ROME – Almost three decades after her death, Saint Teresa of Kolkata, commonly and affectionately referred to as “Mother Teresa,” remains an international icon of charity and among the most beloved figures in the world, probably the Catholic Church’s most celebrated 20th century personality who wasn’t a pope.

Named Time’s “Person of the Year” in 1975, Mother Teresa also founded a religious order, the Missionaries of Charity, which has become one of the Catholic Church’s most celebrated institutions, almost universally hailed for its service to the “poorest of the poor.”

Yet despite the society’s international fame, some former members have recounted a shadow side. They describe an internal culture at times marked by abuse and neglect, characterized by what they call a personalistic and pre-Vatican II style of leadership.

These former members, some of whom left decades ago and others who exited more recently, assert the order occasionally exhibits dynamics sadly familiar from other chapters of Catholicism’s abuse scandals. They claim they were routinely bullied, exploited and abused by authorities, while the only strategy when difficulties arose was to stay silent.

Membership in the Missionaries of Charity runs to roughly 5,750 sisters around the world, making it difficult to assess how systemic the abuses described in these reports actually are. One striking point, however, is that almost without exception, the ex-members who have come forward say they’ve done so not to damage the order, but rather to help it to realize the best version of itself.

A Vatican spokesman did not respond to a Crux request for comment on this article. A spokesman for the Missionaries of Charity, however, described the complaints as “old grievances” and characterized an earlier draft of this report as “badly biased” and “unfair.”

Allegations of abuse

The Missionaries of Charity were founded in October 1950 by Mother Teresa, then-Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, an Albanian former Sister of Loreto who left when she felt moved by God to live a special vocation working among the poor on the streets of Calcutta, now known as Kolkata.

As of 2023, the Missionaries of Charity served in 139 countries, assisting the poor and homeless, orphans and abandoned infants, disabled adults and children, women in difficulty, the elderly, and AIDS patients, among many others.

Allegations of abuses of power and authority inside the order, as well as sexual abuse, have surfaced periodically over the last few decades.

The 2008 book Hope Endures by Colette Livermoore, a former Missionary of Charity from Australia who left in 1983 after 11 years, described a climate of excessive control and unthinking obedience during her time in the order.

Five years later, the 2013 memoir An Unquenchable Thirst by Mary Johnson, an American who spent 20 years in the Missionaries of Charity before leaving after having a relationship with a sister and then falling in love with a priest, recounted similar experiences.

That book helped inspire a 10-part podcast series in 2021 titled, “The Turning: The Sisters Who Left.” In the podcast, a handful of former sisters spoke of depression, sexual abuse, feelings of being trapped, and thoughts of suicide.

Both Livermoore and Johnson declined Crux requests to be interviewed for this article. A group of roughly a dozen ex-members who did speak to Crux, however, representing different age groups and periods of time within the order, largely confirmed many of the claims made in the earlier books and podcast.

These former members concede that many problems consisted of “micro-aggressions” from superiors and fellow sisters, meaning relatively trivial transgressions, but which they say added up over time and became normalized.

They described life inside the society as isolated, saying they had almost no contact with their families, they were barred from having close friendships, and they could do nothing without a superior’s permission, with their every action being closely monitored.

Sisters’ passports, they said, were held by superiors, and they were only able to travel for one month every 10 years to visit their families. Any letters sent were reviewed by superiors, and phone calls, even to family, had to be made in the presence of a superior.

In other instances, members said issues were more serious, describing a culture in which boundary violations in terms of physical contact were tolerated or explained away, and in which sexual abuse could unfold over considerable periods without being detected or punished. Alleged perpetrators were sometimes transferred rather than held accountable, they say, and alleged victims were encouraged to remain silent.

In another dimension to the story wearily familiar from other abuse scandals, ex-members describe attempting to bring these problems to the attention of authorities, both inside the order itself and also in the Vatican, generally without any response.


Several former members shared their experiences with Crux on the record, while others chose to do so only on the condition of anonymity, fearing potential repercussions.

Anna Adamčikova, a Slovakian who now lives in Chile, left the Missionaries of Charity in 2018, receiving a final dispensation from her vows in 2022 after 27 years inside of the society, including serving as a superior and formator. She told Crux that she was anxious about whether to leave, but felt she could no longer stay because “my conscience would not allow it.”

Among other things, Adamčikova said she was routinely insulted and belittled by her superiors and was forced to eat rotten and expired food, even when it made her feel sick, so she could offer the physical suffering it caused to Jesus.

She said she knew of many sisters who worked while they were ill, and that after contracting tuberculosis, the Missionaries of Charity did not want to pay for her treatment or hospital stay, despite having more than enough resources to do so.

Adamčikova also charges that depression among sisters was common, and that some experienced thoughts of suicide.

Another former sister, Katie Langone, told Crux that minor physical boundary violations among the sisters were routine, and that “everyone knew someone” who had experienced them. She said that she herself received unwanted advances from a fellow sister in formation, but that the situation was resolved when she raised concerns.

Langone, who entered the Missionaries of Charity in 2007, said she also endured harsh bullying and psychological abuse from her superiors in various houses during her seven years in the order. When she requested spiritual direction, Langone said she was instead offered counselling, and had to beg for the money for each session from the sister in charge of the accounting.

She said she was pressured to take medication and to see a special psychiatrist, who prescribed even more medication, and that despite complying with all of her superiors’ requests, she was still “humiliated” by them, and was denied permission to renew her vows in 2014 with no explanation, resulting in her expulsion.

