The director of Poland's national library today dismissed a BBC report alleging that pope John Paul II had a close relationship with a married woman lasting 30 years as a "Valentine's Day joke."
"It's a rather bad joke," said Tomasz Makowski of the BBC documentary aired yesterday that was based on more than 350 letters written by Karol Wojtyla both as a cardinal and pope.
The documentary sourced the letters from the library's archives in Warsaw, the first dated in 1973 and the last a few months before his death in 2005.
Makowski noted that the Polish communist secret police, known as the SB, "had microphones everywhere spying on priests."
"If there was anything going on, the SB would have known and used it ... A British journalist managed to find information that the SB couldn't?" he told AFP.
The documentary "says the pope did not break his vows of celibacy, but at the same time it suggests exactly the opposite," said Makowski, adding that he has read all the letters in their original Polish.
The BBC journalist who compiled the documentary said the Polish-born Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka and the future pope were "more than friends but less than lovers."
The library director showed AFP two letters written by the pope to Tymieniecka, including one in which he sends his blessings to her husband and three children.
Makowski said photos of the pair shown by the BBC misrepresent them as being alone in secluded areas.
In reality, the pictures were taken on kayaking and hiking trips that involved a larger group of friends, he said.
Makowski also stressed that a term of endearment used by Wojtyla in which he referred to Tymieniecka as a gift from God, was something he said routinely to friends.
"Those who don't understand this, will draw conclusions that have no basis in reality.
"John Paul wasn't afraid of being in contact with women, whether they be nuns or lay people, he was in the habit of holding their hands and caressing their cheeks."
A close associate of John Paul II told AFP on Monday it was "possible" the married philosopher had fallen in love with Wojtyla before he became head of the Roman Catholic church.
"Women fall in love with priests all the time, and it's always a big headache," Adam Boniecki, editor-in-chief of the progressive Tygodnik Powszechny Catholic weekly, told AFP.
"If she was in love with Wojtyla, she was most likely not alone," said Boniecki, himself the author of a detailed account of the pope-turned-saint's life.