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Hell's Angel pulled out of film festival... etc.

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  • Shaji John K
    The Hindustan Times, August 4, 2003 Hell s Angel pulled out of film festival Agence France Presse (Kolkata, August 3) A controversial film on Mother Teresa,
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 4, 2003
      The Hindustan Times, August 4, 2003

      Hell's Angel pulled out of film festival
      Agence France Presse
      (Kolkata, August 3)

      A controversial film on Mother Teresa, Hell's Angel, has been dropped
      from a film festival planned here to mark her beatification later
      this year, an organiser said on Sunday.

      "Hell's Angel would be withdrawn as Missionaries of Charity and
      Bishop Lobo who was in the Diocesan team probing the life, virtue and
      reputation of Mother Teresa's sanctity for the cause of her
      sainthood, opposed its screening," said Father C.M. Paul, a member of
      the organising committee.

      Italian Channel 4 has produced the film and Christopher Hitchens has
      directed it.

      "Father Brian Kolodie-jchuk, postulator of the cause of Mother
      Teresa's sainthood and Missionaries of Charity priest, now in Rome,
      also faxed a letter to the organising committee of the film festival
      to drop Hell's Angel," he added.

      Hell's Angel is based on the 1997 book The Missionary Position:
      Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice" by US-based British author and
      columnist Christopher Hitchens, who breaks with orthodoxy by
      questioning the work of the Missionaries of Charity.

      Hitchens faulted Mother Teresa for using her political clout on
      behalf of conservative causes and accepting money from dodgy sources.
      He contended that her work was focused on the dying and made little
      effort to improve the bad circumstances behind Kolkata's public
      health woes.

      The film had stirred up a hornet's nest as Missionaries of Charity,
      the order of nuns founded by Mother Teresa, and Bishop Salvador Lobo,
      a member of the Diocesan team shepherding her candidacy for
      sainthood, said the film distorted the work she did.

      They had written a letter to ask the Archbishop of Calcutta Lucas
      Sircar to exclude the film from the festival planned in November.

      o o o

      [ For those who havent read the book here are the details]

      The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice
      by Christopher Hitchens

      Verso books April 1997
      100 pages
      ISBN: Paper 1 85984 054 X
      [Also available cia amazon.com]

      o o o

      Lip Magazine

      Mother Teresa's Crimes Against Humanity

      by Danny Postel

      An interview with Christopher Hitchens

      What exactly inspired you to write a book about Mother Teresa?

      I went to Calcutta-for a different reason-a few years ago. There was
      a general election in India, and I was actually making a documentary
      about a fraudulent cult movement there. I didn't go specifically to
      Calcutta, in other words, to see Mother Teresa. But when I was there
      I thought: here is probably not only the greatest name recognition in
      the second part of the 20th century for an ordinary human
      being-someone who isn't in power, so to speak- but also the most
      fragrant name recognition.

      Apparently the only name about whom no one had anything but good to
      say. Now I will have to admit-no I won't have to admit, I'm proud to
      admit- that this was enough to make me skeptical to start off with.
      Call me old-fashioned if you will; say I have a nasty mind if you
      like. I won't say I'm a practicing Catholic or even a sympathizer
      with the Holy Mother Church, because I'm not. And I have my
      reservations in any case about the whole idea of the Christian
      missionary project in India and its historic links to British
      imperialism and the rest of it.

      Okay. I went with an open mind, with the constraints I've just
      identified; it was as open as I could get it. And there she was. And
      you felt when you saw that grizzled face: I've known this face all my
      life. She gave me a tour; we went around a small
      orphanage-drop-in-the-bucket size, but quite nice.

      So it began as an amicable encounter?

