Book by former Missionaries of Charity nun describes abuse in cult of Mother Teresa
by Perry Bulwer
I just read a short review of a new book, An Unquenchable Thirst, by a former nun, Mary Johnson, in Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity order who describes experiences commonly found in many religious cults. The reviewer highlights just a few of the "dozens of uncomfortable moments the former nun recalls", yet in just those examples it is easy to identify several cult characteristics.
Recalling just one of those moments, the reviewer says it "exemplifies the degree to which she saw life around her as one of repression, repercussions and guilt", which could be a description of life in any number of cults and sects. Dozens more examples drive home the point that life in Mother Teresa's order was not an ideal but an ordeal. Certainly, anyone joining that order knew what they were getting into. Serving God by living in poverty to help the poor (and as Christopher Hitchens wrote, to keep them poor) was part of the idealism they signed up for. What they didn't sign up for was the spiritual, emotional and verbal abuse from "superiors who became drunk with power, whose normal mode of communication was to shout and invent irrational accusations against those below them." If I didn't know better, I would think that was a description of David Miscavige or David Berg, leaders of Scientology and The Family International, respectively.
Most cult survivors are familiar with that or similar kinds of abuse from their former spiritual leaders as well as with the inability to directly confront that abuse when it occurred. "Because arguing back was considered a sin against humility, even the most irrational charges could not be countered properly for fear of appearing to be proud or arrogant." I experienced that personally many times in The Family International previously known as the Children of God, earning a reputation as a trouble maker for daring to question or criticize leaders. I was punished with spiritual threats, demotions, forced separation from loved ones and internal exile many times by leaders of that cult who are still deceiving, manipulating, exploiting and abusing people as they have always done. But if it was so abusive, why did you stay so long, I can hear you ask?
That is a question commonly put to cult survivors, and one the above reviewer asked of Johnson, expressing his incomprehension that anyone could stay in such an abusive environment for 20 years. Her response is right on the mark: "We'd always been told you are here because God has called you, so the worst thing you could do is leave." Allured by what she considered the radical nature of Mother Teresa's order, which often attracts people to cults, she had joined out of a conviction that God was calling her to that extreme mission. A religious conviction of that nature is far stronger than any secular calling and more difficult to abandon because to do so is to disobey and disappoint God, so it is not surprising that people who have not experienced that cannot understand why one would stay in an abusive environment. When a person is indoctrinated to think that God has a special mission for them, it is extremely difficult to walk away from that, even if they are being abused.
Spousal abuse, mostly perpetrated against women, is a secular example (though often with religious, patriarchal roots) that helps some people understand why abused religious cult members stay in the group or only leave after many years. It seems unthinkable that any woman would stay with a husband that beats, humiliates, threatens or otherwise abuses her, yet it happens all too frequently. When the same question is put to battered spouses as is put to cult survivors, asking why they did not just leave their abusers, the answers they give are strikingly similar to the ones given by former cult members. This list of reasons on a support website for battered women explains why many do not leave their spouses and can easily be applied to cult members. The following video makes the same point.
Set Yourself Free - Is religion a form of abuse?
There are a few other examples of cult characteristics in that short review I am referring to (imagine how many are in the actual book). Johnson points out that what she experienced in Mother Teresa's order is not typical of other women's religious orders, thus setting it apart from the norm. She gives the example of social isolation, even within the order. The radicalism that initially attracted her to the order ultimately led her to leave it. "As I lived it out, I realized that sort of radical draw also brought these drawbacks where people didn't have any way of pursuing any form of pleasure or relaxation," she said. While other orders allow members to keep in contact with their families, friends and engage with the outside world, Johnson says, “We weren’t even allowed to be friends with each other. All our contacts were cut off.” That is very typical of cults, and a common theme in cult survivor's stories. It is one more reason why it is so difficult to leave. When you burn all your bridges behind you, or they are burned for you, or you were born in a cult and never knew those bridges even existed, it makes it far more difficult to escape the abuse and find your way back to normal.
Although Johnson is able to identify most of the issues behind the abuse she suffered at the hands of her superiors, she seems unable to place ultimate blame where it belongs, on Mother Teresa. She is "careful not to sully Mother Teresa" in the book and attended her beatification ceremony in 2003. But even that is typical of some religious abuse survivors. They are willing to blame the persons who directly abused them, but hesitate to blame those with ultimate authority, whether it is the leader of their order, cult, church, or even God. After all, if God called Johnson to serve him in Mother Teresa's order, then why did God not protect her from the abuse she obviously suffered? It is as if they have accepted the common excuse made by religious leaders that the abuse is the result of a few bad apples, whereas the real cause is the structures, systems and dogmas of religion. Mother Teresa was no saint, yet Johnson still seems to think she is. Perhaps she has not read the reports of how Mother Teresa ignored the abuses perpetrated by her Jesuit adviser, one of the most notorious abusers in the Catholic church. Here are a few excerpts from some articles I've archived on the subject.
