church could have even contemplated beatifying her.  And to think that as John Paul II abolished the post of Devil’s Advocate in 1983, he had to rely on the testimony of an atheist, Christopher Hitchens, to do that job.  Talk about Devil’s Advocate — from consulting a pious priest to an impious unbeliever.  Whatever next?

In any event, perhaps the apophatic tradition played a big role.  Even so, anyone who is in such spiritual darkness for at least half of her life must be viewed accordingly.  She is no saint.

An insider’s view — a former sister speaks

Susan Shields is a Catholic convert who was a Missionaries of Charity sister for nearly 10 years before she left the order.  She gives us an insight into life in Mother Teresa’s community, the needs of the patients and the misplaced generosity of the donors.  Teresa’s was neither a sanctified life nor was it biblical.

On the sisters:

Three of Mother Teresa’s teachings that are fundamental to her religious congregation are all the more dangerous because they are believed so sincerely by her sisters. Most basic is the belief that as long as a sister obeys she is doing God’s will. Another is the belief that the sisters have leverage over God by choosing to suffer. Their suffering makes God very happy. He then dispenses more graces to humanity. The third is the belief that any attachment to human beings, even the poor being served, supposedly interferes with love of God and must be vigilantly avoided or immediately uprooted. The efforts to prevent any attachments cause continual chaos and confusion, movement and change in the congregation. Mother Teresa did not invent these beliefs … but she did everything in her power (which was great) to enforce them.

Women from many nations joined Mother Teresa in the expectation that they would help the poor and come closer to God themselves. When I left, there were more than 3,000 sisters in approximately 400 houses scattered throughout the world. Many of these sisters who trusted Mother Teresa to guide them have become broken people. In the face of overwhelming evidence, some of them have finally admitted that their trust has been betrayed, that God could not possibly be giving the orders they hear. It is difficult for them to decide to leave – their self-confidence has been destroyed, and they have no education beyond what they brought with them when they joined. I was one of the lucky ones who mustered enough courage to walk away.

On the donors:

As a Missionary of Charity, I was assigned to record donations and write the thank-you letters. The money arrived at a frantic rate. The mail carrier often delivered the letters in sacks. We wrote receipts for checks of $50,000 and more on a regular basis. Sometimes a donor would call up and ask if we had received his check, expecting us to remember it readily because it was so large. How could we say that we could not recall it because we had received so many that were even larger?

When Mother spoke publicly, she never asked for money, but she did encourage people to make sacrifices for the poor, to “give until it hurts.” Many people did – and they gave it to her. We received touching letters from people, sometimes apparently poor themselves, who were making sacrifices to send us a little money for the starving people in Africa, the flood victims in Bangladesh, or the poor children in India. Most of the money sat in our bank accounts.

The flood of donations was considered to be a sign of God’s approval of Mother Teresa’s congregation. We were told by our superiors that we received more gifts than other religious congregations because God was pleased with Mother, and because the Missionaries of Charity were the sisters who were faithful to the true spirit of religious life.

Poverty, despite the cash:

Mother was very concerned that we preserve our spirit of poverty. Spending money would destroy that poverty. She seemed obsessed with using only the simplest of means for our work. Was this in the best interests of the people we were trying to help, or were we in fact using them as a tool to advance our own “sanctity?” In Haiti, to keep the spirit of poverty, the sisters reused needles until they became blunt. Seeing the pain caused by the blunt needles, some of the volunteers offered to procure more needles, but the sisters refused.

We begged for food and supplies from local merchants as though we had no resources. On one of the rare occasions when we ran out of donated bread, we went begging at the local store. When our request was turned down, our superior decreed that the soup kitchen could do without bread for the day.

It was not only merchants who were offered a chance to be generous. Airlines were requested to fly sisters and air cargo free of charge. Hospitals and doctors were expected to absorb the costs of medical treatment for the sisters or to draw on funds designated for the religious. Workmen were encouraged to labor without payment or at reduced rates. We relied heavily on volunteers who worked long hours in our soup kitchens, shelters, and day camps.

