Mother Teresa: Where
are her millions?
so-called Angel of the poor died years ago. Donations
still flow in to her "Missionaries of Charity" like
to no other cause. But the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize
vowed to live in poverty. What then, happened to so much
Angel of the poor died a year ago. Donations still flow in to her
Missionaries of Charity like to no other cause. But the winner of
the Nobel Peace Prize vowed to live in poverty. What then, happened
to so much money?
If there is a
heaven, then she is surely there: Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu from Skopje
in Macedonia, better known as Mother Teresa. She came to Calcutta on
the 6th of January 1929 as an 18 year old sister of the Order of
Loreto. 68 years later luminaries from all over the world assembled
in Calcutta in order to honour her with a state funeral. In these 68
years she had founded the most successful order in the history of
the Catholic church, received the Nobel Peace Prize and became the
most famous Catholic of our time.
permitted, regarding this "monument"?
In Calcutta, one
meets many doubters.
Samity, a man of around 30 with no teeth, who lives in the slums. He
is one of the "poorest of the poor" to whom Mother Teresa
was supposed to have dedicated her life. With a plastic bag in hand,
he stands in a kilometer long queue in Calcutta's Park Street. The
poor wait patiently, until the helpers shovel some rice and lentils
into their bags. But Samity does not get his grub from Mother
Teresa's institution, but instead from the Assembly of God, an
American charity, that serves 18000 meals here daily.
"Mother Teresa?" says
Samity, "We have not received anything from her here. Ask in
the slums -- who has received anything from the sisters here -- you
will find hardly anybody."
also has doubts. "I don't understand why you educated people in
the West have made this woman into such a goddess!" Manik was
born some 56 years ago in the Rambagan slum, which at about 300
years of age, is Calcutta's oldest. What Manik has achieved, can
well be called a "miracle". He has built 16 apartment
buildings in the midst of the slum -- living space for 4000 people.
Money for the building materials -- equivalent to DM 10000 per
apartment building -- was begged for by Manik from the Ramakrishna
Mission [a Indian/Hindu charity], the largest assistance-organization
in India. The slum-dwellers built the buildings themselves. It has
become a model for the whole of India. But what about Mother Teresa?
"I went to her place 3 times," said Manik. "She did
not even listen to what I had to say. Everyone on earth knows that
the sisters have a lot of money. But no one knows what they do with
In Calcutta there
are about 200 charitable organizations helping the poor. Mother
Teresa's Missionaries of Charity are not amongst the biggest
helpers: that contradicts the image of the organization. The name
"Mother Teresa" was and is tied to the city of Calcutta.
All over the world admirers and supporters of the Nobel Prize winner
believe that it must be there that her organization is particularly
active in the fight against poverty. "All lies," says
Aroup Chatterjee . The doctor who lives in London was born and
brought up in Calcutta. Chatterjee who has been working for years on
a book on the myth of Mother Teresa, speaks to the poor in the slums
of Calcutta, or combs through the speeches of the Nobel Prize
winner. "No matter where I search, I only find lies. For
example the lies about schools. Mother T has often stated that she
runs a school in Calcutta for more than 5000 children. 5000
children! -- that would have to be a huge school, one of the biggest
in all of India. But where is this school? I have never found it,
nor do I know anybody who has seen it!" says Chatterjee.
Compared to other
charitable organizations in Calcutta, the nuns with the 3 blue
stripes are ahead in two respects: they are world famous, and, they
have the most money. But how much exactly, has always been a closely
guarded secret of the organization. Indian law requires charitable organizations
to publish their accounts. Mother Teresa's organization ignores this
prescription! It is not known if the Finance Ministry in Delhi who
would be responsible for charities' accounts, have the actual
figures. Upon STERN's inquiry, the Ministry informed us that this
particular query was listed as "classified information".
has 6 branches in Germany. Here too financial matters are a strict
secret. "It's nobody's business how much money we have, I mean
to say how little we have," says Sr Pauline, head of the German
operations. Maria Tingelhoff had had handled the organization's
book-keeping on a voluntary basis until 1981. "We did see 3
million a year," she remembers. But Mother Teresa never quite
trusted the worldly helpers completely. So the sisters took over the
financial management themselves in 1981. "Of course I don't
know how much money went in, in the years after that, but it must be
many multiples of 3 million," estimates Mrs Tingelhoff.