San Francisco Weekly - May 25, 2011
Let Him Prey: High-Ranking Jesuits Helped Keep Pedophile Priest Hidden
By Peter Jamison
The conservative Catholic family lived on a quiet cul-de-sac in Walnut Creek and took pains to observe the traditions of a church racked by social change. Their lives appeared driven by the famous motivational phrase of Saint Ignatius, "Ad majorem Dei gloriam" — for the greater glory of God. It was the same motto that ostensibly guided the Jesuit priest, Donald McGuire, to whom they turned for spiritual guidance.
Then, in 1993, they learned that McGuire had done unthinkable things with their 16-year-old son, Charles, who traveled with him as his personal assistant. The boy and the priest had allegedly looked at pornographic magazines, masturbated, and taken showers together. The family took this devastating news to an esteemed San Francisco priest, Joseph Fessio, who, like McGuire, had once been a teacher at the University of San Francisco.
Fessio runs the Ignatius Press, a Catholic publishing house based in the Sunset District that is the primary English-language publisher of the pope's writings. He and McGuire shared a reputation for doctrinal orthodoxy. McGuire, for his part, was a cleric of worldwide renown, functioning as adviser and confessor to Mother Teresa. [see related article links below] While family members considered reporting the abuse to secular authorities, Fessio urged them to stay quiet until he could confer with Jesuit higher-ups.
Confronted with the allegations, McGuire, a famously manipulative man known both for his charm and periodic rages, denied Charles's accusations or made excuses. His Jesuit bosses in Chicago, where McGuire was technically based, ordered him to undergo a residential treatment program at a psychiatric hospital for priests. In about seven months, McGuire was released and returned to active ministry. He continued to prey on other children for the next nine years.
New York Times - March 28, 2011
Suit Says Jesuits Ignored Warnings About Priest
By ERIK ECKHOLM
The case has been acutely troublesome for the Jesuits, an order known for its scholarship and its elite high schools and universities. Father McGuire was by all accounts a mesmerizing teacher, and after he was barred by some Jesuit schools in the 1960s and 1970s for suspicious behavior, including having students share his bedroom, he went on to became a popular leader of eight-day spiritual retreats around the country and the world.
For about two decades, starting in the early 1980s, he was a spiritual adviser to Mother Teresa, who put him in charge of retreats for the nuns in her worldwide order, Missionaries of Charity. Several times each year, in India, the United States, Russia and other countries, he led retreats for the sisters.
In these travels he routinely took along a teenage boy as an assistant, saying he needed help administering his diabetes treatment. In complaints voiced by some parents and priests at the time, and in later depositions, those assistants said their duties often included sleeping in the same bed as Father McGuire, showering and reading pornography together, providing intimate massages and watching him masturbate.
SF Weekly - July 27, 2009
For He Has Sinned
A new lawsuit sheds light on the San Francisco years of Mother Teresa's spiritual adviser – who is also one of the Jesuit order's most notorious convicted pedophiles.
by Peter Jamison
Kevin McGuire said his uncle's time as a professor in San Francisco, and his later trips to the Bay Area and around the world, were encouraged by superiors as a "pass-the-trash" strategy to keep the predator priest far from his home base. "USF was a place where the Chicago Province sent Father McGuire to get him the hell out of their hair," he said. "That's why this guy was allowed to roam around the country. They wanted him everywhere but Chicago."
And he said that while there's no evidence Mother Teresa herself was consciously covering up for the priest whose piety she admired, the nun, who died in 1997, should have known something wasn't right.
"I think Mother Teresa had plenty of evidence in front of her that something was wrong," Kevin McGuire said. "When you see Father McGuire seven to nine times a year at your retreat houses or nunneries around the world, and he's constantly with teenage boys who are essentially his slaves, and to have these boys in your bedroom — yeah, I think that's plenty of notice to anyone with oxygen in your brain. I don't care how holy you think your confessor is. Something's wrong."
Perry Bulwer July 11, 2012
A few months ago, I had an email conversation with Mary Johnson, the former nun and author of the book reviewed in this blog article.
I based my comments in this blog article solely on the Toronto newspaper article. I owe an apology to Mary for some assumptions I made about her and her current perspectives on Mother Teresa in the last paragraph of my article, just before I quoted from three newspaper accounts. I made those assumptions based on the reporter's perspective, which may not have accurately portrayed her position, so I am sorry if I made any inaccurate statement about her. After communicating with her, I realize there is almost no difference between our positions on these matters.
