MOTHER MAY I?

What Were Mother Teresa’s Views On Homosexuality?

Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa at a pro-life meeting in Germany © 1986 Túrelio (via Wikimedia-Commons), 1986 / License: Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-2.0 de

Mother Teresa was declared a saint in a canonization Mass held by Pope Francis in the Vatican on Sunday. The iconic nun’s life and work grabbed hold of public consciousness since she began her work with the sick and dying in the 1950s and has only grown since then, culminating in her sainthood. She is seen as a symbol of peace, love and acceptance throughout the world. Yet one aspect of her personal belief system is not often discussed: her views on homosexuality.

Related: Mother Teresa’s Charity: Better Children Be Homeless Than Adopted By A Gay Person

Teresa’s view on poverty and against abortion are much more well known and have proved controversial. That is in part because she had much less to say on the topic of homosexuality, which itself is telling. In fact, she made no public statement on the issue. What little we do know can be interpreted in multiple ways, fitting for a woman whose work and life have drawn such laudatory praise and harsh criticism.

Most famously, Teresa is said to have stopped an interviewer when asked about her views on homosexuality, objecting to the word, saying they should instead be called “friends of Jesus.” Finding a primary source for this interaction proved fruitless.

If the reports are accurate, however, one could view Teresa’s reaction as a nod of support. At the same time, her objection to the term “homosexual” suggests there is something wrong with having that sexual orientation. This support seems to be of the “love the sinner, hate the sin” variety.

That reading of her supposed remarks would align her with Pope Francis, who has signaled support for gay people only so long as they don’t couple up — transgender individuals, meanwhile, don’t even get off that easy.

Related: Gay Man Fired By Catholic Diocese Files Federal Lawsuit

A former nun who worked with Mother Teresa tells a story that offers another glimpse into what she may have thought about gay people.

Mary Johnson spent 20 years as a Missionary of Charity, the order founded by Mother Teresa. Johnson, then known as Sister Donata, has written a memoir about that period in her life called An Unquenchable Thirst: Following Mother Teresa in Search of Love, Service, and an Authentic Life.

In one passage, Johnson, who reports having herself had both heterosexual and homosexual affairs during her time with Missionaries of Charity, writes about a sister who was dismissed from the order and sent home over her alleged lesbianism.

“When [Mother Teresa] took one of the sisters to her house, that sister’s mother received them and said, ‘It would have been better if you had brought a coffin to my house today than my daughter in this disgrace.’ And when Mother would tell this story she would always express great sympathy for the [sister’s] mother, as though, for her, it would have been better had she brought a coffin,” Johnson writes.

Johnson also encountered an abusive nun during her time in the order. In an interview posted to her website, Johnson talks about how Teresa gave the woman another chance, and what her motivations might have been for doing so:

Abuse should never be tolerated, and there are no real justifications. Part of the problem is that in official Catholic teaching, EVERY sin against chastity is a mortal sin – there are no gradations in seriousness of matter between indulging an inappropriate sexual thought and adultery – it will all send you to hell. There is inadequate appreciation for the fact that some sexual sins harm other people, and that those are actually worse. Plus, Catholics are taught that the Christian thing to do is to forgive. I’m sure that when Mother Teresa kept giving an abusive sister another chance, she thought it her Christian duty to forgive, the way Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery.  Jesus in the Gospels was never too concerned with justice. Mother Teresa was the same. But I think a mature person has to be concerned with justice, with the consequence of our actions, and not just with our intentions.

Mother Teresa was clearly willing to work in service of those in the gay community. Among those Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity opened hospices for were AIDS patients, launching some of the first such residences in places such as New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Related: Catholic Priest Outed For Hosting Raunchy Judas-Themed Orgies With Male Prostitutes

Mother Teresa’s decision to not make public statements against homosexuality suggests she was not particularly concerned about the issue, as compared to say abortion, which she quite clearly and loudly condemned. Still, there is evidence suggesting she viewed homosexual acts as a sin that must be avoided, but for which one can be forgiven. This would align with Catholic teachings, as Johnson suggests and as Pope Francis continues to uphold today.

So her views on the matter, like so much else about her life and times, are open to interpretation, speculation and debate. Now that she is officially a saint those debates will continue and likely intensify.

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18 Comments

  • AlliterationAddict

    Didn’t Mother Theresa withhold anesthetic in her hospitals for Indian patients because she thought that they were uncivilized and the pain would bring them closer to God? I’m not saying that it wasn’t good that she showed compassion for those who she helped, but often her compassion was expressed in the same way that you might show for a pet. Not malevolent, clearly sympathetic and with care, but also distinctly condescending and grounded in a sense of sociocultural superiority. Which, by the sound of it, is what characterizes her views on LGBT people. Obviously that’s a whole lot better than the more dogmatic wings of the Catholic Party, but I wish these people weren’t portrayed as, well, saints. At least, not without at least recognizing the less savory aspects of their practice.

