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Missionaries of Charity

Missionaries of Charity is a Catholic religious order established in 1950 by Mother Teresa to tend to the sick and dying, especially, "the poorest of the poor". The order currently consists of over 4500 nuns and is active in 133 countries. Members of the order designate their affiliation using the order's initials, MC.

Mother Teresa received her inspiration to form the order on September 10, 1946, on a train ride from Calcutta, where she taught in a convent school, to Darjeeling. She received permission to leave the convent in 1948, and, after medical training in Paris, her request to establish the Missionaries of Charity order was approved on October 7, 1950. Their first home for the destitute and dying was opened in Calcutta with a staff of 12 nuns, including Mother Teresa.

In 1990, Mother Teresa asked to resign as head of the Missionaries, but was soon voted back in as Superior General. On March 13, 1997, six months before Mother Teresa's death, Sister M. Nirmala Joshi was selected the new Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity.

Diversion of donations

Some critics alleged that Mother Teresa and her followers accepted donations specifically earmarked to and the sick and the poor, but that the funds were used for non-charitable purposes, particularly evangelism. Some of these complaints amount to accusations of fraud.

The Missionaries of Charity do not disclose either the sources of their funds or details of how they are spent. A 1998 article in the popular German Stern weekly quoted a witness account according to which the order received about US$50 million a year in donations on its New York account alone. Other journalists have given estimates of US$100 million a year for its global operations. Critics have argued that these sums far exceed the modest needs of the order, which offers little medical help and is staffed by nuns and volunteers. Furthermore, volunteers have stated that they were specifically instructed not to use the money to purchase medical equipment.

Critics have maintained that the majority of the money donated to the order is transferred to the Istituto per Opere Religiosi (colloquially known as the Vatican Bank) in Rome, where it is used by the Catholic Church for its general purposes, or is transferred to non-Christian countries for missionary work. Susan Shields, a former employee of the Missionaries of Charity in the United States, alleged that even when donors explicitly marked money as, for example, "for the hungry in Ethiopia", she was instructed not to send the money to Africa, while still writing receipts with the text "For Ethiopia". Under the laws regulating charities in most countries, this would amount to fraud and/or theft.

In the United Kingdom, where the law requires charitable organisations to disclose their expenditures, an audit in 1991 concluded that only 7% of the total income of about US$2.6 million went into charitable spending, with the rest being remitted to the Vatican Bank.

Another former Missionary of Charity worker, Eva Kolodziej, has said: "You should visit the House in New York, then you'll understand what happens to donations. 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 implication was one of mismanagment of donations and a failure to turn non-financial donations into liquid assets for use in looking after the poor.

Conditions in the homes

Mary Louden, who had spent time as a volunteer worker in one of the mission's homes, wrote in May 3 1992 issue of The Guardian that the home at Kalighat consisted of two rooms, each with around 40 patients in stretcher beds, sandwiched between pieces of green plastic and small, scratchy blankets. She reported that on admission the patients' heads were shaved, their clothes and any possessions removed. Patients wore only a knee-length western-style overall that tied at the neck and was open at the back. Louden described the food as nutritionally inadequate and unvaried, the water disease-ridden, and the volunteers largely unable to speak Bengali, the local language. Patients were left with nothing to do and nowhere to go. Families were strongly discouraged from visiting their relatives at the home.

In one case of a patient who died of tuberculosis, Louden reported being told by an American doctor working at Kalighat that the patient might have lived if she had received some hospital treatment. Louden described Mother Teresa's policy as one of non-intervention, in which God decided who was to live and who was to die, and people were better off in heaven than in the operating theatre. Louden believed that Mother Teresa and her sisters declined to use their influence and income to finance a properly equipped hospital, instead devoting their efforts to ensure that everyone (regardless of creed) received a good Catholic funeral.

Allegations of torture

A Calcutta priest, Debi Charan Haldar, gave an interview in the December 1990 issue of Calcutta Skyline in which he said: "Many Sisters belonging to the Missionaries of Charity are very harsh towards the patients at Nirmal Hriday. Almost every night we hear heartrending cries from these old patients. I suspect the Sisters indulge in physical torture." Whether cries at night were the natural result of fatal illness, or caused deliberately by staff is not addressed by Haldar's accusation.

In September 2000, Teresa's successor Sister Nirmala admitted that one nun working in a Calcutta shelter run by the Missionaries had tortured four young street children with a hot knife. According to Nirmala, the children had tried to steal money.

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