Mary has an impressive website and works to help other women writers to tell their stories. See: http://www.maryjohnson.co/ and http://aroomofherownfoundation.org/weneedyou.php
What prompted me to write this apology note now is the article posted in the comments below on July 11, 2012 titled:
"Abuses At Legion Of Christ-Run High School, Immaculate Conception Academy In Rhode Island"
Here is Mary's version of The Apostles Creed found at: http://www.maryjohnson.co/humanist/
I don’t believe in God, an imaginary father with almighty power.
I don’t believe in heaven; I do believe in earth.
I believe that a man called Jesus of Nazareth lived in Palestine at the beginning of the Common Era,
That he was conceived in the way of all human beings, that he was born of a woman called Mary, that he had a following large enough to trouble the authorities of his day, that it’s very difficult to separate what he actually said and did from what people would later say he said and did, that odds are good that he was a more than decent man.
I believe that this Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate; that he was crucified, died and was buried, that there were no souls in hell waiting for him to set them free, that his death was in no way redemptive, that crucifixion has to be hell enough for any person.
I believe that when Jesus died, he remained dead. He did not ascend into an imaginary heaven, nor does he sit at the right or left hand of God, an imaginary father.
I do not believe that Jesus judges human beings. It seems to me that far too much judging goes on in his name, and that most of us try to do the best we can with the lives we’ve been given and that all of us fall short of the unreachable ideals we sometimes set for ourselves, that we ought to be kinder to ourselves.
I do not believe in ghosts, holy or otherwise.
I believe that the church is a human institution that still has much to learn about the humane exercise of power and authority.
I believe that each human being is connected with every other human being by bonds we do not often perceive, that what we do matters because our deeds affect beings animate and inanimate, for better or for worse.
I believe that justice and mercy are both essential and that forgiveness is often one of the deepest kindnesses we can extend to others and to ourselves, but that it should not be offered indiscriminately.
I believe that when we’re dead, we’re dead, and that while we, for a brief stretch of years, breathe upon this planet, we experience mysteries we ought not pretend to understand, though one day human beings will understand them better than we do now. I believe that we should affirm as true only those things we know with reasonable certainty, according to rigorous standards of history and science, that to cede our intellect to religious tradition is to allow ourselves to be manipulated by those who benefit from our credulity. I believe in the value of helping others and nurturing ourselves so that we can live lives as full as they can be. Amen.
RELATED ARTICLES ON MY BLOGS
Mother Teresa failed to protect teen boys from her spiritual adviser, the Jesuit order's most notorious convicted pedophile
Corporal Punishment, the Abuse of Authority and the Rights of Children
Nuns among worst perpetrators of horrific violence and sex abuse in Jesuit-run schools and missions on Indian reservations
Jesuit priest being considered for sainthood among order's leaders who protected "the Hannibal Lecter of the clerical world"
Jesuits pay record settlement for decades of psychological abuse and rape of over 450 Native American children
Abuse was common in religious orders
Oregon Jesuit province files for bankruptcy
$50 million for Alaskan abuse plaintiffs
Diocese of Fairbanks launches multistate search for possible sexual assault victims
Canadian Indian residential schools designed to assimilate natives traumatized individuals and generations
Canadian Indian residential school hearings identify thousands of abusers including some students who were also abused
Survivors of Indian residential schools need to tell their stories to restore self-worth after trauma of abuse
A brief history of Canadian residential schools designed to indoctrinate and assimilate aboriginal children
Canadian Truth Commission investigates fate of thousands of aboriginal children who died in mysterious circumstances
Canadian residential school Truth Commission begins to address over a century of child abuse, thousands of children still missing
‘Apology? What apology?' Church’s attempt at reconciliation not enough, says counsellor
Church-run Canadian residential schools denied human rights to all aboriginal children in their custody
'This Is How They Tortured Me' [book review]
Mothers of a Native Hell
Fugitive priest hiding in Belgium and Lourdes, France sent back to Canadian territory Nunavut to face sex abuse charges
Canadian priest convicted of pedophilia, wanted by Interpol for 15 years, surrenders in Belgium but authorities let him go
Pope expresses 'sorrow' for abuse at residential schools - but doesn't apologize
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Edmonton mural celebrates Catholic bishop's role in the horrific abuse of aboriginal children in residential schools
Lawsuit claims, but Seattle U. president denies, that he knew of priest's abuse
Prosecuting the Pope for Crimes Against Humanity
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Vatican more upset by Catholic Prime Minister's criticisms than clergy sex crimes against children
Philadelphia archbishop resigns due to old age, not for failing to protect children
Catholic child protection policies are merely public relations ploys
Best city in the world honours man who protected notorious Catholic child abuser
The Catholic Church and The Family International: popes and prophets who protect pedophiles
What the Pope should have said in his Easter sermon: "I did it. I was wrong. The buck stops here."