BBC Panorama: The (not so) Secret Letters of Pope St. John Paul II

Just a quick word on BBC Panorama's Monday night programme which advertised itself thus:
Pope John Paul II ruled the Catholic Church for 27 years until 2005. He was one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century, revered by millions and made a saint in record time. Now reporter Edward Stourton can offer a new perspective on the emotional life of this very public figure.
Now it is hard not to consider that this is an attempt to besmirch the reputation of an extraordinary public figure. Certainly it hints at a hidden sexual agenda, and this was made even more clear by John Humphry's attempts to suggest to Alexander Lucie-Smith and Caroline Farrow, on BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, that it would be better if Priests weren't celibate at all after this Panorama. (By the way, I think Caroline & Fr. Lucie-Smith do a wonderful job of running rings around Humphrys, you can listen to the interview here, it takes place in the last ten minutes of the programme).

I have to say I was somewhat infuriated by the very preposition of the programme, which seemed to me to say more about the tired agenda of the BBC with regard to its consistent ignorance regarding the Catholic Church rather than anything relevant or new about the Saintly Pope. As Fr. Lucie-Smith pointed out in The Catholic Herald today:
Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka was someone I had heard of before now, so unveiling her was hardly the great revealation that it claimed to be. She was an expert on Husserl, which funnily enough the programme forgot to mention. Husserl was the founder of phenomenonology, a philosophical movement to which St John Paul was devoted, as was St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). But trying to explain just what attracted these intellectuals to phenomenology in a 30 minute programme on television was perhaps beyond even the skills of the great Edward Stourton or his academic guests such as Prof Eamon Duffy. The programme was far more interested in hinting that these two intellectuals were attracted to each other rather than some dull philosopher of whom Joe Public has not heard.
Quite a number of people seem shocked that Edward Stourton was involved in this attempted character assassination, however it must be remembered that 12 years ago, Stourton lost his job on the flagship reportage series Correspondent because of a love affair with the programme's editor, Fiona Murch. They were colleagues and it was against the rules. Stourton, a prominent, practising Roman Catholic, left his wife of 21 years and three children in an uncomfortable blaze of press attention. He married Fiona. That was against the rules, too. So he was penalised by the corporation and there were obvious repercussions for his relationship with the Church.

Whenever we see this kind of falling out, we tend to see the sinner try and smear the Church as sharing in their own shortcomings in some way, isn't that what's going on here? Post affair, Stourton is a regular contributor on the BBC and notably, The Tablet, consistently attempting to undermine the Church.

Despite all this, one friend pointed out on FB that:
"...many people will be intrigued to discover that one of our foremost priests of recent times didn't fit this stereotype, while remaining true to his faith. People may not like Stourton's motives in making this documentary, but I doubt it will do any harm. In fact, I think it might make some people think a bit differently about the church – and not in a bad way."
...and do you know what, I think he might be right. Whatever the motivation for this piece, perhaps the truth is that, in the end, the portrayal only enhanced the reputation, humanity, Christian love and holiness of this great Saint.

Deo gratias.


  1. So he had a close relationship with a woman ..... the Church gets the flak either way.
    Woman in evidence - must be illicit
    No woman in evidence - must have a bad attitude to them

    Either way: Bash the Church!


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