Saddleback Update: About that Mother Theresa adoption story

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Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Pastor Rick Warren at his Saddleback civil forum last Saturday asked both candidates about a project that he and his congregation are particularly interested in – adoption. CNN.com – Transcripts  This was rather a softball question for McCain, who has an adopted daughter:

WARREN: John, most people don’t know that there are 148 million orphans in the world growing up without parents.

What should we do about this, and would you be willing to consider or even commit to something similar to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS — which he said AIDS is an emergency — a PEPFAR. Could we do a PEPFAR for the emergency plan for 148 million orphans?

Most of these – they don’t need to grow up in orphanages. They need to be in families, and many of those families could take them in if they had some kind of assistance.

MCCAIN: Well, I think we have to make adoption a lot easier in this country. That’s why so many people go to other countries to get – to be able to adopt children.

(APPLAUSE) My great hero and role model Teddy Roosevelt was the first modern American president to talk about adoption and how important it was, and I promise you this is my last story.

Seventeen years ago Cindy was in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She went to Mother Teresa’s orphanage. The nuns brought her two little babies who were not going to live. Cindy came home. I met her at the airplane. She showed me this 5-week-old baby and said, "Meet your new daughter." She’s 17, and our life is blessed – and that’s what adoption is all about.

First, let me be clear that I believe the McCains love their daughter Bridget very much, and that she has had a far better life as a result of their love and kindness than she could have ever imagined in Bangladesh. That being said, the Christian Science Monitor reported today Watchdogs make it harder for politicians to stretch the truth | csmonitor.com:

The McCain campaign had also put out the story that Mother Teresa “convinced” Cindy to bring home two orphans from Bangladesh in 1991.

Mrs. McCain, it turns out, never met Mother Teresa on that trip. (Once contacted by the Monitor, the campaign revised the story on its website.)

* * *

The story about Mother Teresa “convincing” Mrs. McCain to bring home two children from an orphanage in Bangladesh has been retold many times. Initially, the “About Cindy McCain” page on the McCain campaign website read: “Mother Teresa convinced Cindy to take two babies in need of medical attention to the United States. One of those babies is now their adopted daughter, 16-year-old Bridget McCain.”

The media picked up the theme. A story earlier this year on ABC’s “Good Morning America” stated, “With Mother Teresa’s encouragement she brought her fourth child, Bridget, home.” An April 2008 Wall Street Journal profile states that Mother Teresa “implored” Cindy to bring the girls to the United States. Other articles say Cindy did it “at the behest” of Mother Teresa.

But a source who was with McCain on that 1991 trip, and who asked that his name not be used because of prior legal dealings with the McCain family, says that Mother Teresa was not at the orphanage when Cindy decided to bring the two girls home.

A 1991 article in the Arizona Star at the time of the adoption only mentions that the children were from an orphanage that was started by Mother Teresa. It does not mention a meeting with Mother Teresa or her asking McCain to bring the girls to the US.

According to biographies of Mother Teresa, in 1991 she was in Mexico where she developed medical problems. From there, she went to a hospital in La Jolla, Calif.

A McCain source acknowledged that Cindy McCain did not meet Mother Teresa during the 1991 trip to Bangladesh but said McCain did meet her later on, although the source could not say when or where. The campaign has since reworded the reference to the adoption on its website.

(The December 25, 1991 Arizona Daily Star article is reproduced below the fold).

As Paul Harvey would say, "and now the rest of the story." For Cindy’s account of her experience in Bangladesh and bringing home Bridget see Cindy McCain: Myth vs. Reality – Bazaar.com. Cindy tells a slightly different version of the airport scene than John told:

By the time she landed in the United States, Cindy "realized I couldn’t give up this child" and called her husband, telling him about her charges and asking him to meet her at the airport. "When I disembarked carrying Bridget, John said, under his breath, ‘Where’s she going?’ I said, ‘To our house.’ He laughed. ‘I thought so.’" She chuckles. "I brought home a baby without telling him, and he not only took it in stride but loved it, immediately embracing Bridget, who shares John’s very dry sense of humor, so she and her dad do pretty well together. If I hadn’t taken Bridget out, I think she would have become a prostitute or, worse, died."