"Mother was always very pleased with the Germans."
Perhaps the most
lucrative branch of the organization is the "Holy Ghost"
House in New York's Bronx. Susan Shields served the order there for
a total of nine and a half years as Sister Virgin. "We spent a
large part of each day writing thank you letters and processing
cheques," she says. "Every night around 25 sisters had to
spend many hours preparing receipts for donations. It was a conveyor
belt process: some sisters typed, others made lists of the amounts,
stuffed letters into envelopes, or sorted the cheques. Values were
between $5 and $100.000. Donors often dropped their envelopes filled
with money at the door. Before Christmas the flow of donations was
often totally out of control. The postman brought sackfuls of
letters -- cheques for $50000 were no rarity." Sister Virgin
remembers that one year there was about $50 million in a New York
bank account. $50 million in one year! -- in a predominantly
non-Catholic country. How much then, were they collecting in Europe
or the world? It is estimated that worldwide they collected at least
$100 million per year -- and that has been going on for many many
While the income
is utter secret, the expenditures are equally mysterious. The order
is hardly able to spend large amounts. The establishments supported
by the nuns are so tiny (inconspicuous) that even the locals have
difficulty tracing them. Often "Mother Teresa's Home"
means just a living accommodation for the sisters, with no
charitable function. Conspicuous or useful assistance cannot be
provided there. The order often receives huge donations in kind, in
addition to the monetary munificence. Boxes of medicines land at
Indian airports. Donated foodgrains and powdered milk arrive in
containers at Calcutta port. Clothing donations from Europe and the
US arrive in unimaginable quantities. On Calcutta's pavement stalls,
traders can be seen selling used western labels for 25 rupees (DM1)
apiece. Numerous traders call out, "Shirts from Mother,
trousers from Mother."
Unlike with other
charities, the Missionaries of Charity spend very little on their
own management, since the organization is run at practically no
cost. The approximately 4000 sisters in 150 countries form the most
treasured workforce of all global multi-million dollar operations.
Having taken vows of poverty and obedience, they work for no pay,
supported by 300,000 good citizen helpers.
By their own
admission, Mother Teresa's organization has about 500 locations
worldwide. But for purchase or rent of property, the sisters do not
need to touch their bank accounts. "Mother always said, we
don't spend for that," remembers Sunita Kumar, one the richest
women in Calcutta and supposedly Mother T's closest associate
outside the order. "If Mother needed a house, she went straight
to the owner, whether it was the State or a private person, and
worked on him for so long that she eventually got it free."
Her method was
also successful in Germany. In March the "Bethlehem House"
was dedicated in Hamburg, a shelter for homeless women. Four sisters
work there. The architecturally conspicuous building cost DM2.5
million. The fortunes of the order have not spent a penny toward the
amount. The money was collected by a Christian association in
Hamburg. With Mother T as figure head it was naturally short work to
collect the millions.
Mother Teresa saw
it as her God given right never to have to pay anyone for anything.
Once she bought food for her nuns in London for GB£500. When she
was told she'd have to pay at the till, the diminutive seemingly
harmless nun showed her Balkan temper and shouted, "This is for
the work of God!" She raged so loud and so long that eventually
a businessman waiting in the queue paid up on her behalf.
