Opinion : Making of Brand Teresa
The Vatican can be more accurately described as a multinational business cartel. A business cartel that is knee-deep in mess, hires popular brands to stay afloat.
‘Mother’ Teresa is to be finally raised to the altar as ‘Saint’ Teresa in September 2016. With that latest edict from the Vatican, the curtain has finally come down on an elaborate orchestrated process.
In Catholic tradition, saints are not born, they are made. That is, manufactured saints are a concept alien to Hindu tradition. Sants in the Hindu tradition are wrongly conflated with saints in the Catholic tradition. In Hindu tradition, preceptors and exemplars of Truth (Sat-hence the word sant) are revered by the poor, illiterate and unwashed masses. “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will happen”, says the Lord Almighty of the Bible (Isaiah 14:24). One might as well substitute ‘Lord Almighty’ with ‘Pope’. Only a dummy could have believed that Teresa would not be anointed ‘saint’. Teresa’s canonisation is the final embellishment of ‘Brand Teresa’ by a desperate Vatican. The Catholic Church which never tires of glorifying poverty decides imperiously on who ought to be called a saint. Sainthood in the Catholic tradition is decided solely by solemn adherence to Church doctrine and track record of enticing or coercing stray sheep into the fold of the Church.
Confusing Catholic saints with Hindu sants stems from the misconception that the Vatican is adharmic institution. The Vatican can be more accurately described as a multinational business cartel. A business cartel that is knee-deep in mess, hires popular brands to stay afloat. ‘Mother’ Teresa who crafted a larger-than-life image of herself while simultaneously demeaning this country fits the bill. It is hardly surprising that the Vatican should clutch at ‘Mother’ Teresa to redeem itself.
The practice of proclaiming sainthood through an elaborate four-step process is peculiar to the Vatican Church guiding the whole Catholic faith.
Prefix any name with ‘Mother’ and the common Hindu goes weak on his knees. Put up a display of sanctimonious piety and your unsuspecting Hindu becomes prostrate. Add the tags of Nobel Prize and Bharat Ratna and the common Hindu is bowled. What exactly is this Catholic practice of manufacturing saints? In this age of instant noodles, welcome to instant sainthood!
Vatican’s Saint Factory
Over the last 40 years, the Vatican has become a ‘saint factory’. During the eighteenth century, 29 saints were canonised; between 1800 and 1903, 80 saints were canonised. Between 1903 and 1978, another 168 saints were canonised. Then came Pope John Paul II in 1978. He reduced the power and changed the role of the Advocatus diaboli or ‘devil’s advocate’ in 1983. Wish-fulfilment rather than evidence, howsoever spurious became the new benchmark. During his 27-year reign, John Paul II created 483 new saints, exceeding the collective tally of all his predecessors over the previous half a millennium. He started the practice of travelling outside Rome to announce new saints.
Pope Benedict XVI canonised 45 saints during his eight-year pontificate. Thus 804 saints were canonised between 1700, when Clement IX assumed the papacy, and the election of current Pope Francis in March 2013. In less than two years, the current Pope has managed to anoint more than 817 saints, more than their number in the last three centuries. This includes the assembly line sainthood in 2013 of 813 Italians who in 1480 refused to convert to Islam.
Why is the Vatican feverishly manufacturing saints? To get the answer, one has to rip through the facade of piety and recognise the Vatican for what it is—a multinational business cartel. In medieval times, the Vatican financed its operations with donations and indulgences, free passes for sins in exchange for money. In recent times, the Vatican’s coffers were filled by Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini who signed the Lateran treaty with the Vatican on February 11, 1929. In exchange for the Vatican’s recognition of his regime, Mussolini gave 750 million Italian lira in cash to the Vatican. Over time, this investment by Mussolini has now grown to over one billion dollars. In 1942, the Vatican established the Institute for Religious Works, popularly called Vatican Bank to get around a war-time US-enforced ban on wire transfers out of Axis nations, including Italy. This has become the world’s largest off-shore bank, out of bounds for European regulators and police.
In 1982, Roberto Calvi, the Chairman of BancoAmbrosiano, which collapsed after 1.3 billion dollar in loans was found murdered. He had provided loans to shell companies owned by the Vatican Bank, and the Vatican had provided the letters of credit. In 2010, the Italian Government launched an investigation into the bank’s operations after the Bank of Italy alerted police to two suspicious Vatican Bank transactions totalling 30 million dollar.
Real estate owned by the Church is worth an estimated 4 billion euro, four times as much as its book value. The Vatican has large investments with the international banks in Britain, France, Switzerland and America. It has huge shares in the most powerful international corporations which amount to more than 500 million dollar in the USA alone.
