Karol Wojtyla may have been Pope John Paul II and canonized as a saint after his death, but he was still a man. And newly unearthed letters between him and a “sexually attractive” married woman may hint that this man was in love.
Pope John Paul II’s letters to an American-Polish woman named Anna Tymieniecka have lain unread in the Polish national library for years and have just been shown to the BBC. The station will air a special on their contents this week.
“Here is one of the handful of transcendentally great figures in public life in the 20th Century, the head of the Catholic Church, in an intense relationship with an attractive woman,” said Eamon Duffy of Cambridge University.
Naturally, the Vatican vehemently denies that John Paul II had more than a friendship with Anna, but the letters speak to a deeper and more intimate relationship, the Independent reported. However, no one is suggesting that John Paul II and Anna were lovers, the Guardian noted.
— BBC News Magazine (@BBCNewsMagazine) February 15, 2016
Tymieniecka was described by author John Cornwell as being “sexually attractive, subtle, with great force of character” and a woman from an aristocratic Polish family. She was also married to a Harvard professor named Hendrick S. Houthakker; he was honored by the pope in 2003.
The friendship between John Paul II and this married woman began in 1973 when she was in her 50s and he was still Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, Archbishop of Krakow. They worked together on an English translation of his book The Acting Person, BBC News reported. This project may have sparked a four-year relationship, during which the pair traded very personal letters. They continued to be friends after he became pope.
The letters were formal at first and became more intimate as time went on. Some researchers believe that Anna fell in love with him, and even told him so. Others suggest the feeling was mutual, based on some of the rather intense and heartfelt sentiments expressed by the pope in his letters.
One of the more romantic declarations in John Paul II’s correspondence came on September 10, 1976.
“Already last year I was looking for an answer to these words, ‘I belong to you’, and finally, before leaving Poland, I found a way — a scapular. The dimension in which I accept and feel you everywhere in all kinds of situations, when you are close, and when you are far away.”
A scapular is a small devotional necklace; the Pope gave his to Anna, a trinket that his father had gifted him for his first Holy Communion.
There are other hints that the pair were intimate friends, at the very least. She visited him hundreds of times over the years, sometimes with his secretary present but other times alone. John Paul II invited her on walks in the country and skiing holidays. She joined him on a camping trip and invited the pontiff to stay with her family in New England during a trip to the U.S.
Another hint that something stronger than friendship was going on between the two can be found in another letter, in which John Paul II hints that he struggled with his connection to Anna, whom he called a “gift of God.”
“If I did not have this conviction, some moral certainty of Grace, and of acting in obedience to it, I would not dare act like this.”
Curiously, Anna herself denied that she ever had a romantic attachment to the Holy Father. After reading his early work Love and Responsibility, she openly criticized his views of love and claimed that he knew nothing about it.
— BBC News (@BBCNews_couk) February 15, 2016
“To have written about love and sex is to know very little about it. I was truly astounded when I read Love and Responsibility. I thought he obviously does not know what he is talking about.”
She sold their letters to the National Library of Poland in 2008; she died in 2014. BBC only saw John Paul II’s letters, but not hers, and the library hasn’t confirmed they even have them. He died in 2005 and became a saint in 2014.
“We are talking about Saint John Paul. This is an extraordinary relationship,” said journalist Carl Bernstein. “It’s not illicit, nonetheless it’s fascinating. It changes our perception of him.”
Editor’s note: The National Library of Poland reached out to the Inquisitr with the following statement.
“The statements made in the media have no basis in the content of the letters of John Paul II to Anna Teresa Tymieniecka which are in the National Library of Poland’s archives. The friendship described in the media is well known and has been presented in many publications. John Paul II was surrounded by a circle of friends – including clergymen, nuns and laypeople – with whom he stayed in close contact. Anna Teresa Tymieniecka was within this circle of friends – John Paul II’s friendship with her was neither secret nor extraordinary.”
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