|''Isn't a priest a human being?'' Wanda Poltawska said of John Paul II.|
Woman defends book on late pope
Details friendship, correspondence with John Paul II
WARSAW - To him, she was "My Dear Dusia," and he signed his letters "Br," short for brother.
She was one of a handful of people by his bedside when he died, and visited him in the hospital when he survived an assassination attempt.
In the cloistered universe of the Vatican, Pope John Paul II had a woman friend with whom he shared spiritual thoughts in a series of letters that spanned the decades. Now she is defending her recent book of correspondence with the pope against criticism from church officials that she "exaggerated" her friendship and could delay the late pontiff's beatification.
Wanda Poltawska, 87, said her book - a collection of her religious meditations and John Paul's letters of spiritual guidance - was harmless to his saint-making process, and she dismissed those who sought to minimize her friendship with the Polish-born John Paul.
"Things that are sacred and great are not to be shown to the people," Poltawska said in an interview from her home in Krakow, in southern Poland, where the Rev. Karol Wojtyla was a frequent family guest before being elected pope in 1978.
"What is wrong in a priest's friendship with a woman?" she asked. "Isn't a priest a human being?"
No one has publicly suggested Poltawska and John Paul had a romantic relationship, and the book makes no such claim. The two, who campaigned together against abortion in Poland under communism, referred to one another as brother and sister, and she often visited the pope with her husband and four daughters.
John Paul's longtime private secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, has criticized Poltawska for publishing the book.
In a recent interview with Italian daily La Stampa, Dziwisz said John Paul had many dear old friends from Poland, and made them all feel like they had a preferential friendship.
"That was his secret: to make all those who were dear to him feel like they had a special relationship with him," Dziwisz said. "The difference is that Ms. Poltawska exaggerates in her attitude, and the expressions and display of her behavior are inappropriate and out of place."
Poltawska's photos attest to a friendship that began in the 1950s when she sought out a priest to give her spiritual guidance to overcome the trauma she suffered during almost four years at the German Nazi concentration camp of Ravensbrueck. Wojtyla became that priest.
Poltawska published "The Beskidy Mountains Recollections" in February. The 570-page book recalls annual family vacations with Wojtyla in the Beskidy Mountains - trips filled with religious discussions - before he became pope. It includes pictures of her family with the pope at the Vatican and vacationing in Castel Gandolfo, the papal holiday residence outside Rome.