Some of Pope John Paul II’s male friends and associates, including the Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, have attacked Dr. Wanda Poltawska, a Polish psychiatrist and defender of traditional family values, for publicizing her private correspondence with the Pope. They claim that Dr. Poltawska has exaggerated her close personal and professional relationship with Karol Wojtyla. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Whether one agrees or not with her traditional views on gender roles and sexual ethics, as a close friend and his primary medical advisor and collaborator, Dr. Wanda Poltawska had an enormous influence on the development of Karol Wojtyla’s views on artificial contraception, the rhythm method, abortion and other family, marriage, and Church issues.
This former Nazi concentration camp inmate and victim of Nazi medical experiments helped Cardinal Wojtyla write a special study for Pope Paul VI, urging him to confirm the Catholic Church ban on artificial birth control, which he did by issuing Humanae vitae in 1968. Cardinal Wojtyla placed Dr. Poltawska in charge of his extensive program of teaching women natural birth control methods in the Krakow Archdiocese. She and her husband visited John Paul II frequently at the Vatican.
One could not underestimate the importance of her role as a Polish woman who helped to define and reinforce many of Karol Wojtyla’s views on women. Dr. Poltawska was also behind Pope John Paul II’s campaign to promote New Feminism – a Catholic version of feminism that defends traditional Church values relating to marriage, family, and gender roles while stressing equal dignity of men and women.
It’s interesting that some of the Pope’s close male friends were also attacking another Polish woman who also had a close professional relationship with Pope John Paul II. After he was elected pope in 1978, they tried to minimize the extent of his collaboration with Dr. Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, a Polish-born phenomenologist living in the United States who had worked with Cardinal Wojtyla on translating into English and promoting his book The Acting Person.
In a letter to the Editor of The Universe Catholic newspaper in the UK, Elizabeth Price refers to my book about the role of remarkable Polish women in the life of Pope John Paul II. Despite of what Cardinal Dziwisz and some of the other male friends are now saying, Dr. Wanda Poltawska is one of those remarkable women.
As a serious student of John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility and The and Cardinal Wojtyla’s part in persuading Paul VI to reject the findings of the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control, I believe the influence of his friend the psychiatrist Mrs. Wanda Poltawska was vital. It is therefore a pity that Cardinal Dziwisz and Zycinski want to prevent her publishing the correspondence between herself and John Paul II. (Article The Universe June 19th).
Little is known about her by Western Catholics, however a superb biography of John Paul II Wojtyla’s Women – How They Shaped the Life of John Paul II and Changed the Catholic Church by Ted Lipien (O Books 2008) is crucially informative. Ted Lipien is a journalist and broadcaster brought up in Poland who then migrated to the USA . His analysis of Polish culture and family customs, Nazism and Communism, feminism and the effect of all of these both on John Paul II and Wanda, who was a prisoner in a concentration camp, is mastery and thorough. He also gives frequent website addresses for further study. It is a great pity this superbly written very readable and informative book has not been reviewed in any of the Catholic newspapers in this country.
“Wojtyla’s Women: How They Shaped the Life of Pope John Paul II and Changed the Catholic Church,” a book about Pope John Paul II and feminism by international journalist Ted Lipien who had interviewed Karol Wojtyla, offers a unique perspective on the late Pope’s views on women and American society.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA, June 24, 2008 — John Paul II warned about the dangers of secular feminism but accepted of some of its ideas. A new book — “Wojtyla’s Women“ — explores the role of remarkable women who shaped the life of Pope John Paul II, supported his concept of “New Feminism,” and changed the Catholic Church.
Ted Lipien’s new book, “Wojtyla’s Women: How They Shaped the Life of Pope John Paul II and Changed the Catholic Church,” published by the UK publisher O-Books and available on Amazon, reveals for the first time the role of remarkable women in the life of Karol Wojtyla and their impact on his papacy and the Catholic Church. The book also explores John Paul II’s views on feminism, gender roles, love, sex, abortion, and contraception in the context of unprecedented threats against human dignity during his lifetime, from pre-World War II anti-Semitism to the Holocaust, Nazi medical experiments on women prisoners, and communist dictatorship.
The book shows how John Paul II, the most charismatic and influential Pope in centuries, reshaped many facets of Catholic thought. Yet, as Ted Lipien demonstrates, Church policy on women during John Paul II’s papacy remained deeply resistant to popular modern ideas on gender roles. Wojtyla’s Women explores John Paul II’s views on women, marriage, family and sexual ethics from both feminist and conservative Christian perspectives. Previously untapped sources reveal the influence of his upbringing in Poland at the outset of the Twentieth Century, a time when deeply rooted traditions collided with rapid social change and new ideas, against a backdrop of war, genocide, and political oppression.
As the book reveals, Polish women were a remarkable and unexpected influence on John Paul’s understanding of gender issues and the Catholic Church’s theology. They were also the main force behind his advancement of New Feminism and Theology of the Body as alternatives to the Sexual Revolution and to radical and Marxist feminism in the West and in the communist world.
The future Pope John Paul II told Polish Catholics before becoming pope that “the affairs of the Kingdom of God” cannot be left only to women and that “social advancement of women has in it a little bit of truth but also a great deal of error.” John Paul II was strongly opposed to ordaining women priests.
But while he could not reach an understanding with liberal Western women because of vast differences in how he and they were shaped by culture and history, Karol Wojtyla nevertheless supported many ideas embraced by secular feminists and broke with many misogynist Christian traditions.
“Wojtyla’s Women” also analyzes the considerable impact of John Paul II’s views and papacy on the abortion debate in the United States and his conflict with the Clinton Administration over U.S. policies on birth control programs and abortion in the Third World. Lipien writes in his book that John Paul II was successful in raising awareness of the moral aspects of abortion through his campaign of “the culture of life versus the culture of death.” The book demonstrates, however, that Wojtyla’s campaign to promote natural birth control methods for women has not succeeded in any country, including his native Poland.