(An article in http://tobinstitute.org/john-paul-ii/holy-friendship/ responding to the recent BC documentary on Pope John Paul II’s friendship with Dr. Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka.)
A wonderful article appeared in the Federalist this past December by D.C. McAllister titled “How To Stop Sexualizing Everything.” It tapped into the schizophrenic character of our modern age, particularly in American culture, that surrounds our expressions of intimacy. Essentially, she posited, we either fearfully avoid touch and intimacy as it might be misread as a sin or a sexual advance, or we completely give in, and all that we touch is tinged with sexual undertones and innuendos. McAllister notes “The effect of these two warring attitudes – Puritanism and sexualization – has had a distorting effect on friendship. On the one hand, people don’t feel free to show emotions. On the other, when they do, those feelings are sexualized.”
A recent BBC documentary called “The Secret Letters of Pope John Paul II” perfectly illustrates this distorted dichotomy. For decades, St. John Paul II held a well known relationship with Dr. Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, a Polish philosopher who was an expert in the work of German philosopher Edmund Husserl. The pope’s shared interest in Husserl’s phenomenology allowed the two to form a friendship over the years (albeit, not without its difficult moments – see George Weigel’s excellent article on that backstory here:http://www.nationalreview.com/article/431359/pope-john-paul-ii-letters-women-celibacy). She was a married woman with three children, living in America. He, at the time they met, was a Cardinal in the Church. Their correspondence lasted well into old age.
Journalist Ed Stourton, who crafted the documentary, proposes that the decades long relationship was somehow, for at least one of the parties involved, romantic. His claims are “substantiated” by Emeritus Professor Eamon Duffy of the University of Cambridge, who states in the interview, “Clearly there’s an element of playing with fire when you’ve got a strongly heterosexual man and an attractive woman in a very intense relationship that is cultivated and which engages mind at a high level of intensity. There’s danger everywhere.”
This thought that a male and female friendship simply by its very nature is “dangerous” is given further credence in the remarks of someone Stourton refers to as a “trainee priest” (My research revealed that a “trainee priest” is also known as a seminarian). John Cornwell apparently attended seminary from 1953 to 1958. He states that back then “The perception was that even if you had a close association of friendship with the woman, this could be what was known as an occasion of sin and an occasion of sin was as bad as if you’d actually done it.” This sad (and completely incorrect) articulation of what sin consists of is followed by another interviewee who states that their “training meant most priests would have been wary of such a close relationship. The most natural reaction would have been for him to terminate contact.”
(John Cornwell, who features in the BBC documentary, has written many books on the Church, the most famous being ‘A Thief In The Night’ which alleges that Pope John Paul I was murdered http://www.amazon.com/John-Cornwell/e/B001HMNE44)