Mother Teresa was no saint, at least according to new research. At a time when we’re becoming disillusioned with our Catholic clergy, here’s another blow to our beliefs.

Psychologists Serge Larivée and Genevieve Chenard analyzed of the published writings about Mother Teresa and concluded that her hallowed image does not stand up to analysis of the facts, but was constructed, and that her beatification was orchestrated by an effective media relations campaign.

Larivée says, "While looking for documentation on the phenomenon of altruism for a seminar on ethics, one of us stumbled upon the life and work of one of Catholic Church’s most celebrated women and now part of our collective imagination–Mother Teresa–whose real name was Agnes Gonxha. The description was so ecstatic that it piqued our curiosity and pushed us to research further."

The researchers were especially bothered by "her rather dubious way of caring for the sick, her questionable political contacts, her suspicious management of the enormous sums of money she received, and her overly dogmatic views regarding, in particular, abortion, contraception, and divorce."

At the time of her death, Mother Teresa had opened 517 missions welcoming the poor and sick in more than 100 countries. The missions have been described as "homes for the dying" by doctors visiting several of these establishments in Calcutta. Two-thirds of the people coming to these missions hoped to a find a doctor to treat them, while the other third lay dying without receiving appropriate care. The doctors observed a significant lack of hygiene, even unfit conditions, as well as a shortage of actual care, inadequate food, and no painkillers.

The problem is not a lack of money–the Foundation created by Mother Teresa has raised hundreds of millions of dollars–but rather a particular conception of suffering and death: The journalist Christopher Hitchens said that her response to criticism was, “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering." But at the end of her own life, she checked into a modern American hospital.

How do we convince people to separate truth from falsehood when they run across obviously false information in a book or magazine or on the internet? The problem is that many people WANT to believe the falsehood.

The prospect of correcting falsehoods online before they have a chance to spread widely has obvious appeal. Communications expert R. Kelly Garrett says, "(Athough) corrections do have some positive effect, it is mostly with people who were predisposed to reject the false claim anyway. The problem with trying to correct false information is that some people want to believe it, and simply telling them it is false won’t convince them." For example, the rumor that President Obama was not born in the United States was widely believed during the past election season, even though it was thoroughly debunked.

The results of Garrett’s studies cast doubt on the theory that people who believe false rumors need only to be educated about the truth to change their minds. He says, "Humans aren’t vessels into which you can just pour accurate information. Correcting misperceptions is really a persuasion task. You have to convince people that, while there are competing claims, one claim is clearly more accurate."

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