A hard-working farmer devoted many of his waking hours to collecting and delivering food for our soup kitchens and shelters. “If I didn’t come, what would you eat?” he asked.

Our Constitution forbade us to beg for more than we needed, but, when it came to begging, the millions of dollars accumulating in the bank were treated as if they did not exist.

Have you ever wondered over the years why, with all the donations, we aren’t seeing healthier people where Mother Teresa’s congregation operates?  There should be thousands of cured people, but there aren’t.  This shameful hoarding of cash — for what?  God grants the sisters plenty of money through helpful people around the world and what did Teresa and the congregation do?  Put it in a bank instead of healing and comforting the poor.

She wouldn’t even let the sisters can tomatoes!

One summer the sisters living on the outskirts of Rome were given more crates of tomatoes than they could distribute. None of their neighbors wanted them because the crop had been so prolific that year. The sisters decided to can the tomatoes rather than let them spoil, but when Mother found out what they had done she was very displeased. Storing things showed lack of trust in Divine Providence.

That is pathological, nothing less.  One question — what about storing money meant for the poor and suffering?  Oh, yes, I forgot — suffering is sanctity.  God is pleased.  Irony alert — suffering for the sake of it is not in the Bible.  There is nothing ‘holy’ or ‘sanctifying’ about it.

Did Jesus walk on past lepers saying that they suffered for Him? No. What about people who were possessed by demons?  Did He say, ‘Hey ho, never mind’?  No — He healed lepers, the blind, the infirm, those at death’s door, the possessed.

There is something deeply disturbed and demonic about a nun whose congregation is ostensibly a palliative care provider of sorts to the poor yet gives a sedative to a hungry woman, forbids Sisters from preserving food and forces everyone with whom they come in contact — including themselves — to suffer needlessly.

Mother Teresa was no saint.

Tomorrow: More about the ‘Blessed’ Mother Teresa


This is a complicated story which goes back to last year. 

Perhaps you have read about Sister Margaret McBride, at the time Vice President of Mission Integration at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, who ‘excommunicated herself’ for authorising that an abortion be performed on a mother-of-four.  Sister Margaret is a Sister of Mercy.  The Most Revd Thomas J Olmsted is the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix.

Much has been written about this case. especially by secularists and non-Catholics.  It has turned the nun into a type of convenient martyr for the anti-Catholic brigade.  To understand the matter fully, let’s examine the facts of which we are aware and ask a few questions.

Background: The mother in question was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension in the first trimester of her pregnancy.  St Joseph’s ethics committee met and Sister Margaret took a decision in this case.  Catholic Online reports that the Arizona Republic stated St Joseph’s policy on abortion in its own coverage:

The first says that physicians cannot perform direct abortions under any circumstances, including for such reasons as to save the life of the mother.

A second directive adds, however, that “operations, treatments and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted … even if they will result in the death of the unborn child.” This directive is based on the Catholic philosophical principle of double effect, which says that if the treatment sought addresses the direct causes of the woman’s health condition (such as radiation treatment for cancer), but never intends to kill the unborn child (even though that may happen as a secondary, but unintended, effect of the lifesaving treatment), then it is morally licit.

Hospital officials claimed that they were following the second directive by aborting the baby.

Questions:

Could Sister Margaret not have said, ‘Before we take a decision, I would like to discuss this with Bishop Olmsted and report back to you, at which time we will decide’? 

With regard to double effect, how could a direct abortion not kill an unborn child?

How qualified would Sister Margaret have been as Vice President of Mission Integration to take that decision? 

Abortion and saving a mother’s life: LifeSiteNews also carried this story.  They spoke with Dr. Paul A. Byrne, Director of Neonatology and Pediatrics at St. Charles Mercy Hospital in Toledo, Ohio (emphases mine): 

Dr. Byrne said, “I don’t know of any [situation where abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother].

“I know that a lot of people talk about these things, but I don’t know of any. The principle always is preserve and protect the life of the mother and the baby.”