Another former member, identified as “Monica” in this article, said the sisters were regularly verbally abused by authorities. She also claimed to have been the target of unwanted sexual advances from a fellow sister, whom she said had made similar overtures to other members. When she brought the situation to the attention of superiors, Monica said they moved the sister to a different house whenever the problem arose.

Monica also decried what she said was an unhealthy attachment to suffering and harmful penances, including the controversial custom of daily self-flagellation for sisters who had completed an initial period of formation. While popular in previous centuries and still practiced in some Catholic groups, self-flagellation has fallen increasingly out of favor since the Second Vatican Council.

Another former member, referred to as “Isabel” in this article, says she was the victim of a violent physical assault by a priest outside of the order. When she confided the incident to Mother Teresa, she claims she was told to forget about it and to return to work as if nothing had happened, and that it was their duty to “protect the church, to protect priests.”

Isabel said her superiors acted as if the incident were her fault, as if she had led the priest on. She said the pressure took its toll, and after eventually leaving the community, she said she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Catrina,” who left the order years ago, said she chose to go due to the isolation of sisters and the lack of recourse when problems arise, telling Crux that she’s in contact with sisters today who still leave the community depressed and requiring psychological treatment.

Several former sisters complained they were given little help to start over with when they left. At times, they reported, they were provided as little as $500, even after decades of service.

According to Catrina, these experiences add up.

“It’s a system, a system of thought that launches obedience to the bitter end,” she said.

Perhaps the most prominent dissident voice about the Missionaries of Charity is a former Russian nun named Eli Anastasia Demidova, who left in 2014 and has publicly claimed she was sexually abused by a superior, and who now identifies as a man. Due to controversies surrounding her claims, however, Crux has relied on other sources.

Years of Complaints

Former members Crux spoke with have said they and others have attempted to bring concerns about problems inside of the Missionaries of Charity to church authorities, including the Vatican, for years, but with no concrete results.

Catrina said she accompanied another former sister who left to make a complaint at the Vatican in the late 1990s, around the time of Mother Teresa’s death in 1997. Later, she said, she was able to send a letter to Pope Francis in 2018, insisting that the issues she’d perceived two decades before were still present.

Shortly after the letter was delivered, she said she got a phone call from Spanish Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, who until last October served as secretary of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, also called the “Dicastery for Religious.”

After that call, Catrina said she had a sit-down meeting with Carballo in which he said he was “very concerned” about the issue, because she was not the only one who made had made a complaint and feared a potential public scandal involving the Missionaries of Charity, given the society’s global fame.

Carballo did not respond to a Crux request for comment prior to his departure as secretary.

Similarly, a Chilean former priest named Eugenio de la Fuente, who left the priesthood in 2021 over objections to what he saw as the church’s “indifference” to abuses of conscience and authority, told Crux he also brought concerns about the Missionaries of Charity to Pope Francis in 2018.

A victim of notorious Chilean abuser Fernando Karadima, de la Fuente was present in Rome when the Chilean bishops were summoned by Pope Francis in 2018 following a massive national clerical abuse scandal which prompted the entire bishops’ conference to present letters of resignation.

In his comments to Crux, de la Fuente claimed that when he presented Pope Francis a letter recounting various problems inside of the Missionaries of Charity in 2018, the pontiff’s response was, “another one!”

De la Fuente, who until leaving the priesthood celebrated Mass for the Missionaries of Charity at a community house charged with running a school for children with mental disorders in Santiago, described the problems he saw in the society as a system of blind obedience in which the vow was made into “an idol.”

“To think is almost a sin,” he said, saying he at times saw sisters being hit by superiors and enduring “humiliations for the sake of humiliations…(they) made humiliation a way of formation.”

Adamčikova told Crux she was able to meet privately with Rodríguez Carballo in February 2023, and that while acknowledging there were problems in terms of obedience and authority in the order, he said it was difficult to take action because many sisters don’t want to write things down, and that sisters had told him they prefer to confide any problems they face in confession.

Several former sisters told Crux they have already made contact with the new secretary of the Dicastery for Religious, Italian Sister Simona Brambilla, and that dialogue about problems within the Missionaries of Charity is ongoing, though some say they remain skeptical about the prospects for real change.

Brambilla likewise did not respond to a Crux request for comment.

Catrina told Crux that in May of this year, two more letters recounting problems inside of the society and among sisters who leave were delivered to Pope Francis, but so far there has been no contact or follow up.

“I believe that the pope should choose a person, or more people, to help the sisters to change and update their constitutions or ways of life according to the Second Vatican Council,” she said.

She, like the other former members, insisted that her desire is not to tarnish the Missionaries of Charity, but to see them reformed.


In a statement to Crux, Towey, speaking as an official spokesman for the Missionaries of Charity, said the claim that there is an internal culture of abuse and neglect within the Missionaries of Charity “is patently false.”

“The Missionaries of Charity take allegations of the mistreatment of their members seriously and strive to improve if they fall short of their high standards,” he said, stating that this report “repeats old grievances from a determined, small group of ‘former members,’ nearly all of whom left the Missionaries of Charity a decade or decades ago.”

The report, he said, “undermines the 5,000 Missionaries of Charity sisters who today choose to joyfully and faithfully serve Jesus in the poorest of the poor in Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan, Haiti, Russia, and elsewhere in the world. They will not be distracted by this badly biased, unfair report.”

Editor’s Note: Prior to publication, Towey was shown various drafts of this article for reaction. In response, he said he had prepared a list of factual errors which he planned to circulate after it appeared. Crux asked to see the list, in order to avoid any such errors, but received no response.