To understand the complex economy of the Vatican, it is important to differentiate between the Holy See and Vatican City. The Holy See (lit. holy chair) is the governing body of the Papacy and includes the formidable Roman Curia or bureaucracy. Vatican City is the physical area where the Holy See resides. The Holy See generates revenue from Peter’s Pence, an 8th Century term for donations that are received from Catholics all over the world. Peter’s Pence donations studied by auditors totalled 378 million euro in 2013, a sum which does not feature in the budget of the Holy See. A report by Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s money-laundering watchdog, said that in 2010 the Peter’s Pencefunds were spent mainly on departments of the Curia. The budget of the Holy See includes the Vatican Secretariat of State and its diplomatic missions around the world, Vatican councils, the Holy See’s investment portfolio and properties, plus the Vatican’s newspaper, radio, publishing house and television production.
To quell accusations that the Vatican was stashing its massive, ill-gotten wealth, Pope John Paul II began releasing annual financial reports in 1981. They reveal that both the Holy See and the Vatican City government have been struggling financially in recent years. The Holy See went from a surplus of 2.4 million euro in 2006 to a deficit of more than 9 million euros in 2007. The Vatican City Government, on the other hand, had a surplus of 6.7 million euro in 2007, but swung to deficits in 2008 and 2009. Personnel costs and pensions are a major cost headache of both the Holy See and the Vatican City government. In 2014 when the Vatican adopted international accounting standards, the Holy See reported a deficit of 25.6 million euro, compared with a 24.5 million euro deficit for 2013. Vatican City State, which runs the popular Vatican Museums, reported a surplus of 63.5 million euro, up from 33 million euro in 2013.
More than 3 billion dollar have been transferred to American dioceses to help pay legal settlements surrounding the priest sex abuse scandals. The Vatican is battling dwindling Church attendance in its traditional bastion of Europe. Its stand on birth control, homosexuality, priest marriage, abortion is out of tune with contemporary thinking. Church doctrine is at odds with modern science. It’s claimed monopoly on salvation is out of tune with pluralism, secularism and universalism. Put plainly, the Catholic Church has become irrelevant. Hencethe struggle to reinvent itself with glib talk on inter-faith dialogue, human rights and liberation theology.
Vatican’s brand ambassadors
Market dynamics dictates that a brand that has lost repute repackages itself to stay relevant. Relevance also demands brand ambassadors from new and emerging markets. Hitherto, the Pope used to haughtily announce saints from his citadel in Rome. In the eighties, Pope John Paul II started the practice of visiting different countries such as South Korea, Mexico and Poland and anointing ‘sons of the soil’ as brand ambassadors, sorry saints. The litany of recently appointed Catholic saints exposes the political agenda of the Church.
On November 23, 2014, the Pope canonised Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Euphrasia Eluvathingal from Kerala. The latter is petitioned for problems of family and fertility. It can be safely assumed that the Church would exploit childless couples by invoking Euphrasia. In January 2015, Pope Francis beatified Benedict Daswa, a Black from South Africa. Though 80 per cent of South Africa’s population is Christian, there are only 7 per cent Catholics, the rest flocking to competing churches. On January 14, 2015, the Pope canonised Joseph Vaz, a Goan priest who clandestinely spread Catholicism in Sri Lanka. On May 17, 2015, the Pope canonised two Palestinian nuns. In a much-publicised trip to the US in September 2015, the Pope canonised Junipero Serra, an 18th century Spanish colonialist- priest who tortured and killed tens of thousands of Native Americans in California. Ignoring protests from Native American groups, the Pope even waived the mandatory second miracle needed for the canonisation. Against this blood-soaked background, it is hardly surprising that the Vatican had pre-determined the canonisation of ‘Mother’ Teresa who had shrewdly done her own brand-building.
Detour to sainthood
The Vatican broke every rule to ensure sainthood to Teresa. It started her canonisation within a year of her death. In fact, soon after her death, Pope John Paul II had expressed his desire that Teresa be made a saint. There was no Advocatus diaboli to give a semblance of probity. The beatification came after the ‘miraculous cure’ of a woman whose cancerous stomach tumour dissolved overnight after she tied an image of Teresa around her waist. It is another matter that her treating doctor revealed that the so-called tumour was tuberculousand had resolved after his treatment. The second miracle occurred in 2008 when an unnamed Brazilian man was cured of multiple brain tumours after he prayed to Teresa. No details of this fairy tale were ever placed before the media. Teresa was a self-described missionary whose self-confessed motive was to bring Jesus to this country. She allegedly accepted money from shady characters, was hostile to birth control, believed that AIDS sufferers were being punished for their misbehaviour, endorsed primitive medical regimes at her order’s clinics while herself enjoying best medical treatments at premier clinics abroad. She openly declared that she would have sided with the Church in its stand against Galileo.
The decks are now cleared for hawking ‘Saint’ Teresa to those willing to bite the bait. One can expect a flood of ‘Saint’ Teresa memorabilia in the market. The Vatican is likely to ask the Centre to allow the Pope to visit Kolkata in September for Teresa’s formal canonisation. Now it is upto believers whether to accept the bluff of Brand Teresa or to reject the attempts by the Vatican to impose its brand of saints.
Dr Shreerang Godbole (The writer is a scholar of
comparative religious studies)