The adoption was not without controversy.  The Arizona Daily Star reported on August 26, 1994, Lawyer denies allegation Mrs. McCain asked ex-worker to lie during adoption (no link):

"Cindy McCain did not ask Mr. Gosinski to misrepresent any facts in the adoption proceedings for Bridget McCain,” said attorney John Dowd in a statement. “Specifically, Cindy McCain did not ask Mr. Gosinski to testify that Bridget’s father had died in a rickshaw accident, as he has alleged.”

* * *

The Maricopa County Juvenile Court ended up approving the adoption without proof of the father’s death, instead determining the father abandoned the baby.

(Tom Gosinski had sued Cindy McCain for wrongful termination from her charity organization and threatened to expose Cindy’s theft of prescription pain-killers from her medical-aid charity before she publicly confessed to her addiction to pain-killers in 1994. See Phoenix New Times reporting).

But wait, you ask, what happened to the second baby Cindy brought home to the U.S.?  She was adopted by McCain’s administrative assistant, Wes Gullett.  Getting to Know John McCain – WSJ.com  "We were called at midnight by Cindy," Wes Gullett remembers, and "five days later we met our new daughter Nicki at the L.A. airport wearing the only clothing Cindy could find on the trip back, a 7-Up T-shirt she bought in the Bangkok airport." Today, Nicki is a high school sophomore. Mr. Gullett told me, "I never saw a hospital bill" for her care.

McCain baby started life knowing about only one kind of luck – bad – Senator, wife try to adopt girl from Bangladeshi orphanage

The Arizona Daily Star – December 25, 1991
Author: Steve Meissner; The Arizona Daily Star

Four-month-old Bridget McCain will celebrate her first Christmas in the lap of luxury.

She is the youngest child in the family of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. She is spending today in a comfortable cabin near Sedona, surrounded by four brothers   and sisters, lots of presents and a huge stocking that will be stuffed with trinkets.

It’s quite a change from the way she started life – born in an orphanage in Bangladesh with a cleft palate, unwanted in a country where female babies – especially those with birth defects – are sometimes cast aside and left to die.

If the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka isn’t the worst spot on Earth, it has to be close, says Cindy McCain.

"There’s no place like Bangladesh," she says. "No place."

She would know. Although she’s the wife of a senator and daughter of a millionaire, she’s also the organizer of American Voluntary Medical Teams, an organization that sends doctors and nurses to the world’s hellholes.

She’s taken volunteer teams to Third World pockets of poverty in the Middle East, South America, Africa and Asia. Dhaka, she says, is the most heartbreaking spot she’s seen.

"Some people say Calcutta is worse," says Cindy McCain. "I can’t imagine how it could be."

Bridget was born in an orphanage run by Mother Teresa, the Roman Catholic nun who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her work with poor people in 90 countries and more than 400 cities – including Phoenix.

It was in India and Bangladesh where Mother Teresa started her missionary work, and that is where help – any help – is most needed.

"There are literally dead bodies lying in the street," says Cindy. "They send wagons around each day to collect the dead."

The worst part of Dhaka is the oldest part of the city, where the midday sun beats down on narrow streets that are choked with the destitute and the sick. "The smell is unbelievable," says Cindy.

That was the location of the orphanage that Cindy McCain visited because she was sure her medical team would find plenty to do.

She found a 20-by-20-foot room crammed with 160 newborn infants, "90 percent of them little girls."

The lucky girls end up in orphanages. The unlucky ones "are taken outside and are left to die," said Cindy.

That was Bridget’s first break. Her mother, probably unwed, defied taboos by going to Mother Teresa’s orphanage to give birth. She left her baby behind and allowed her to be baptized a Roman Catholic in a heavily Muslim country.

Bridget was born with a cleft palate, a defect that left a gaping cavity in the top of her mouth that reached to her nose.

She wasn’t the sickest child in the hospital. One baby girl probably needed a liver transplant to survive, Cindy said.

But Bridget’s problems could be cured with surgery. And she won Cindy’s heart.

"I knew her medical problems were easily treatable, but she was female in a country where little girls aren’t valued," said Cindy. "My heart just went out to her."

So Cindy went to work. She wanted to bring out two babies – Bridget, and another little girl named Leela, who had a heart defect that also could be treated through surgery.

Leela was destined to join the family of Wes Gullett, a member of McCain’s Phoenix staff.

The process wasn’t easy, even for the wife of a U.S. senator. It took all the persuasive powers that Cindy could muster.

"It kind of became a quest," she said. "I guess I just kind of went and stood in their face and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Finally, about five days before I was supposed to leave, I got my permission."

