The Missionary Position
Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice
by Christopher Hitchens
Excerpt from Chapter 2: Good Works and Heroic Virtues
Mother and Charles Keating, Jr.
The apologists generally claim that Mother Teresa is too innocent to count money or to take the measure of those who offer it, or to reckon that they obtain some benefit from their supposed generosity in the form of virtue-by-association. Forgetting for a moment her boast that she does not accept eye-of-the-needle subventions in the first place, we might agree that this argument had merit in the case of the late Robert Maxwell. Mr Maxwell inveigled a not-unwilling Mother Teresa into a fund-raising scheme run by his newspaper group, and then, it seems (having got her to join him in some remarkable publicity photographs), he made off with the money. But Maxwell did succeed in fooling some very experienced and unsentimental people in his day, and although it might be asked how Mother Teresa had time to spare for such a wicked and greedy man, it can still be argued with some degree of plausibility that she was a blameless party to his cynical manipulations.
However, it is difficult, if not impossible, to assert this in the case of Mr Charles Keating. Keating is now serving a ten-year sentence for his part in the Savings and Loan scandal -- undoubtedly one of the greatest frauds in American history. In the early 1980s, during the booming, deregulated years of Reagan's first term, Keating, among other operators, mounted a sustained and criminal assault on the deposits of America's small investors. His methods were those of the false prospectus and the political bribe. (Washington vernacular still contains the expression 'the Keating Five', in honour of the five United States senators who did him favours while receiving vast campaign donations in the form of other people's money.) Keating had political ambitions as well as financial ones, and as a conservative Catholic fundamentalist had served Richard Nixon as a member of a much-mocked commission to investigate the ill effects of pornography.
At the height of his success as a thief, Keating made donations (not out of his own pocket, of course) to Mother Teresa in the sum of one and a quarter million dollars. He also granted her the use of his private jet. In return, Mother Teresa allowed Keating to make use of her prestige on several important occasions and gave him a personalized crucifix which he took everywhere with him.
In 1992, after a series of political and financial crises and the most expensive bailout operation in the history of the American tax-payer, Keating was finally brought to trial. He appeared before the Superior Court in Los Angeles (his 'Lincoln Savings and Loan' had been a largely Californian operation) where he was heard by the later-notorious Judge Lance Ito. The trial could have only one outcome: the maximum sentence allowable under California law.
During the course of the trial, Mother Teresa wrote to the court seeking clemency for Mr Keating. She gave no explanation of her original involvement with the defendant and offered no direct testimony mitigating his looting of the thrift industry. The letter, in its original form, appears opposite [text appears below].
MISSIONARIES OF CHARITY
"As long as you did it to one of these My least bretheren. You did it to Me"
Honorable Lance Ito
Dear Honorable Lance Ito,
We do not mix up in Business or Politicts or courts. Our work, as Missionaries of Charity is to give wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor.
I do not know anything about Mr. Charles Keating's work or his business or the matters you are dealing with.
I only know that he has alway been kind and generous to God's poor, and always ready to help whenever there was a need. It is for this reason that I do not want to forget him now while he and his family are suffering. Jesus has told us "Whatever you do to the least of my brethern ... YOU DID IT TO ME. Mr. Keating has done each to help the poor, which is why I am writing to you on his behalf.
Whenever someone asks me to speak to a judge, I always tell them the same thing. I ask them to pray, to look into thier heart, and to do what Jesus would do in that circumstance. And this is what I am asking of you, your Honor.
My gratitude to you is my prayer for you, and your work, your family and the people with whom you are working.
God bless you
One is struck immediately by two things. First, though the claim about 'free service to the poorest of the poor' is made in almost the same words as it was made to [documentary producer] Muggeridge, the related claim that the rich receive no quid pro quo seems to have disappeared. Then there is the astonishing artlessness of the letter, both as composed and as presented. One might think it a missive from an innocent old woman who knows nothing of cupidity and scandal, and who naively wishes to intercede for reasons of rather woolly compassion. The transcript of Mother Teresa's highly ideological Nobel Prize speech, for example, does not read like this. It is professionally written and presented. And many of her other public interventions demonstrate a much sharper sense of the real world, even when Mother Teresa is choosing to speak on matters, such as sexuality and reproduction, where she must necessarily admit to being disqualified by inexperience.
