TRUMBULL, Conn. — Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta stands prominently in the first row of women in a painting called Women of Purpose. She holds one end of a banner that proclaims, “Onward We March.” The other end is held by Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood.
Little wonder that this painting — which also includes notable women like Abigail Adams, President John Adams’ wife, and nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale, two of Mother Teresa’s sisters and abortion proponent Gloria Steinem — has roused the concern of many citizens of Trumbull, Conn., where the painting is on display at the town’s main public library.
It is one of 33 paintings that are part of the “Great Minds” exhibit that showcases a collection owned by town residents, a retired dentist, Dr. Richard Resnick, and his wife.
Among those who are offended by the portrait is Father Brian Gannon, pastor of St. Theresa Church in Trumbull, which is approximately 60 miles from New York City.
“Mother Teresa should not be imaged marching in solidarity with Margaret Sanger and hung in a public setting,” said Father Gannon.
“It betrays Mother Teresa [to show her] marching in solidarity with Margaret Sanger, who believed in forced sterilization and was a eugenicist,” Father Gannon said.
When the Missionaries of Charity were informed about this depiction of their foundress — who is now one step away from being canonized a saint — “the office which oversees the authorization of Mother Teresa’s image respectfully but straightforwardly asked the image to be taken down,” Father Gannon explained, “because it is not representative of who Mother Teresa is.”
Such action by Mother Teresa’s order has precedent. In 2007, when Hillary Clinton used a photo of herself with Mother Teresa in a video for her 2008 presidential campaign, Sister Nirmala, the order’s superior general, requested that the photo be removed. Clinton’s campaign respected the request to remove the photo.
Regarding the current situation at the Trumbull library, the painting came down — the town’s attorney and first selectman were concerned about legalities following the request from the Missionaries of Charity.
“In recent weeks, independent organizations have alleged potential copyright infringement with the use of Mother Teresa’s image in one of the pieces of artwork,” states the town website.
As First Selectman Timothy Herbst explained on the website: “After learning that the Trumbull Library Board did not have the proper written indemnification for the display of privately owned artwork in the town’s library, and also being alerted to allegations of copyright infringement and unlawful use of Mother Teresa’s image, upon the advice of legal counsel, I can see no other respectful and responsible alternative than to temporarily suspend the display until the proper agreements and legal assurances are in place.”
Issues at Stake
Trumbull resident George Meagher condemned the vandalism of the image as an inappropriate way to handle the controversy. He was among the Catholics who met with the library board to express concern over the painting and to deliver a petition, asking for its removal. Verbal requests from others to remove the painting had come days earlier than Meagher’s written petition.
In the petition, Meagher detailed Sanger’s call for eliminating all those she labeled as “defective” and limiting immigration quotas on certain peoples.
“Do you understand why people who value the handicapped, who oppose national and racial prejudices, who don’t think the poor are human waste, who don’t believe a large family is wicked, who oppose coerced sterilization and segregation would find this painting offensive?” asked Meagher, the father of a child with special needs.
“Many people in our town believe Margaret Sanger should not be honored as a ‘great mind,’ and to imply that certain women represented as marching in common cause with her is a defamation of their lifework,” he added.
In the wake of the petition, according to an article in the Connecticut Post, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to Herbst’s office stating that “its attorneys believe removing the painting is a First Amendment issue, ‘given the speciousness of any copyright concerns.’” According to the first selectman’s office, the painting was already back up by the time this letter arrived.
Explaining why the painting was put back on display, Herbst told the Register, “We took appropriate action that Dr. Resnick properly indemnified [to guard against liability of] the town. As soon as we had that, the painting went up, before the ACLU interceded.”
But the First Amendment was never the issue with those opposed to the painting. It’s about the message the painting portrays.
“Whereas Mother Teresa loved every human being from conception to natural death, Sanger is the antithesis of her,” Father Gannon emphasized. “Mother Teresa would never would have marched in solidarity with Margaret Sanger” or with others who support abortion, like Steinem, he added: “Mother Teresa is taken completely out of context.”
In her work for Planned Parenthood, Sanger attacked and criticized the teachings of the Church and Pope Pius XI.
In America Needs a Code for Babies, in 1934, Sanger said one reason to limit who could procreate was “to protect society against the propagation and increase of the unfit.”
Sanger’s “Article 4” predates China’s one-child policy: “No woman shall have the legal right to bear a child, and no man shall have the right to become a father, without a permit for parenthood.” And “Article 6” stated: “No permit for parenthood shall be valid for more than one birth.”
In “Article 8,” “Feeble-minded persons, habitual congenital criminals, those afflicted with inheritable disease and others found biologically unfit by authorities … should be sterilized or, in cases of doubt, should be so isolated as to prevent the perpetuation of their afflictions by breeding.”
In Women and the New Race, she wrote: “Birth control itself, often denounced as a violation of natural law, is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives or of those who will become defectives.”
A Saint’s Compassion
On the other hand, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta cared compassionately for “defectives,” “delinquents” and the “feeble-minded.” Her approach was full of benevolence and kindness.
As the Mother Teresa of Calcutta Center reports, “One thing that Mother Teresa used to repeat very often was: ‘The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. … The greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”
Mother Teresa addressed this theme at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington in 1994.
“If we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?” she asked.
“By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems. … And, by abortion, the father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world.”
Mother Teresa said her Missionaries of Charity “are fighting abortion by adoption — by care of the mother and adoption for her baby. We have saved thousands of lives. We have sent word to the clinics, to the hospitals and police stations: ‘Please don’t destroy the child; we will take the child.’”
“From our children’s home in Calcutta alone, we have saved over 3,000 children from abortion. These children have brought such love and joy to their adopting parents and have grown up so full of love and joy,” she added.
In her gentle yet firm way, she challenged everyone: “From here, a sign of care for the weakest of the weak — the unborn child — must go out to the world. If you become a burning light of justice and peace in the world, then, really, you will be true to what the founders of this country stood for.”
Supporting Mother Teresa
“Mother Teresa’s life was spent aggressively crusading against everything Margaret Sanger stood for,” emphasized Father Gannon of Trumbull.
He concluded, “A great deal of this boils down to the Missionaries of Charity, who have more say over the use of Mother Teresa’s image than anyone else in the world; they have respectfully asked it be taken down, and their request should be honored.”
Susan Monks, who also objects to the painting, sees good coming out of this situation.
“The objections to this painting and its aftermath have educated many people on the holy and good works of Mother Teresa and the evil works and ideas of Margaret Sanger,” she told the Register. “And that is good."
Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.