Byrne has the distinction of being a pioneer in the field of neonatology, beginning his work in the field in 1963 and becoming a board-certified neonatologist in 1975. He invented one of the first oxygen masks for babies, an incubator monitor, and a blood-pressure tester for premature babies, which he and a colleague adapted from the finger blood pressure checkers used for astronauts.

Byrne emphasized that he was not commentating on what the woman’s particular treatment should have been under the circumstances, given that she is not his patient.

“But given just pulmonary hypertension, the answer is no” to abortion, said Byrne.

Byrne emphasized that the unborn child at 11 weeks gestation would have a negligible impact on the woman’s cardiovascular system. He said that pregnancy in the first and second trimesters would not expose a woman with even severe pulmonary hypertension – which puts stress on the heart and the lungs – to any serious danger.

A pregnant mother’s cardiovascular system does have “major increases,” but they only happen “in the last three months of pregnancy,” Byrne explained.

I must admit that when I read this story initially, I thought the lady was in her final trimester, only because I know a Catholic mother of five who was seriously ill with pulmonary hypertension with each of her pregnancies during that time.  She was always fine up until that point, at which time she had to have plenty of bed rest or risk damaging hers or her baby’s health.  Fortunately, all her children are healthy, active teenagers now.  Of course, I realise that not every case is the same, but this particular mother told me that her doctor warned her that everything would be fine until the final three months. That was how pulmonary hypertension worked. And, yes, she was very ill indeed during those final weeks, but neither she nor her husband ever considered an abortion.

Question:

Did Sister Margaret’s patient have a history of pulmonary hypertension?  What drugs or techniques could help to minimise it?

Excommunication: This is a highly complex topic, about which you can read more at Catholic Encyclopedia.  It is unusual for the Church to declare someone anathema, even f you beg them to do so.  I know a man who, in his mid-20s, had meetings with bishops and a cardinal.  He pleaded with each to excommunicate him, but they refused.  They said that even though he was an atheist at the time he met with them, who could predict that he wouldn’t come back to the Church one day?  He had done nothing to warrant excommunication other than to develop some rather eloquent (yet flawed) arguments against Christian belief.

There are differing reasons for excommunicating people and differing degrees of excommunication.  Sometimes the term is used when a priest or bishop refuses to give Communion to someone in their diocese (e.g. outspoken views on abortion). This usage may render a more severe — yet unintended — meaning.  In this case, we do not know if Sister Margaret is excommunicated from the Church altogether. I would bet that she is still allowed to be a Sister of Mercy and live in community, albeit under some constraints. If so, she is still a Catholic, but without receiving the Sacraments or fully participating in the Mass.  Bishop Olmsted may even lift Sister’s excommunication at a future date.  Sister may also have some recourse to a higher authority, perhaps at the Vatican.  Let’s not get too emotive over this.

Church discipline and abortion: In any event, excommunication is an example of Church discipline — in place to protect the faithful

Catholic teaching is highly specific when it comes to abortion.  Recall that Bishop Olmsted said that Sister Margaret ‘excommunicated herself’.  Here is what the Catholic Encyclopedia says that excommunication applies to:

“Those who efficaciously procure abortion.” The fruitless attempt is not punished with excommunication; authors do not agree as to whether the woman guilty of self-abortion is excommunicated.

Therefore, any Catholic who helped this lady have an abortion has effectively excommunicated himself as a result. 

The Catholic Church is not the only one to have done this historically.  The Didache (‘did-a-kay’) appears to have been the first Church doctrine regarding abortionTertullian and St Cyprian developed it and gave their rationale.   Whilst I cannot speak for our Lutheran cousins today, Martin Luther had no sympathy for any woman who wanted an abortion.  He wrote:

If they become tired or even die – – that does not matter, let the woman die in childbirth.

I realise that Sister Margaret’s story comes at a time when the Catholic hierarchy overlooks what paedophile priests have done.  And, yes, it does look as if a bishop is exerting undue pressure on a nun.  However, all historical evidence points to firm Christian and Western policies on the matter until the 20th century, when the teachings and laws on abortion were thrown to one side. 

