Watched over by its director, he was shown a pile of papers so sensitive that only a handful of staff knew of their existence. He was looking at a collection of hundreds of personal letters between one of the 20th century’s great public figures, Pope John Paull II, and a Polish American woman, Anna-Theresa Tymieniecka. The letters reveal a deeply intimate friendship that lasted for decades.
The two first came in contact in the early 1970s, when Wotyjal was archbishop of Krakow, Poland. He had published a philosophical book and Tymieniecka, herself a philosopher and Polish-born, reached out to him in hopes of translating the text into English. Their relationship evolved from one of professional collaboration to a personal friendship between intellectual equals who relished discussing philosophical issues. The two remained close friends throughout his papacy as he led 1.2 billion Catholics in their faith.
The two also regularly discussed the role Catholicism could play in bringing down the repressive Communist regime that controlled their Polish homeland. As a Cardinal, Wotyjal was one of Communist Poland’s most vocal and public opponents and he was a target of the Polish secret police going all the way back to the 1940s. Once pope, he worked to shape Catholicism into the spiritual wellspring of an opposition movement that would bring about a revolution and sweep away the Soviet Empire.
In 2008, Tymieniecka decided to sell the collection of correspondence. The National Library of Poland purchased them, storing them in the archive ever since. Only after prolonged negotiations were filmmakers allowed access to the letters.
Relationships between the pope and a woman, even strictly platonic, were strongly frowned upon inside the Vatican and Tymieniecka’s role in the pope’s life as one of his closest confidants has remained an unpublicized part of John Paul’s life, until now. The letters testify to an intimate side of his life the Vatican has kept secret for decades.