When a Belgian Sinologist [Pierre Ryckmans] Defended Mother Teresa’s “Secret Baptisms”

FLASHBACK: When a Belgian Sinologist [Pierre Ryckmans] Defended Mother Teresa’s “Secret Baptisms”


Posted by Oakes Spalding on 9/4/16

Some Catholics have criticized Mother Theresa’s canonization (or at least the rapidity of it) partly on the grounds that she may have voiced quasi-indifferentist views.

For example, she is alleged to have said:

I’ve always said we should help a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Muslim become a better Muslim, a Catholic become a better Catholic.

However, there’s a sort of opposite story that has also been told – that Mother Teresa and her Sisters gave dying Muslim and Hindu patients “secret baptisms.”

In “The Shadow Saint,” a favorable review of Christopher Hitchens’ infamous The Missionary Position, a 1996 book-length attack on Mother Teresa, Murray Kempton quotes a source mentioned by Hitchens:

In the homes for the dying, Mother taught the sisters how to secretly baptize those who were dying. Sisters were to ask each person in danger of death if he wanted a “ticket to heaven.” An affirmative reply was to mean consent to baptism. The sister was then to pretend that she was just cooling the patient’s head with a wet cloth, while in fact she was baptizing him, saying quietly the necessary words. Secrecy was important so that it would not come to be known that Mother Teresa’s sisters were baptizing Hindus and Moslems.

Kempton then adds some of his own righteous snark:

Some of those thus surreptitiously snatched from the burning had to be so far in moribundity as to be incapable of informed consent; and this glimpse of her style with conversions licenses us to add to the catalog of this woman’s heresies the extraordinary notion that the gate of Heaven, instead of being as strait as she was taught as a novice, gapes instead so wide as to accept tickets of admission contrived in stealth and sealed with a fraudulent stamp.

Two months later, NYRB printed two letters in her defense. The first was written by, of all people, a younger Fr. James Martin at America Magazine who begins his letter by stating, “So Mother Teresa isn’t perfect.” He then cites a conspiracy book by John Corwell, criticizes the selfishness of the West and finally defends (admittedly in a gentlemanly way) the Sister’s commitment to helping the poor.

The second letter was written by “Simon Leys”, the pseudonym of Pierre Ryckmans, a Belgian-Australian art historian, literary critic, translator and sinologist.

The Catholic Ryckmans, who died in 2014 was a fascinating character, and I urge you to look up some of his diverse selection of books. Among other things, he was one of the most prominent critics of Mao and the Chinese Communists during an era when such thoughts could doom ones academic career in the West, hence the “Simon Leys” pseudonym.

While Martin gently scolded Kempton for being “not a little unfair,” Leys strongly gave back to Kempton and Hitchens what they so richly deserved:
Bashing an elderly nun under an obscene label does not seem to be a particularly brave or stylish thing to do. Besides, it appears that the attacks which are being directed at Mother Teresa all boil down to one single crime: she endeavors to be a Christian, in the most literal sense of the word—which is (and always was, and will always remain) a most improper and unacceptable undertaking in this world . . .

She secretly baptizes the dying. The material act of baptism consists in shedding a few drops of water on the head of a person, while mumbling a dozen simple ritual words. Either you believe in the supernatural effect of this gesture—and then you should dearly wish for it. Or you do not believe in it, and the gesture is as innocent and well-meaningly innocuous as chasing a fly away with a wave of the hand. If a cannibal who happens to love you presents you with his most cherished possession—a magic crocodile tooth that should protect you forever—will you indignantly reject his gift for being primitive and superstitious, or would you gratefully accept it as a generous mark of sincere concern and affection?

Jesus was spat upon—but not by journalists, as there were none in His time. It is now Mother Teresa’s privilege to experience this particular updating of her Master’s predicament.

You don’t have to be a Catholic to get the point.

A magical crocodile tooth that will protect you forever.

[Sancta Teresa, ora pro nobis.] Requiescat in pace, Monsieur Ryckmans.

