In Depth

Was Pope John Paul II in love with a married woman?

Letters reveal the pontiff's 'intensely emotional' relationship with Polish-American philosopher

Secret letters written by Pope John Paul II to a married woman have revealed an intimate relationship that lasted throughout his papacy.

The BBC's Panorama programme has seen hundreds of documents and photographs sent to Polish-born American philosopher Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka that "reveal a rarely seen side of the pontiff", who died in 2005.

What do the letters say? 

The pair started their correspondence shortly after meeting in 1973 and continued to write to one another for more than 30 years.

The future pope, then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, worked with Tymieniecka on the English translation of one of his books.

"At first the cardinal's letters were formal, but as their friendship grew, they become more intimate," writes the BBC's Ed Stourton.

It was no secret that the cardinal and Tymieniecka had become friends, "but the relationship was much deeper and more complex, and continued for far longer than has previously been recognised", he writes.

Stourton describes the letters as "intensely emotional" and believes the Pope often wrestled with the meaning of their relationship.

In one letter, he wrote: "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." 

Were they more than just friends?

Researchers analysing the letters believe Tymieniecka told the cardinal she was in love with him in the summer of 1975. In response, he gave her one of his most treasured possessions - a small devotional scapular necklace that had been given to him by his father.

There is no suggestion the pontiff ever broke his vow of celibacy and Tymieniecka always denied being romantically involved with him. "How could I fall in love with a middle-aged clergyman?" she once said.

Veteran investigative journalist Carl Bernstein, who interviewed Tymieniecka for a book on the Pope, described it as an "extraordinary relationship".

He said: "It's not illicit; nonetheless, it's fascinating. It changes our perception of him."

What has the response been?

The Vatican has distanced itself from the documentary, calling it "more smoke than fire", according to The Guardian. "It was known that he was friendly with Tymieniecka" and other women during his papacy, an official told the newspaper.

The National Library of Poland, whose archives house the letters, insisted today that the letters contained nothing remarkable. "John Paul II’s friendship with [Tymieniecka] was neither secret nor extraordinary," it said.

Panorama: The Secret Letters of Pope John Paul II is on BBC One tonight at 8.30pm

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