The Catholic order of the Missionaries of Charity (MC), founded by Mother Teresa, has been severely embarrassed by allegations that four children in one of its shelters in Calcutta have been subjected to cruelty.

A nun has admitted the incident and the order's superior, Mother Nirmala, has apologized. But the issue has received more media attention abroad than it has in India itself.

Sister Francesca, the sister-in-charge of the MC Mahatma Gandhi Welfare Center for street children in Central Calcutta, has been charged in connection with one of the claims and is to appear in court this month.

After being charged by the police last month, Sister Francesca was given conditional bail.

Senior Catholic Church sources in India told ENI they knew little about the allegations. Church officials who knew of the incidents treated it as an "aberration" that should be seen in the context of love and care extended by the MC nuns to the "poorest of the poor."

"The people of Calcutta love Mother Teresa and her congregation so much that even the media has not given much publicity to the shocking crime," said Rabiel Mallick, assistant director of the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society in Calcutta.

The issue came to police attention when the father of Kavery, one of the children burnt by Sister Francesca, took legal action against the nun last month.

According to the child, she and three others were playing inside the MC center when Sister Francesca accused them of stealing and heated a knife on an electric heater, then pressed it onto the hands of the four children.

Sister Nirmala said in a statement late last month: "We, the Missionaries of Charity, regret this unfortunate incident. We will continue caring for the children as we have been doing in the past.

"The sister admits her guilt with great sorrow. Her intention was to correct the children for stealing some money, but she definitely overstepped her limits," said Sister Nirmala, who was chosen as head of the MC six months before the death of Mother Teresa in September 1997.

Sister Nirmala told ENI last week that the incident was "unfortunate."

"Corporal punishment is not part of the charity work that Mother [Teresa] has taught us. All of us feel sorry for this. We can never go to this extent," she said.

Asked whether the order had taken any "disciplinary" action against the nun, Sister Nirmala replied that "she is not there," suggesting that Sister Francesca had been transferred from the children's home.

The 4,000 MC nuns run 647 charity homes in 124 countries worldwide. The Vatican is considering canonizing Mother Teresa who, while still alive, was already known as the "saint of the gutters."

Related Elsewhere

Visit the Missionaries of Charity homepage.

Other media coverage of this incident includes:

Mother Teresa's order target of hateThe Washington Times (Sept. 27, 2000)

Mother Teresa nun tortured children—BBC (Sept. 21, 2000)

In the name of GodThe Guardian (Sept. 21, 2000)

Indian sister out on bailThe Scotsman (Sept. 20, 2000)

Mother Teresa nun accused of tortureThe Guardian (Sept. 20, 2000)

Mother Teresa nuns accused of torture—BBC (Sept. 18, 2000)