Gasp! John Paul II carried on a correspondence with a woman! Halt the beatification!

Now, I have a few of my own reasons for hoping they take the beatification of Pope John Paul II very cautiously.

However, this bit of news that’s circulating the Catholic newswires would not count.

Apparently, some lady named Wanda Poltawska carried on a longtime correspondence with the Holy Father. She recently published their letters. She was a holocaust survivor, and their association started when Karol Woytyla was giving her emotional and spiritual counseling. There is no question of the propriety of their relationship, though the headlines give that impression. From the Catholic News Service:

La Stampa published an interview with Poltawska June 1 in which she said she met Father Karol Wojtyla, the future pope, in 1950 when she was looking for a confessor and spiritual director to guide her in the long process of recovering from her internment as a political prisoner in the Nazis’ Ravensbruck concentration camp, where medical experiments were performed on prisoners.
Along with her husband and often with their children, “we shared interests, important moments, spirituality and that love for nature that we experienced camping in the mountains of southern Poland and even in the golden cage that was
(the papal villa at) Castel Gandolfo,” after his election as pope in 1978, she said.
“From the first time I met him I knew he would become a saint,” Poltawska said. “His holiness was evident; he radiated an interior light that was impossible to hide.”
Poltawska said she has a “suitcase full of his letters,” written over the course of 55 years.

It’s just that she’s making a claim that violates Vatican protocol: the claim of being a “particular friend” of the Vicar of Christ. And since priests are not really supposed to have “particular friendships,” particularly with women, for a *variety* of reasons (not just reasons of chastity), this causes a problem. According to this article,

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz has expressed explicit criticism towards Mrs.
Poltawska claiming that Pope John Paul II had a strong relationship with many
Catholics and that she is exaggerating their bond. Dziwisz further criticized her decision to reveal the letters as being “out of place and inappropriate,” and explaining that “Karol Wojtyla maintained relationships with numerous people that he met in his youth, but others decided to maintain those letters and relationships in privacy.”

A classmate of Pope John Paul II, Stanislaw Jura, expressed his distaste in Poltawska’s decision to publish the letters to be “messing with holiness,” and explained that “a letter is a secret, and you are not meant to reveal them.”

The problem is apparently more a logistic one than a content one. Part of a cause for sainthood involves evaluating the candidates’ known writings. There is often discussion about whether it’s appropriate to maintain unpublished correspondence, diaries, etc. After all, this is where we often express our most intimate thoughts and frustrations.

Sometimes, there is a desire to burn such correspondence to avoid creating a bad impression. Other times, as with Bl. Teresa of Calcutta and St. Pio of Pietrelcina, the idea is to avoid writings that will be too sensational or unduly influence the evaluation in a positive way (such as references to private revelations or miracles worked during the individual’s lifetime).

Dziwisz has said he opted not to burn JPII’s personal correspondence because he knew that burning Pius XII’s personal papers only aided the smear campaign against him by creating the impression of a cover-up.

Actually, speaking of St. Pio, I just found out that Wanda Poltawska is the very woman who was the focus of the discussion of *his* letters. Before he died, Padre Pio demanded that all his correspondence be burnt–again, because he was afraid of his miracles and such biasing the investigation. He did, however, save two letters that he said would be important because of who wrote them: they were letters from Karol Woytyla, asking for prayers for a friend of his. The second letter was thanking Padre Pio for his friend’s miraculous cure. Turns out she was that friend.

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