Hundreds of letters that the Polish cardinal who later became St. John Paul II wrote to a woman philosopher document a “difficult” and “courageous” friendship of 32 years.
They also suggest she could have been in love with the Catholic Church leader, the head of Poland’s national library said this week.
The library bought the letters via Sotheby’s for a “seven-digit” amount in 2008 from the woman, Polish-born American thinker Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, and is planning to publish them in coming years.
The head of the library, Tomasz Makowski, said the letters were written by Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who later became pope, from 1973 until shortly before his 2005 death. He said they hint that Tymieniecka, who died in 2014 at 91, might have been in love with him, but he kept their relationship on a purely friendly and intellectual level.
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Wojtyla, who lost his mother at the age of 8, and then his older brother and father by the age of 21, cultivated friendships with dedication and care.
Makowski said he has read every page of the purchased file, which also includes a “priceless” working copy of Wojtyla’s book that Tymieniecka edited for an English-language edition, with the future pope’s handwritten remarks.
They first met in 1973 when Tymieniecka proposed that she edit his “Person and Act” philosophical work, and the long collaboration and exchange of views grew into a friendship.
It temporarily grew sour over the editing when she rushed the book, titled by her “The Acting Person,” to publishers after Wojtyla was elected pope in 1978, but was later rekindled.
“When I read the letters I thought it was a difficult friendship, for many reasons, and a very courageous one because John Paul II was one of the very first high church officials who were not afraid to cooperate with women,” Makowski said, noting they both had very strong characters.
In every letter John Paul assured Tymieniecka he was praying for her and was thinking about her family and her problems and also asked about her husband and her three children.
“These are letters of a true, concerned friend,” Makowski said. “But he wrote such letters to many other people, too.”
“The question is: Was Tymieniecka in love with Wojtyla? I don’t know, but it is very probable,” he said.
“She was a philosopher. Let us not reduce her only to the level of a person in love,” he said. “She could have also been simply fascinated by John Paul II’s mind.”
The national library’s official statement said media have taken the correspondence out of context.
“John Paul II was surrounded by a circle of friends … 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.”
The Associated Press saw two handwritten letters, one referring to the time Cardinal Wojtyla and his secretary, Father Stanislaw Dziwisz, spent with Tymieniecka’s family in the summer of 1976 at the family’s vacation cottage in Pomfret, Vt., and the other one about philosophy.
Makowski says the library doesn’t have Tymieniecka’s letters to Wojtyla.
In 2014, the year when John Paul II was announced a saint, Dziwisz said that letters in his possession had been burned, in line with the late pontiff’s last will.
Religion News Service contributed to this report.