England is one of
the few countries where the sisters allow the authorities at least a
quick glance at their accounts. Here the order took in DM5.3 million
in 1991. And expenses (including charitable expenses)? -- around
DM360,000 or less than 7%. Whatever happened to the rest of the
money? Sister Teresina, the head for England, defensively states,
"Sorry we can't tell you that." Every year, according to
the returns filed with the British authorities, a portion of the
fortune is sent to accounts of the order in other countries. How
much to which countries is not declared. One of the recipients is
however, always Rome. The fortune of this famous charitable organization
is controlled from Rome, -- from an account at the Vatican bank. And
what happens with monies at the Vatican Bank is so secret that even
God is not allowed to know about it. One thing is sure however --
Mother's outlets in poor countries do not benefit from largesse of
the rich countries. The official biographer of Mother Teresa,
Kathryn Spink, writes, "As soon as the sisters became
established in a certain country, Mother normally withdrew all
financial support." Branches in very needy countries therefore
only receive start-up assistance. Most of the money remains in the
STERN asked the
Missionaries of Charity numerous times for information about
location of the donations, both in writing as well in person during
a visit to Mother Teresa's house in Calcutta. The order has never
visit the House in New York, then you'll understand what happens to
donations," says Eva Kolodziej. The Polish lady was a
Missionary of Charity for 5 years. "In the cellar of the
homeless shelter there are valuable books, jewellery and gold. What
happens to them? -- The sisters receive them with smiles, and keep
them. Most of these lie around uselessly forever."
The millions that
are donated to the order have a similar fate. Susan Shields
(formerly Sr Virgin) says, "The money was not misused, but the
largest part of it wasn't used at all. When there was a famine in
Ethiopia, many cheques arrived marked 'for the hungry in Ethiopia'.
Once I asked the sister who was in charge of accounts if I should
add up all those very many cheques and send the total to Ethiopia.
The sister answered, 'No, we don't send money to Africa.' But I
continued to make receipts to the donors, 'For Ethiopia'."
By the accounts of
former sisters, the finances are a one way street. "We were
always told, the fact that we receive more than other orders, shows
that God loves Mother Teresa more. ," says Susan Shields.
Donations and hefty bank balances are a measure of God's love.
Taking is holier than giving.
The sufferers are
the ones for whom the donations were originally intended. The nuns
run a soup kitchen in New York's Bronx. Or, to put in straight, they
have it run for them, since volunteer helpers organize everything,
including food. The sisters might distribute it. Once, Shields
remembers, the helpers made an organizational mistake, so they could
not deliver bread with their meals. The sisters asked their superior
if they could buy the bread. "Out of the question -- we are a
poor organization." came the reply. "In the end, the poor
did not get their bread," says Shields. Shields has experienced
countless such incidents. One girl from communion class did not
appear for her first communion because her mother could not buy her
a white communion dress. So she had to wait another year; but as
that particular Sunday approached, she had the same problem again.
Shields (Sr Virgin) asked the superior if the order could buy the
girl a white dress. Again, she was turned down -- gruffly. The girl
never had her first communion.
Because of the
tightfistedness of the rich order, the "poorest of the
poor" -- orphans in India -- suffer the most. The nuns run a
home in Delhi, in which the orphans wait to be adopted by, in many
cases, by foreigners. As usual, the costs of running the home are
borne not by the order, but by the future adoptive parents. In
Germany the organization called Pro Infante has the monopoly
of mediation role for these children. The head, Carla Wiedeking, a
personal friend of Mother Teresa's, wrote a letter to Donors,
Supporters and Friends which ran:
September visit I had to witness 2 or 3 children lying in the same
cot, in totally overcrowded rooms with not a square inch of playing
space. The behavioural problems arising as a result cannot be
overlooked." Mrs. Wiedeking appeals to the generosity of
supporters in view of her powerlessness in the face of the
children's great needs. Powerlessness?! In an organization with a
billion-fortune, which has 3 times as much money available to it as
UNICEF is able to spend in all of India? The Missionaries of Charity
has have the means to buy cots and build orphanages, -- with
playgrounds. And they have enough money not only for a handful
orphans in Delhi but for many thousand orphans who struggle for
survival in the streets of Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta.