  • Ukin Blome

    There are two reasons the Pope makes saints, The first is to throw at the people he mooches his free vacation visits off of and the other is to sell more trinkets at the Vatican souvenir store.

  • browngay

    @AlliterationAddict:

    I have never heard of something more ridiculous. Mother Theresa served the poor and the downtrodden with Christ’s Love when the local religion of the land viewed suffering as a punishment to be borne faithfully as Karma.

    That Mother held such a view or practised it, is a preposterous lie spread by those who where angry at her action of helping the downtrodden as being in opposition to the Hindu Philosophy of Karmic suffering.

    In a land that is now famous for its gang rapes, Mother Theresa was a beacon of love hope and charity. The high priest of the nearby famous temple of the goddess Kali, who had earlier though of her as a foreign devil is reported to have fallen on her feet and said, today I see the goddess in front of me!

    Mother Teresa was accepted and loved by Indians wholeheartedly and they gave her a state funeral. To them, irrespective of Vatican proclamations of her sainthood, she was a living saint and will remain their beloved Mother.

  • browngay

    The article I believe is a accurate description of Mother’s view and practises during her lifetime.

    As a devout catholic, she held any sexual act outside of heterosexual matrimony to be illicit and sinful.

    I don’t think she disliked gay people in that she was not obsessed with homosexuality, thought no point in singling out as a special sin nor was she hostile or harsh towards gays in her experience with them.

  • dwes09

    @browngay: “Mother Theresa served the poor and the downtrodden with Christ’s Love when the local religion of the land viewed suffering as a punishment to be borne faithfully as Karma.”

    She helped the poor so as to feel closer to the work attributed to one of her three Gods. She did not have any desire to alleviate the causes of poverty or disease, only to make gestures of help. She as much as said so (after all didn’t the man Jesus say “the poor will always be with us”. This is no different from what Hindus do in India.

    And by the way, gang rape has nothing to do with Hinduism and more to do with a repressive and sexist culture, not too dissimilar to the culture here. Were our lands to be overcrowded and devoid of the rich resources we have do not kid yourself into thinking life would not be just as mean.

  • robho3

    Oh well. Momma T wasn’t on the homo train.

  • AlliterationAddict

    @AlliterationAddict: I was drawing from peer reviewed research studies. She was also criticized for baptizing people on their deathbeds without their knowledge or consent. I’m not saying that she wasn’t a benevolent person or that she didn’t do a lot of good. But it’s damaging for praise about Mother Theresa to go unqualified, because like it or not she participated in some highly dubious practices that are reflective of historical power structures regarding religion and colonialism. And for the record, I myself am Indian, and I know a lot of other people who aren’t the greatest fans of Mother Theresa either. Particularly among the younger generation.

  • Ukin Blome

    @dwes09: How could you tell laying there with your face in the pillow screaming next?

  • Ukin Blome

    @Ukin Blome: @dwes09: How could you tell laying there with your face in the pillow screaming next?

    This comment was directed at robho3. The way the page keep jumping around I accidentally clicked on dwes09. Sorry bud. robho3, you must know that this comment describes you.

  • Sluggo2007

    Who cares what her views on homosexuality were? She never had sex in her life, so what makes her any kind of authority on the subject?

  • Masc Pride

    I’m guessing “Love the sinner, hate the sin” considering her compassion but also considering the time in which she lived. There is usually lots of gray area with this stuff. I think both outwardly supportive and outwardly bigoted people tend to be uncommon.

  • DCFarmboy

    I remember when Mother Teresa opened her home for AIDS patients in Washington, DC. Even a lot of liberal minded people in the neighborhood opposed it, even those a good number of blocks away.

  • sfhally

    The correct answer, of course, is “Who cares what she thinks?”

  • Maude

    “Want to see the face of Jesus? Look in the eyes of the most needy, the most painful and the most ratcherd. And Jesus will look back at you”.
    Mother Terasasa in Calcutta.cica;1965

  • Xzamilio

    What Were Mother Teresa’s Views On Homosexuality?

    Who gives a shit… she’s dead.

  • jdboston617

    This is a pointless topic as is it no matter what historical person you reference. They will, as most people are, reflections of their times. What’s more important is – who cares. This is pure speculation.

  • Chris

    As conflicted as she was, she persisted in caring for the sick and the poor; others would have given up or actively oppressed them. To me, she personifies the statement that “love is a verb.” ….. Yeah, she was a flawed human like the rest of us. Get over it.

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