      Indeed. I was even sort of thinking, hmmm. . . maybe I should fumble
      for some money. And with a gesture of the arm that took in the whole
      scene of the orphanage, she said: you see this is how we fight
      abortion and contraception in Calcutta. And I thought: Oh I see-so
      you actually say that do you? Because it had crossed my mind that
      part of her work was to bear witness for the Catholic creed regarding
      the population question, to propagandize for the Church's line. But I
      hadn't realized it was so unmediated. I mean, that she would want to
      draw my attention to the fact that this was the point.

      I don't know Calcutta terrifically well, but I know it quite well.
      And I would say that low on the list of the things that it needs is a
      Christian campaign against population control. And I speak as someone
      who's personally very squeamish on the abortion question. People who
      campaign vigorously against contraception, I think, are in a very
      weak position to lay down the moral law on abortion.

      So I thought, okay, that's interesting. And then I noticed something
      else which I guess I'd noticed already without realizing it. Calcutta
      has the reputation as being a complete hell hole thanks to Mother
      Teresa. You get the impression from her that it's a place where
      people are just about able to brush the flies from their children's
      eyes, the begging bowl is fully out, that people are on their knees
      and crawling.

      Nothing could be further from the truth. Calcutta is one of the most
      vibrant and interesting cities in the world. It's full of film
      schools, universities, bookstores and caf├ęs. It has a tremendously
      vibrant political life. It's the place that produced the films of
      Satyajit Ray. It's a wonderful city. It's architecturally beautiful.
      And the people do not beg. They're not abject. They're very poor;
      some sleep on the street, but they're usually working and hustling at
      something. They don't grovel, as in some parts of India I must say
      they do.

      It's hugely overpopulated partly because of the refugees, mainly from
      the successive wars of religion-stupid wars about God that have been
      fought in the neighborhood. That's not its fault. It's basically a
      secular town. So I thought: What a pity that Mother Teresa should
      have given this great city such a bad name and made us feel
      condescending toward it.

      So partly for the honor of Calcutta, and partly out of my feeling
      that her actions are being judged by her reputation rather than her
      reputation by her actions (a common postmodern problem in the image
      business of course, but amazing in this case), I sort of opened a
      file on her, kept a brief. And then I noticed her turning up
      supporting the Duvalier family in Haiti, for example, and saying how
      wonderful they were and how great they were for the poor and how the
      poor loved them.

      What a coincidence. . .

      Yes. And then I noticed her taking money from Charles Keating of the
      Lincoln Savings and Loan and saying what a great friend of the poor
      this great fraud and thief was. Then I noticed her get the Nobel
      Prize for Peace though she had never done anything for peace. And say
      in her acceptance speech in Stockholm that the greatest threat to
      world peace is abortion.

      Then I noticed another thing. That no matter what she said or did at
      this time nobody would point it out because she had some kind of
      hammer lock on my profession. It had been agreed she was a saint and
      there was to be no argument about it. So I thought, okay, that does
      it, and I wrote a column for The Nation. That was all I did at first.
      And then I got approached from some comrades in Britain to make a
      documentary based on the column, and we found that an amazing number
      of her crimes against humanity were actually on film.

      There is film of her going to Albania and laying a wreath at the tomb
      of the dictator Enver Hoxha, vile bastard who oppressed Albania for
      years. She was Albanian by nationality, incidentally. Born in
      Macedonia. There was film of her groveling to the Duvaliers and
      flattering and fawning on Michele Duvalier in particular. There was
      film of her jetting around on Charles Keating's plane which he used
      to lend her as well as giving her a lot of money that belonged to
      other people.

      How how did she explain things like this?

      She was never asked to.

      She was simply never approached with these questions?

      No. Nor have any of her defenders-many of whom have attacked me or my
      motives-ever come up with any reply. I've had acres of print
      reviewing this book, certainly in every country where English is
      spoken, including, by the way, a lot of very intelligent and
      interesting reviews in India. But also a lot in Britain and Ireland
      and the U.S. and Australia and so on. And a lot of it has been very
      abusive-from the faithful-which I expected and don't mind.

