"it would have been lauded as an intellectual partnership"by Annabelle Chapman / February 16, 2016 / Leave a comment
The BBC’s post-Valentine’s Day lineup has an unlikely hero: the late Pope John Paul II. The Secret Letters of Pope John Paul II, presented by veteran broadcaster and practicing Catholic Edward Stourton, probes John Paul II’s thirty-year friendship with a married woman. The BBC has trodden carefully, aware of the delicate subject matter. As it states on its website, almost as a disclaimer, the programme does not suggest that the relationship became physical.
The BBC caused a stir in Poland recently with an episode of Newsnight on whether the country is being “Putinised” by its new right-wing government, which has been criticised for its changes to the public media and constitutional tribunal. The Foreign Ministry responded with a seven-point letter of criticism, from the opening shots of the dark streets of Warsaw to alleged lack of context.
The Secret Letters is unlikely to shock. The programme treats its two lead figures with respect, while taking the feelings imbued in the letters seriously. When their friendship began in 1973, John Paul was Archbishop of Kraków and still went by the name Karol Wojtyła. She was Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, a Polish-born American philosopher, by then married to a Harvard-educated economist. Both were in their fifties. It started how it often does: she liked his book; later, they worked on one together. Formal letters gave way to a warm friendship that spanned over thirty years. They were photographed camping; him in shorts, she in a flowery skirt. He visited her at her country home in Vermont, and she him at the Vatican. Yet there was also doubt and vulnerability, the letters suggest.
The programme does at times speculate on the matter of celibacy, but it does not dwell on it. At the same time, one wonders whether the BBC would have bothered to make the programme had Tymieniecka been a man. A few people might have looked hard for clues of homosexuality. More likely, though, it would have been lauded as an intellectual partnership between two men and left at that.
Still, the programme touches on tensions in the late pope’s legacy. “I cannot understand…