Complex icon | 

Mother Teresa's campaign against abortion in Ireland featured in new documentary

The documentary questions whether donations often went to the Vatican bank instead of directly to the poor in her care

Lynne Kelleher

Mother Teresa’s role in campaigning against abortion in Ireland is examined in a new documentary on the nun who became one of the recognised faces in the world.

She befriended presidents, popes, and royalty but the programme puts a spotlight on the complex woman behind the blue and white sari.

The Nobel laureate famously obtained a ceasefire to rescue children from war-torn Beirut, rescued dying AIDs prisoners from a New York jail, and built orphanages around the world.

But the documentary questions whether donations which poured into Mother Teresa’s charity often went to the Vatican bank instead of directly to the poor in her care.

She first became known to the world in the late 60s when a BBC documentary crew revealed how she was caring for the poorest of the poor on the streets of Calcutta.

But a British doctor, who worked with her mission in India, revealed in the programme that he was appalled by the standards of medical care given to the people she rescued from the streets.

The series, Mother Teresa: For The Love Of God, gives a compelling portrait of the complex religious icon through insights from some of her closest friends and bitterest critics.

There are several Irish links to the nun who was considered a latter-day saint in the documentary

Her interview on the Late Late Show with Gay Byrne in 1972 is also featured in the three-part Sky documentary series.

The nun, who was born into poverty in North Macedonia, went to Dublin at the age of 18 to join the Catholic Sisters of Loreto order, and a year later she moved to Calcutta, now Kolkata, to become a teacher.

The documentary traces how the church gave her permission to start her own order, the Missionaries of Charity, where she cared for the poor and the homeless.

Her close relationship with Pope John Paul and President Ronald Reagan during the 80s when abortion was one of the most divisive political issues is also examined in the series.

Former Missionary of Charity sister, Mary Johnson, who worked with Mother Teresa for 20 years, said Mother Teresa had a saintly image around the world in the 1980s.

“Mother Teresa’s image in the media and around the world and in people’s hearts was really clear.

“She was the church’s best ambassador because she always got good PR and that was good for the church.

“In the 80s the Catholic hierarchy started to use Mother Teresa over and over again, she would become a kind of secret weapon.”

The American nun, who was posted to missionaries in the US and Italy, said she remembers Mother Teresa telling her nuns to pray over the issue of abortion in Ireland.

“I know that when Ireland had a referendum on abortion,  Mother Teresa came and she spoke and she was telling us all to pray very much for Ireland and that this law was not passed and that sort of thing”, she said.

In the documentary, President of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue, said both Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II were concerned the church was becoming too liberal in the 1960s and 1970s.

She is shown speaking out around the world against abortion in the 1980s when it was one of the most divisive political issues of the day.

“When there were votes to be had on it on Ireland or in Italy, she would be called by the bishops of those places to give talks in those moments of political tension and political decisions”, said Mary Johnson, who was a former nun in her order.

“But she was, I believe, very much pressured to carry that message in many places.

“I think she felt obligated always to do whatever the clergy told her to do, becoming in a sense used by the church.”

Mother Teresa: For The Love Of God airs on Monday, May 9th at 9pm, Sky Documentaries

Today's Headlines

More Movies

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

WatchMore Videos