Mother Teresa’s lawyer blasts new podcast likening her order to a cult
The canonization Mass for Saint Teresa of Calcutta, celebrated by Pope Francis on Sept. 4, 2016 in St. Peter’s Square. / CNA photo
Washington D.C., May 28, 2021 / 16:02 pm (CNA).
A new podcast that likens St. Teresa of Calcutta to a cult leader is full of “untruths and false accusations,” the former legal counsel for St. Teresa told CNA on Friday.
The podcast, titled “The Turning: The Sisters Who Left,” discusses Mother Teresa and the religious order she founded, the Missionaries of Charity; the podcast asks the question, “What is the line between devotion and brainwashing?”
The podcast features claims of “abuse and betrayal” in the order by former sisters. A recent opinion piece for the New York Times highlighting the podcast was titled: “Was Mother Teresa a Cult Leader?”
According to the Times article, the podcast features a woman named Mary Johnson, who says she sought to “escape” the order but ultimately left “through official channels.”
In response, Jim Towey – the Catholic legal counsel to St. Teresa for the last twelve years of her life – blasted the podcast in a piece for National Review, calling it a “smear campaign.”
He told CNA on Friday that in his view, the podcast is part of “a continued effort by people who are trying to draw attention to themselves by degrading the memory of Mother Teresa, by attacking her sisters, and in so doing, kind of attacking the Catholic Church and its moral teachings and all we stand for.”
He added that “It’s easy to take pot-shots at the Missionaries of Charity, and it’s always by people who don’t do the work.”
The founder and CEO of the group Aging with Dignity, a nonprofit working for the elderly, disabled, and mentally ill, Towey says his nonprofit was inspired by St. Teresa’s work with the poor.
One allegation discussed in the New York Times opinion piece was the poor conditions at homes run by the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta – conditions that Mother Teresa allegedly was responsible for.
“It’s a really cheap shot to go and criticize the Missionaries of Charity for not having sophisticated medical services when you don’t have a clue what the reality is on the ground in Calcutta,” Towey said on Friday.
“And of course these people that make these criticisms aren’t going out there to help the sick, and they’re instead criticizing those who do,” he said.
Towey lamented that an online search of Mother Teresa’s name would yield “posts that are vulgar,” in an attempt to “strike at her reputation.”
The podcast, he said, “is filled with untruths and false accusations, and that’s why the sisters did not agree to interviews, why waste time they could be with the poor?” he said.
Towey said the podcast company behind “The Turning” was looking for controversy to gain listeners.
He also said the podcast accuses St. Teresa “cozying up to dictators,” but called that charge a “distortion of fact.” St. Teresa wanted to serve the poor living within totalitarian regimes and had to seek government approval in some cases, he said.
“At no time did she compromise herself, her values, or the Catholic faith,” Towey said.