Actually, she says the process might have been easier if she got her husband involved.

The senator didn’t learn he was about to become a father again until his wife called from Bangkok, Thailand.

"I have to admit I wasn’t crazy about the idea at first," the senator says. "But this was something Cindy wanted to do, but the whole family has taken to this little kid."

The McCains are hardly poverty-sticken. Besides a senator’s salary, they have a share of the wealth accrued by Cindy’s father, owner of a major beer and beverage distributorship in the Phoenix area.

But the McCains already have three young children of their own – Meghan, 7; Jack, 5; and Jimmy, 3. And there’s Cari, 17, one of Cindy’s distant relatives who needed a stable home and a place to live. She’s been living with John and Cindy for the past several years, is a cheerleader and was her high school class vice president, and is now planning to attend Pepperdine University next year.

So John McCain admits to being a little overwhelmed when his wife called from Bangkok with news of a new arrival.

But baby Bridget quickly worked her magic. "She’s a cute little thing," says John. "She has these big black eyes, and this thick cap of black hair. I’m really happy about the adoption."

"John was really a good sport about the whole thing," says Cindy. "I mean, he had no warning at all until I called him. All he said was, `We’ve already got four kids…."’

But he also understood, especially since they’ve had some scary times with their own kids.

All of Cindy’s pregnancies were difficult, but Jimmy had some problems that lasted long after birth. He, too, had a heart problem.

"We thought he was going to die," says Cindy.

So John has accepted this new addition, along with all the problems of feeding and caring for a 4-month-old who faces serious medical problems.

Bridget recently underwent the first of many operations she will endure over the next few years. Dr. Stephen Beals of Phoenix Children’s Hospital says Bridget’s cleft palate is the worst he’s seen. First the opening between her upper lip and nose must be closed. There’s also need for extensive reconstructive surgery in her mouth.

And finally, when she’s a little older, she’ll have plastic surgery to minimize the scars.

Still, Bridget is a happy, generally healthy little girl who is enduring the surgery well. Now her new parents have to complete a lengthy adoption process, which includes fingerprints, background checks and questions – lots of questions.

Given John’s status as a member of Congress, "I’m not sure he will pass," his wife said jokingly.

Actually, John is a little worried. He’s afraid people will think he’s trying to gain a little political capital as he faces what may be a tough re-election campaign in 1992.

That’s why he’s instructed his staff to remove all references to his children from his official biography.

Cindy, meanwhile, is getting ready to take a new team of medical volunteers to a new Third World source of misery. This time it’s Vietnam, the country where her husband spent six years as a prisoner of war.

AMVET, her organization, has already made 80 overseas trips, relying on doctors, nurses and other volunteers who pay their way to work around the clock treating some of the world’s most needy people.

If anything, the pace of those trips is likely to pick up. Cindy says she’s negotiating with a Texas oil company that wants to donate two 727 jets. One will become an airborne hospital. The other will be used for spare parts.

And she’s put her husband on notice that she might be coming home with another little Bridget some day.

"I’d do it again," she says. "Oh, for sure; I think I’ll do it again."

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AZ BlueMeanie
The Blue Meanie is an Arizona citizen who wishes, for professional reasons, to remain anonymous when blogging about politics. Armed with a deep knowledge of the law, politics and public policy, as well as pen filled with all the colors stolen from Pepperland, the Blue Meanie’s mission is to pursue and prosecute the hypocrites, liars, and fools of politics and the media – which, in practical terms, is nearly all of them. Don’t even try to unmask him or he’ll seal you in a music-proof bubble and rendition you to Pepperland for a good face-stomping. Read blog posts by the infamous and prolific AZ Blue Meanie here.

1 COMMENT

  1. The article in the Arizona Star from December 25, 1991 says: The senator didn’t learn he was about to become a father again until his wife called from Bangkok, Thailand.

    That is one more story that has changed over the years.

    In most current accounts John McCain claims he had no prior knowledge of their arrival, as he did in dadmag.com in April 2006.

    He was asked: You knew about your wife’s decision before hand?

    McCain: (laughs) No. She arrived and said “Say hello to your new little daughter.”

    While both stories are absurd and against common and ethical adoption practice, the fact the story has shifted over time, makes me question if this story is invented to cover up John McCain’s use of political influence to get Bridget to the US, circumventing proper procedures.

    I wrote a longer account about this case on my own website: http://poundpuplegacy.org/node/20784