It seems that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) may be violating its own guidelines in deciding to honor Mother Teresa, a Catholic nun who ran charitable organizations, with a new 2010 stamp that is set for release on August 26, the day she would have turned 100. According to those regulations, “Stamps or stationery items shall not be issued to honor religious institutions or individuals whose principal achievements are associated with religious undertakings or beliefs.”
Rules aside, the stamp has now become the center of a national controversy, pitting atheist and “pro-life” Catholic groups against each other in a battle over whether the nun who preached against contraceptives and abortions for poor families should have her mug on a government-issued stamp.
Free From Religion Foundation spokesperson Annie Gaylor was clear as to why atheists are objecting to the stamp. She told Fox News, “Mother Teresa is principally a religious figure who ran a religious institution. You can’t really separate her being a nun and being a Roman Catholic from everything she did.” Atheists are calling on the USPS not to issue the stamp.
Brian Burch, the head of CatholicVoteAction, said that his group is “shocked and saddened by reports that atheist groups are now mobilizing to stop the USPS” from printing the proposed stamp.
The Postal Service, meantime, doesn’t seem to be backing down from its position. According to Roy Betts, a spokesperson for USPS, “This has nothing to do with religion or faith. Mother Teresa is not being honored because of her religion, she’s being honored for her work with the poor and her acts of humanitarian relief.”
That’s the problem.
I don’t care about the Postal Service’s guidelines. Or the fact that Mother Teresa was a nun. What I am concerned about is her actual work.
Sure, it’s easy to love her because she fed and clothed people in one of the world’s poorest areas. But the reality is that she did nothing to address the roots of that poverty.
In fact, she helped keep people poor by urging them to continue having children when they couldn’t afford to feed the ones they had. She preached against contraceptives as well as abortion. In a world that is overpopulated, she helped keep poor women barefoot and pregnant.
That wasn’t all. As Christopher Hitchens reports in Missionary Position
(a book about the darker side of the “saint”), Mother Teresa supported Haiti’s dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, even calling him a friend to the poor. He was anything but. She backed the right-wing Nicaraguan Contras, even though they slaughtered countless civilians in their desire to run the country. She wrote a letter asking the court for clemency for Charles Keating, who was involved in the Savings and Loan scandal that resulted in many people losing their life savings. Keating had donated over $1 million to her charities.
In her correspondence, Mother Teresa asked Judge Ito to “do what Jesus would do.”
I know what I’ll do -- pass on the Mother Teresa stamp.
Tommi Avicolli Mecca is co-editor of Avanti Popolo: Italians Sailing Beyond Columbus, and editor of Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay Liberation, which has been nominated for an American Library Association award. His website is www.avicollimecca.com.