      But what did interest me was that at no point did anyone say:
      "Hitchens falsely accuses Mother Teresa of groveling to the
      Duvaliers." Nothing like that. It was: "Hitchens attacks a woman who
      is older than him and helpless." Well excuse me. If I had attacked
      her thirty years ago it would have been alright? I mean infantile
      stuff of this kind. A real refusal to think that people might have
      been wrong, in other words. She was interviewed last year by the
      Lady's Home Journal. I don't know if you get that publication.

      I had just cancelled my subscription around that time. Afraid I
      missed it.

      What a pity. In any case, they asked her what the effect of my book
      had been. And I wondered what her reply had been. She said it had
      been to get her to cut down on the number of interviews she gave to
      the press and to instruct her nuns when reporters came to Calcutta to
      say that she wasn't in.

      In other words to lie. As a matter of fact I don't think she meant to
      keep this resolution because she remained more or less the recepient
      of uniformly heroic publicity. She did in the course of this
      interview say another interesting thing worthy of mention as an
      instance of what I mean about her morality.

      They asked her about her friendship with Princess Diana. The two had
      become very matey. They had several meetings over the last few years.
      I think you can probably guess what each wanted from the other. And
      both of them got it. It made sort of the perfect friendship in a way.
      In any case, she was asked about Princess Di's divorce. She said,
      yes, they're divorced and it's very sad but I think it's all for the
      best; the marriage was not working, no one was happy and I'm sure
      it's better that they separate.

      Two months before that Mother Teresa had been campaigning in Ireland
      on the referendum to lift the constitutional ban on divorce there.
      Ireland was the only country in Europe that had a constitutional ban
      on divorce and remarriage for women. It was a very hard-fought
      campaign for obvious reasons. First it was going to bring Ireland
      into the European family, as not having church-legislated law. Second
      it was very important in the negotiations for the Protestants in the
      north who quite justifiably, in my view, will never agree to be
      governed by the Vatican.

      So most Irish political parties said, look, we really must show that
      the Vatican doesn't control life here. So a lot was hanging on it.
      And third, obviously, because Irish women should have the right to
      get divorced and remarry. Mother Teresa took the stand on this
      referendum and said: There will be no forgiveness for you if you vote
      for this.

      Unless you happen to be the Princess of Wales.

      Unless it turns out you're the Princess of Wales. In other words it's
      pretty much like the state of indulgences in the Middle Ages. The
      bulk of humanity is described as a bunch of miserable sinners
      condemned to everlasting hell unless they've got the price of a
      pardon, which they can purchase at the nearest papacy. It's no better
      than that. In fact it's slightly worse given the advances we think
      we've made in the meantime. I've said this repeatedly. But I might as
      well not have bothered as far as most people are concerned. They
      simply do not judge her reputation by her actions. They consistently
      do the reverse and judge her actions by her reputation.

      You mentioned the money she got from Charles Keating. The court
      attempted to contact her to let her know how Keating had gone about
      obtaining that money. Her response to the court says it all.

      When Mr. Keating was finally brought to justice after the
      embezzlement of that titanic sum of money that we're all still paying
      off-because, as you know, among the key principles of Clintonism is
      that private debts are covered by public money-he was sentenced to
      the maximum that California law allows, which he's still serving. The
      court, interestingly enough, was Judge Ito's court.

      As in the judge for the first O.J. Simpson trial?

      That's the one. Mother Teresa wrote to the court and said, look,
      Charles Keating is a great friend of the poor and a lovely man and
      you should go easy on him. I reprinted her letter, in which she says
      if he's done anything wrong she can't believe it and she doesn't know
      what it is. The deputy D.A. of L.A. County a very clever guy by the
      name of Paul Turley, who I would say from his letter must at least
      have been a Catholic in his life, if he isn't still. He wrote her
      back a letter, explaining the process by which Keating had separated
      really large numbers of poor people from their life savings without
      any scruple at all or remorse, and then pointed out that in their
      audits they discovered that quite a lot of the money he had stolen
      he'd given to Mother Teresa. He said, now that you know this when are
      you going to give it back? At this point she broke off the
      correspondence and made no move to return the money.

