The New York Times delicately calls the relationship that Karol Wojtyla — Pope John Paul II — had with Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka “affectionate.” In fact the Times reports that the newly revealed letters of the late Pope reveal a “startling degree of affection” for Tymieniecka, his lifelong friend. The late Pope, a Saint since 2014, had many affectionate friendships, said the Vatican in response to the supposed “revelations.” The letters would “startle” no one, contends Rome. The Vatican was responding to the BBC, which aired a program called “The Secret Letters of Pope John Paul II.” They’re not secret anymore.
But what do these letters to Tymieniecka — love letters, or letters indisputably filled with love — mean for the Pope’s legacy? Very little, probably, beyond the week’s news cycle. Like John Paul II, Tymieniecka was a philosopher, and their lifelong friendship was sustained by ideas and intellectual camaraderie. If passion ever intruded it was subjugated by duty, as the revealed correspondence makes clear. Whatever form his feelings may have considered taking, the Pope seems to have settled for symbolizing them, once giving Tymieniecka a scapular that allowed him to “accept and feel you everywhere, in all kinds of situations, whether you are close, or far away.”