Bishop Olmsted has exercised Church discipline.  And that’s how it should be.  Now, let him and the other bishops get on with cleaning up the priesthood.

For those of you who missed Oprah Winfrey’s interview with the Dominican Sisters of Mary on February 9, you can view all the segments on YouTube. The brilliant MG Writers has found them and kindly blogged the full set. Alternatively, you read a transcript here at Oprah’s site. 

This is the order that also teaches in Ave Maria, Florida.  One of Oprah’s reporters, Lisa Ling, stayed overnight with the sisters at their motherhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a Detroit suburb.  Some then travelled to Chicago to appear on Oprah’s show.

The sisters have revamped their website, which has some terrific pictures and insights into their life in community.  The order was founded in 1997 with four nuns.  They now have 98!  It’s the traditional habits, rules and obedience which makes this order and others like it popular.

The sisters look radiant and happy.  May God be with them in their discernment and ministry.  Let’s hope they receive many sincere requests to attend their next open weekend for women considering convent life.

Who knows?  A young woman reading this may have this conversation with her parents at Christmas!

A post entitled ‘Mom? Dad? Guess what? I want to be a nun’ at A Nun’s Life discusses making the announcement.  It will tell you how you should break the news and what sort of reactions you might get.  The comments are equally as brilliant and also include insights from parents.

First, a few points about vocation, convents and religious communities for women who think they might be interested:

-  Most orders have websites you can visit.  Have a look at the sisters, their habits, areas of ministry and prayer life.  Some orders devote a page to first-hand accounts of discernment from young sisters.

- Many orders will want educated women.  Speaking from a practical, layperson’s point of view, I would recommend finishing your Bachelor’s degree while you are in the discernment period, then contact religious orders that appeal to you.  Having said that, some orders will give you a university education, although whether they will dictate your subject major is unclear.  That would depend on the order.  But there’s no such thing as a free lunch. 

- Convent life relies on you to do your part.  If you are disorganised or untidy, your religious order won’t fix that for you.  They will expect a woman with self-discipline and maturity to participate fully in communal life.  Otherwise, you let the order down by being a weak link.

- Think about things in the long-term.  Just because you might not have a boyfriend now or a high five-figure salary doesn’t mean that either of those is out of your reach.  So, think about poverty, chastity and obedience for the rest of your life.  And don’t forget that you’ll be living in community, so you will be around other nuns for the rest of your life.   

- Don’t be rushed into anything.  If an order tries to get you to make a decision straightaway (amazingly, someone did mention this in the blog comments), don’t make any commitments to them.  Really think about what you’re doing, because it is like getting married.  Would you marry a man who was trying to rush you?  Whilst the attention is flattering, warning bells should be sounding. 

- Some orders ask for long periods of discernment.  Be prepared to take several years.  You’ll see on the blog comments that one woman said she was still in the early ages of discernment – after three years.  Another said that the order she wished to join asked for a six- or seven-year period.

- Be patient, pray (a lot!) and read everything you can about the religious life.  Find out why women became nuns, how their vocations changed their lives and, in relevant cases, why they left.  Being a nun isn’t just wish fulfilment, it is real life.  So, really discern: make sure you know that God is calling you and it isn’t just some urge within yourself.  A few of the women said that theirs was an ‘outer’ calling from God, not an inner one.  Ask God to help you tell the difference, because it isn’t always obvious.

That said, some of you will have reached the point where you are quite certain you are receiving a calling to become a nun.  So, how to break it to the family?

- Be gentle with them.  Be kind, soft-spoken and polite in your approach.  They might not know your intentions.

- Be ready to answer questions or meet with unexpected reactions.  Make sure you have answers — coherent, unemotional responses.  Emotions will make your announcement and decision less appealing, and your family may really question you. 