      Let's say she really didn't know. Let's make the assumption of
      innocence and imagine that when she wrote the letter to the court she
      really had no idea what Keating had been doing. Well, she knew
      subsequently because the letter is extremely careful and highly
      persuasive and very well-sourced. She knew she was in receipt of
      stolen money. She did nothing to redeem that. As a matter of fact
      it's not possible to discover anything about what is done with the
      huge fortune she amassed. There's no audit. Nobody knows what the
      accounts are; it's impossible to get at them. But I can tell you
      where it isn't going. It's not going to the hospices and orphanages
      of Calcutta, because I've been to them and so have many other people.

      Most people are surprised first off at the sheer primitiveness of the
      poverty and backwardness of these places. I mean when Mother Teresa
      got sick she didn't go there-let me put it like that. People go there
      to die; there's not much else you can do. Needles are washed in cold
      water. There have been many reports in the medical journals of really
      squalid and primeval conditions there. So that's not where the
      money's going.

      With half the money she got just from the prizes she's been given she
      could have built a teaching hospital for Calcutta; she certainly
      never did that. If you wonder where it's gone my best guess would be
      the interview she gave where she said she's opened convents in more
      than 150 countries. Sorry to have to break the news to people who
      think their money is going to the relief of the poor of Calcutta.
      Instead, they've just equipped a nice chalice-infested convent richly
      decorated with lots of incense somewhere in Kenya.

      Aside from this sort of muckraking you do in the book, you also
      explore Mother Teresa as symbol, as icon: the place she occupies in
      the cultural imagination of the industrial world. What is it,
      precisely, that she symbolizes? What do we need her for?

      I make the case in the book that she's symbolic indeed, or
      emblematic, of two things larger than herself. One, the fact that the
      rich world has a poor conscience-a poor conscience about what it used
      to call the Third World. It knows it doesn't do much about it. It
      likes to think someone is doing it and hands off the task vicariously
      to the old mission racket and probably therefore doesn't want to hear
      this isn't all that it appears or all that it might be.

      That's only one aspect of the way in which religious figures are
      given this sort of special pass on credulity. It's either consciously
      or subconsciously assumed that a person of the cloth actually has
      better morals. There's precious little evidence of this; there's a
      great deal of evidence to the contrary, in fact. But somehow it's
      still considered-especially in a country like America which suffers
      from a sort of mediocre version of multiculturalism-a possibly
      offensive thing to suggest. Because you're not attacking a religion;
      you're attacking the Catholic community-a rather different
      proposition. And the idea of offending that is anathema to so many

      Do you think the title of the book might have contributed this? Could
      it have deterred certain people from even opening it up?

      It was a risk one ran. Once I thought of the title I realized I was
      gonna have to do it. I was very hurt by somebody describing the title
      as "sophomoric," because it's a triple entendre, which is not all
      that common. You have three layers of pun. I had wanted to call it
      Sacred Cow (laughter), but that would have had only one pun in it.
      The Missionary Position has two.

      What are the multiple meanings, after all?

      Well, there's the theory and practice of the missionary-the idea of
      the evangelizing of the world by Christians, which has this long
      imperial history. There's Mother Teresa's desire to have control over
      the sex lives of the poor-in other words, her belief that only
      Princess Diana had the right to get divorced, that there should be no
      contraception, etc. She adopted the most extreme version of all
      Catholic teaching on matters of sex and reproduction and did so in
      countries where it is actually possible, if the church is powerful
      enough, to withhold these things from people, to deny them access to
      contraception. And her extraordinary view that abortion is the
      greatest threat to world peace. And the third meaning is one I've
      forgotten, but I'm sure some of your listeners will remember... [ L i
      P ]

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