The suspicion that there might be something faux naïf about the appeal occurred also to Mr Paul Turley who, in his capacity as Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles, was Mr Keating's co-prosecutor. On his own initiative, and as a private citizen, he wrote and dispatched a careful reply. I reproduce it below for the first time:
Dear Mother Teresa:
I am a Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles County and one of the persons who worked on the prosecution of your benefactor, Charles H. Keating, Jr. I read your letter to Judge Ito, written on behalf of Mr. Keating, which includes your admission that you know nothing about Mr. Keating's business or the criminal charges presented to Judge Ito. I am writing to you to provide a brief explanation of the crimes of which Mr. Keating has been convicted, to give you an understanding of the source of the money that Mr. Keating gave to you, and to suggest that you perform the moral and ethical act of returning the money to its rightful owners.
Mr. Keating was convicted of defrauding 17 individuals of more than $900,000. These 17 persons were representative of 17,000 individuals from whom Mr. Keating stole $252,000,000. Mr. Keating's specific acts of fraud were that he was the source of a series of fraudulent representations made to persons who bought bonds from his company and he also was the repository of crucial information which he chose to withhold from bond purchasers, thereby luring his victims into believing they were making a safe, low-risk investment. In truth and in fact, their money was being used to fund Mr. Keating's exorbitant and extravagant lifestyle.
The victims of Mr. Keating's fraud come from a wide spectrum of society. Some were wealthy and well-educated. Most were people of modest means and unfamiliar with high finance. One was, indeed, a poor carpenter who did not speak English and had his life savings stolen by Mr. Keating's fraud.
The biblical slogan of your organization is 'As long as you did it to one of these My least brethren. You did it to Me'. The 'least' of the brethren are among those whom Mr. Keating fleeced without flinching. As you well know, divine forgiveness is available to all, but forgiveness must be preceded by admission of sin. Not only has Mr. Keating failed to admit his sins and his crimes, he persists in self-righteously blaming others for his own misdeeds. Your experience is, admirably, with the poor. My experience has been with the 'con' man and the perpetrator of the fraud. It is not uncommon for 'con' men to be generous with family, friends and charities.
Perhaps they believe that their generosity will purchase love, respect or forgiveness. However, the time when the purchase of 'indulgences' was an acceptable method of seeking forgiveness died with the Reformation. No church, no charity, no organization should allow itself to be used as a salve for the conscience of the criminal. We all are grateful that forgiveness is available but we all, also, must perform our duty. That includes the Judge and the Jury. I remind myself of the biblical admonition of the Prophet Micah: 'O man, what is good and what does the Lord require of you. To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly.'
We are urged to love mercy but we must do justice.
You urge Judge Ito to look into his heart -- as he sentences Charles Keating -- and do what Jesus would do. I submit the same challenge to you. Ask yourself what Jesus would do if he were given the fruits of a crime; what Jesus would do if he were in possession of money that had been stolen; what Jesus would do if he were being exploited by a thief to ease his conscience?
I submit that Jesus would promptly and unhesitatingly return the stolen property to its rightful owners. You should do the same. You have been given money by Mr. Keating that he has been convicted of stealing by fraud. Do not permit him the 'indulgence' he desires Do not keep the money. Return it to those who worked for it and earned it!
If you contact me I will put you in direct contact with the rightful owners of the property now in your possession.
Paul W. Turley
Three years later, Mr Turley has received no reply to his letter. Nor can anybody account for the missing money: saints, it seems, are immune to audit.
This is by no means the only example of Mother Teresa's surreptitious attitude to money, nor of her hypocritical protestations about the beauty of poverty. But it is the clearest instance, and it is proof against the customary apologetics about innocence and unworldliness.
Mother Teresa reigns in a kingdom that is very much of this world.