- Try to make your announcement only once.  From what some of the women said on the blog, this is one of the hardest things they have to tell their families.  One had to do it twice, because her brother was out of the room at the time!  She said it was very difficult.  

Why do parents react the way they do?  The comments with Sr Julie’s blog post are fantastic, and a few mothers chime in with maternal wisdom on this subject.

- They might not think you are mature enough.  Can you live independently and take care of yourself? Are you easily influenced or flit from one desire to another? If so, a good parent will ask you to see how you feel in six months’ or a year’s time.

- They will be missing out on grandchildren.  Yes, this is a top concern with regard to women’s vocations, less so for men’s.   

- They really wanted you to have a career.  This is becoming increasingly important for parents, mothers in particular.  They may wish to live vicariously through you.  You could fulfil their own unrealised hopes and dreams.  Be empathetic!

- They will wonder if you can really lead a chaste life.  What, no sex?  Weigh your response carefully to that one.

- They will lose you forever.  This is especially important if you are thinking of entering a cloistered order.  If you are, be particularly careful how you present the news — and expect tears or anger in response. 

Some family members commenting said that having a nun in their midst got them to reconsider returning to the Church – and resulted in great success.  Families revived their faith, Mass attendance and taking regular Communion.  So, there are many positives to the religious life, not just for a nun but her nearest and dearest, too.

If you are taking this step this Christmas, I wish you all the very best.  May God bless you!

In dignified opposition to The Episcopal Church’s (TEC’s) ordination of sexually active gay clergy, the All Saints Sisters of the Poor in Catonsville, Maryland, have been received into the Roman Catholic Church.  Note the trad habits, which are the norm for Anglican women’s religious orders:

Catonsville convent Archbp O'Brien Baltimore Sun 49061136

Archbishop Edwin F O’Brien of the Archdiocese of Baltimore confirmed 10 sisters on September 3, 2009.  The Baltimore Sun reports:

‘We know our beliefs and where we are,’ said Mother Christina Christie, superior of the order that came to Baltimore in 1872. ‘We were drifting farther apart from the more liberal road the Episcopal Church is traveling. We are now more at home in the Roman Catholic Church.’

Also joining the church was the Rev. Warren Tanghe, the sisters’ chaplain. In a statement, Episcopal Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton wished them God’s blessings.

‘Despite the sadness we feel in having to say farewell, our mutual joy is that we remain as one spiritual family of faith, one body in Christ,’ he said.

The sisters and their chaplain had considered the move for some time and had been watching the TEC’s decisions with regard to gay clergy.  The Sun says:

Their departure … comes weeks after voters at the Episcopal General Convention declared homosexuals eligible for any ordained ministry within the church and began writing prayers to bless gay unions.

‘As we interpret Scripture, it does not give you licence to be actively involved in a same-sex relationship,’ said Christie, who became a nun in 1966. ‘It is not the person we have a problem with. It is what that person is doing. And now that the Episcopal Church has given permission to bless these partnerships, it is way off the boat.’

The order, founded in England, is 135 years old. The Sisters lead a monastic life but open the convent chapel to visitors and conduct retreats.  They work with the terminally ill at the Joseph Richey House in Baltimore, which they opened in 1987 with Mount Calvary Church.  They also work with children and the poor. 

Two of the 12 sisters have decided not to convert.  They will be able to remain at the convent and work alongside the 10 new Catholics.  Mother Christie explains that the sisters all took the same vows. 

Although the article states that the conversion to Catholicism by a religious order is ‘unprecedented’, a century ago, the Congregation of the Atonement in Garrison, NY, an Episcopal order, became a Franciscan one within the Roman Catholic Church.  It included sisters as well as two friars. 

Churchmouse’s prediction: More Americans from left-leaning Protestant denominations will join the Roman Catholics, the traditional Lutheran synods (LCMS, WELS) or conservative Presbyterian churches

Watch this space!

j0433001You might already be aware that the Vatican-requested investigation — Apostolic Visitation — of American orders of female religious is currently underway. I was going to blog on it when I read Damian Thompson’s post back in March.   However, it’s an emotionally-charged topic for many of us, so I held off.