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9 comments on “When a Belgian Sinologist [Pierre Ryckmans] Defended Mother Teresa’s “Secret Baptisms”

  1. The sheer force of the hatred which the Left, the feminists, Planned Parenthood, Hitchens, the media, academics, modernist nuns and traitorous priests direct at Mother Teresa is sign enough for me that she is a saint. Certainly there are some strange and potentially liberal quotes attributed to her, however, her consistent condemnation of birth control, abortion and euthanasia, is in sharp contrast to the majority of bishops, priests and nuns today who are noteably silent on these topics.
    Her unfailing acts of love to the sick and dying, in contrast to the leaders of the West who would solve the problem by exterminating them with abortion and euthanasia, has been a rebuke to our modern societies which they cannot forgive her for. No wonder they hate her so much. She holds up a mirror to them and they see in it their full ugliness.

  2. This is the best news I’ve heard about Mother T. I would assume she kept it secret because of the violence of the Hindus. They’re as bad a ragheads when it comes to Christians. Any Christian suspected of proselytism can be dragged out and beaten or killed. It was dangerous enough for them to disturb the “karma” of these unfortunate beggars dying in the street. Hindus are really sweet in this regard, e.g., taking the old folks out for a final celebration and leaving them to die. Demonic. But not as demonic as the rage of the Left.

    Baptizing a soul at death is an eminently charitable act, and one which Catholics should keep in mind in the albeit unlikely event that they are faced with it. Yes, it would be best if some minimal consent, i.e., sign of faith, acknowledgement of Jesus Christ, were present. In any case, a person dying in the arms of a nun likely realizes and appreciates the charity and from whence it comes. There is every reason to hope that the Baptism will be valid.

  3. I think Tom’s edit on the last sentence was very appropriate. I changed it on the post. Thank you, Tom.

    Oakes at Mahound’s Paradise

  4. Mr. Trump celebrates with Catholics and chimes in:


    • Good for Trump.

      Not to get too far off topic: Trump appears to like good things and likes this country. Case in point: he told the NFL creep Kaepernick to find a country that treats him better. In contrast today, Bozo Hussein gave K a shout out while in Communist China. Hussein despises this country. I hope more Americans get to see the contrast between Leftists who despise everything and folks like Trump who like good things.

    • You should also post video of Hillary celebrating Mother Theresa’s canonization. Oh! Wait!

      • Abortion Activist Hilary Clinton Uses photo of Herself with Mother Teresa in 2008 Campaign Video


        WASHINGTON, May 15, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A campaign video released yesterday by the Hillary Clinton for President Campaign includes an image of Mother Teresa with then-First Lady Mrs. Clinton. The national Catholic-based advocacy group Fidelis called on the campaign to remove the image from the video. “It is wholly inappropriate, disrespectful and disturbing that Hillary Clinton is using an image of Blessed Mother Teresa as a political tool, especially given their radically different views on abortion,” said Fidelis President Joseph Cella.

        “Mother Teresa tirelessly fought to protect unborn children, while Hillary Clinton staunchly supports abortion on demand in all nine months of pregnancy, including partial birth abortion and taxpayer funding of abortion,” he said. “Out of respect to Mother Teresa, and the Missionaries of Charity strict guidelines for the use of Mother’s image, we call on the Hillary Clinton campaign to immediately remove her image from their campaign video.”

        At approximate 2:26 into the video, the former President says, “Hillary in effect, was the face of America…in India” with a photo of Hillary waving alongside Blessed Teresa. The video then goes directly to a clip of the former First Lady’s address at the 1995 Beijing Conference, where a push was made to declare abortion a fundamental “human right.”

        * * *

      • null

        “Why do you think we haven’t had a woman as president yet?” First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton asked her guest over their 1994 lunch at the White House.

        The little woman sitting at table with Mrs. Clinton did not hesitate in her reply.

        “Because she has probably been aborted,” said Mother Teresa.

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