There is something about a great many saints that annoys and even angers some people. Thus the recent canonisation of Mother Teresa revived in the press the various attacks that had been made on her in her lifetime by the likes of Germaine Greer and, most notably, the late Christopher Hitchens, who went to the length of writing a critical book about her.
I knew a little about Hitchens’s book as he had consulted me in my capacity as the biographer of Malcolm Muggeridge, the man who did more than anyone to bring Mother Teresa to the world’s attention with his BBC film Something Beautiful for God (also a bestselling book).
Hitchens was determined to ridicule Malcolm’s claim that some kind of miracle had occurred when the BBC crew filmed in Mother Teresa’s House of the Dying. They had been convinced that it was much too dark, yet when the film was processed the room seemed to be bathed in light.
I remember telling Christopher that he should speak to the producer Peter Chafer, a non-believer, who had been just as amazed as Malcolm; but he never felt inclined to contact him. (Malcolm told me how surprised the cameraman Ken Macmillan had been that, when saying goodbye to Mother Teresa, she asked him to say a prayer for her.)
Apart from mocking Malcolm, Hitchens, along with others, repeated the familiar charges that Mother Teresa had accepted money from disreputable figures such as Papa Doc Duvalier and Robert Maxwell, and also that the medical facilities in Calcutta were primitive and unreliable – the same accusation that had been made against Albert Schweitzer at his leper colony at Lambaréné in French Equatorial Africa (now Gabon).
The charges may have been perfectly true but, even if they were, did they disqualify Mother Teresa from canonisation? And were the critics concerned with preserving the highest standards for sanctity or was there a simpler explanation? Was it just a case of what Graham Greene once called “the regulation sneer against holiness”?
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