Now, the New York Times has reported on the Apostolic Visitation, and the paper’s many trendy readers have seen fit to comment, most with feeling. 

First, I’ll lay out my stall:

  • Apparently, we’re not supposed to call teaching and nursing sisters ‘nuns’.  Nuns are those female religious associated with monastic (e.g. cloistered) orders.  The definitions I looked up didn’t say that.  I had two aunts who were nuns, and both sides of my family were devout Catholics who always referred to female religious collectively as ‘nuns’.  So, ‘nuns’ it is for the purpose of my posts.
  • Most of my education (primary school through university) has been at Catholic institutions, so I have had a lot of nuns from various orders as teachers in my time.  I’ve never met one I didn’t like.  They’re highly educated and witty.  Many were tomboys growing up.
  • Nuns get the short end of the stick when compared to priests.  But, then, sexism is rife throughout society, including other religions.
  • Nuns know what they are getting into when they take their vows.  By that time, they have been evaluated and monitored endlessly.  They also know the drill: poverty, chastity and obedience.
  • The nuns people had at school or in hospitals in the 1950s and 1960s are different ladies to those of today who took their vows post-Vatican II.  The post-Vatican II situation of modern, joyless nuns combined with severely declining vocations saddens me greatly. 

One of the orders of nuns I had teaching me as a child were the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) of Monroe, Michigan.  This congregation is unrelated to the IHM order based in Pennsylvania. 

Here is a photo of an IHM nun the way I remember them:

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Here is one of today’s IHM nuns (facial features purposely blurred):

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One of the reasons I chose the order for this post is because one of the sisters opposed to the Apostolic Visitation is one Sister Sandra M Schneiders, IHM.  Sister has gone on record as saying:

I am not inclined to get into too much of a panic about this investigation – which is what it is … I do not put any credence at all in the claim that this is friendly, transparent, aimed to be helpful, etc. It is a hostile move and the conclusions are already in. It is meant to be intimidating. But I think if we believe in what we are doing (and I definitely do) we just have to be peacefully about our business, which is announcing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, fostering the Reign of God in this world. We cannot, of course, keep them from investigating. But we can receive them, politely and kindly, for what they are, uninvited guests who should be received in the parlor, not given the run of the house. When people ask questions they shouldn’t ask, the questions should be answered accordingly … I have come to the conclusion that Congregations like ours have, in fact, birthed a new form of Religious Life.

Yep, well, that’s one way of putting it.  Pride, Sister?  Humility?  In the secular world, we are expected to receive constructive criticism with a glad heart.  What about you?

Sister Sandra used to be known as Sister John Gregory.  But that’s all in the past now. 

I recall the young IHM nun I had in third grade who wore the traditional habit one year and returned to school somewhat transformed the following autumn (1967).  She had ditched her religious name for her given Christian one. She had also put on 20+ pounds on her slight frame, took on a modified habit and permed her hair!  Her personality had changed, too.  Whereas before she was quiet and serene, she was now angry with a chip on her shoulder. She was less interested in us kids and rather direct with the parents. It was a bit too much to take.  We wondered if she was going to leave, but I see her name is still among those in the order.  She would probably be in her mid- to late-60s now. 

Contrast the IHM order with those where the nuns still wear the traditional habit.  Elizabeth Scalia (The Anchoress) in a post featured on First Things had this to say about Sister Sandra’s reaction (do check out the links):

In truth, Sr. Schneiders was ‘it’ in 1972. Religious Life for women in the United States will be defined in the next few decades by those orders that manage to thrive in a world where the values of chastity, humility, and obedience are misunderstood. What is ‘new’ and ‘it’ at this moment in history–younger women taking back the habit and the breviary (even as they establish a variety of ministries in preaching, in the streets, hospitals, schools, retreat houses, and elsewhere) and expressing fealty to Rome–is as counter-cultural and even radical as Schneiders and her now-establishment sisters used to be.

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