Friday 2 December 2016

Why Pope John Paul's letters to married woman are a game changer for Church

Published 17/02/2016 | 02:30

One of hundreds of letters that Pope John Paul II sent to a Polish-American philosopher during the 32 years of joint work and friendship between the two. AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski
One of hundreds of letters that Pope John Paul II sent to a Polish-American philosopher during the 32 years of joint work and friendship between the two. AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski

Twitter was soon responding with customary satire: "Vatican Issues Angry Denial That Pope John Paul II was Heterosexual" tweeted one wag. And cartoonists were quick to see an angle. Lonelyheart bloke: "I need to go on a date. There have been popes who have had more success with women than me."

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It has, indeed, been a sensational revelation, and a historic scoop for Ed Stourton, the Catholic journalist (who himself comes from a Recusant family - the English Catholics who resisted the Reformation): that the Polish Pope John Paul II had, for more than 30 years, maintained an "intense, emotional" attachment to a married woman, to whom he addressed 350 intimate letters.

Stourton dug out the evidence in Poland's National Library, and few have doubted that this correspondence between Karol Wojtyla and Anna-Teresa Tymienecka represents something deeply "meaningful and personal", in the words of archivist Dr Eugene Kisluk. She wrote him that she "wanted desperately to be close to him" and he told her that "God gave you to me and made you my vocation". Although there is no evidence that the relationship was illicit - Anna-Teresa was married, with three children, and John Paul had taken a vow of celibacy - the evident depth and intensity of their connection has changed a public perception of the pontiff, who died in 2005, and was subsequently made a saint.

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