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Pick a saint

September 5, 2016

It’s been a while since anything has annoyed me enough to get me writing. Congratulations, Vatican. You got the job done.


Nineteen years ago two world famous, much loved women died within days of one another.

The first to go was a 36-year-old divorced princess.

The second was an 87-year-old misogynistic religious fanatic who spread and wallowed in misery.

Christopher Hitchens (no stranger to controversy) took a lot of stick for his 1997 book, The Missionary Position, in which he said: “Mother Teresa was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.”

This is what Mother Teresa had to say about abortion in her 1979 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: “Peace is threatened by abortion. Today, abortion is the worst evil and the greatest enemy of peace… because if a mother can kill her own child, what will prevent us from killing ourselves, or one another? Nothing.”

While the Catholic gnome was being flown around on private jets to be feted by (and accept large donations from) dictators and shady businessmen, the children in her orphanages lived in squalor.

Hitchens dubbed her “Hell’s Angel” and I have no argument with that description.

A year after Mother Teresa won the Nobel Prize, a pretty, nineteen-year-old virgin was chosen to become the bride of Charles, Prince of Wales.

Diana Spencer (as was) may not have been the sharpest tool in the shed, but she did have compassion. Something Mother Teresa notably lacked.

In 1987, when an HIV diagnosis was still a painful death sentence and some people (including, no doubt, Mother Teresa) viewed the disease as God’s punishment for homosexuality, Princess Diana went to an East London hospital and held the hand (without gloves! screamed the tabloids) of a skeletal HIV patient.

Not long afterwards she said: “HIV does not make people dangerous to know, so you can shake their hands and give them a hug. Heaven knows they need it.”

It was actually an incredibly brave thing for a member of the House of Windsor to do and the way in which attitudes towards HIV/AIDS and its victims changed almost overnight was more miraculous than the dubious ‘miracles’ attributed to the gnome.

When Diana died it struck me as a great pity, because she was a woman who was just hitting her stride. Freed of the shackles of royal protocol, she was putting her celebrity status to good use.

Few, for example, could fail to acknowledge the role her involvement played in the creation of the Mine Ban Treaty (in full: the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction) and the awarding of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines. (Only her death prevented the prize being awarded to Diana herself.)

I don’t know about sanctification, but I do think Diana was a better human being than Mother Teresa. (And I’m not saying Diana was a great human being.)

Since 2013 I have, on more than one occasion, found myself asking: is the Pope Catholic? Yesterday he proved beyond doubt that he is.

Hell’s Angel is now a saint.

Pass the sick bag.

From → Columns

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