As you all know we are now into the second week of the season of Lent but another season is upon us as well. It is the season where a special group of journalists, flood our news pages and programmes to offer their two-penny’s worth “as a Catholic,” before listing all the things they hate about the Church.
The prompt was the Panorama documentary aired on Monday evening, which told a lot of people what they already knew; St John Paul II had female friends and one went by the name of Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, a Polish-born American philosopher. They were, according to Edward Stourton (sick buckets at the ready) – “more than friends, less than lovers,” which I’m pretty sure is the title of a smoochy Drifters hit from the 1970s.
The BBC and other outlets have caveated all their winking and nudging by admitting there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that John Paul II broke his vow of celibacy while at the same time suggesting that this “relationship” – he had many friendships with women – should have been considered before his canonisation.
One of the silliest reactions to these letters have been calls for the abolition of priestly celibacy. As one journalists slavered over at the Daily Telegraph, “his yearning for intimacy with her is plain” (was it?) and then goes on to say the correspondence “makes clear that the celibacy that the Catholic Church continues to routinely demand of all who want to become priests is a strain even for the best of them.”
Meanwhile, over at the Guardian one columnist argued: “So why are we supposed to be so excited about John Paul’s entirely normal reaction to the arrival in his life of a woman he clicked with? It reflects, I think, an unfortunate and unhelpful tradition in the Catholic church that dates back to the early days after Christ; priestly celibacy … Wojtyla entered the seminary and took upon himself the church’s age-old requirement of celibacy. He was searching for a new life and a new family; the church provided it, but it came at a high price, perhaps a price he only truly appreciated when three decades later he met Anna-Teresa.”
Let’s get one thing straight; had John Paul II never entered the seminary and later met Anna-Teresa and fallen in love with her she would have still been a married woman. Should we scrap the heartless rules on extra-marital sex as well? What about divorce and re-marriage as well just to be on the safe side? People banging the drum for married priests seem to be forgetting this tiny detail about Anna-Teresa’s marital status.
They will still argue, nevertheless, “priests fall in love!” Unfortunately, so do married men and married women. That doesn’t mean we should do away with monogamous marriages. Furthermore, it is entirely plausible that Karol Wojtyla fell madly in love before he was ordained. He still chose to become a priest so let’s refrain from patronising this intelligent man as if he had never held or understood romantic feelings before he made his vows.
Anna-Teresa may well have been in love with the Pope but we will never know until we see her letters- the BBC have only given us half a story here, remember. Whatever her feelings, to capitalise on this friendship by arguing for an end to priestly celibacy, is desperate to say the least.