Saving, in Mother
Teresa's philosophy, was a central value in itself. All very well,
but as her poor organisation quickly grew into a rich one, what did
she do with her pictures, jewels, inherited houses, cheques or
suitcases full of money? If she wished to she could now cater to
people not by obsessively indulging in saving, but instead through
well thought-out spending. But the Nobel Prize winner did not want
an efficient organization that helped people efficiently. Full of
pride, she called the Missionaries of Charity the "most disorganized
organization in the world". Computers, typewriters,
photocopiers are not allowed. Even when they are donated, they are
not allowed to be installed. For book-keeping the sisters use school
notebooks, in which they write in cramped penciled figures. Until
they are full. Then everything is erased and the notebook used
again. All in order to save.
For a sustainable
charitable system, it would have been sensible to train the nuns to
become nurses, teachers or managers. But a Missionary of Charity nun
is never trained for anything further.
Fuelled by her
desire for un-professionalism, Mother Teresa's decisions from year
to year became even more bizarre. Once, says Susan Shields, the
order bought an empty building from the City of New York in order to
look after AIDS patients. Purchase price: 1 dollar. But since
handicapped people would also be using the house, NY City management
insisted on the installation of a lift (elevator). The offer of the
lift was declined: to Mother they were a sign of wealth. Finally the
nuns gave the building back to the City of New York.
Missionaries of Charity have already withheld help from the starving
in Ethiopia or the orphans in India -- despite having received
donations in their names -- there are others who are being actively
harmed by the organization's ideology of disorganization. In 1994,
Robin Fox, editor of the prestigious medical journal Lancet, in a
commentary on the catastrophic conditions prevailing in Mother
Teresa's homes, shocked the professional world by saying that any
systematic operation was foreign to the running of the homes in
India: TB patients were not isolated, and syringes were washed in
lukewarm water before being used again. Even patients in unbearable
pain were refused strong painkillers, not because the order did not
have them, but on principle. "The most beautiful gift for a
person is that he can participate in the suffering of Christ,"
said Mother Teresa. Once she had tried to comfort a screaming
sufferer, "You are suffering, that means Jesus is kissing
you." The sufferer screamed back, furious, "Then tell your
Jesus to stop kissing me."
The English doctor
Jack Preger once worked in the home for the dying. He says, "If
one wants to give love, understanding and care, one uses sterile
needles. This is probably the richest order in the world. Many of
the dying there do not have to be dying in a strictly medical
sense." The British newspaper Guardian described the hospice as
an "organized form of neglectful assistance".
It seems that the
medical care of the orphans is hardly any better. In 1991 the head
of Pro Infante in Germany sent a newsletter to adoptive
parents: " Please check the validity of the vaccinations of
your children. We assume that in some case they have been vaccinated
with expired vaccines, or with vaccines that had been rendered
useless by improper storage conditions." All this points to one
thing, something that Mother Teresa reiterated very frequently in
her speeches and addresses -- that she far more concerned with life
after death than the mortal life.
business was : Money for a good conscience. The donors benefited the
most from this. The poor hardly. Whosoever believed that Mother
Teresa wanted to change the world, eliminate suffering or fight
poverty, simply wanted to believe it for their own sakes. Such
people did not listen to her. To be poor, to suffer was a goal,
almost an ambition or an achievement for her and she imposed this
goal upon those under her wings; her actual ordained goal was the
With growing fame,
the founder of the order became somewhat conscious of the misconceptions
on which the Mother Teresa phenomenon was based. She wrote a few
words and hung them outside Mother House:
"Tell them we
are not here for work, we are here for Jesus. We are religious above
all else. We are not social workers, not teachers, not doctors. We
One question then
remains: For what, in that case, do nuns need so much money?