Saturday, June 04, 2005

Secretary Didn't Burn Pope's Notes

WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- Pope John Paul II's longtime private secretary said Saturday he did not burn the late pontiff's notes as his will demanded, arguing that the papers contain ''great riches'' and should instead be preserved.

Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, who worked with the pope from 1966 until his death earlier this year, told Polish state radio there are ''quite a lot of manuscripts on various issues,'' but he offered no details.''Nothing has been burned,'' Dziwisz said. ''Nothing is fit for burning, everything should
be preserved and kept for history, for the future generations -- every single sentence.'' ''These are great riches that should gradually be made available to the public.'' Dziwisz did not say when or how that might happen.

In a March 1979 entry to his testament, John Paul said he left no material property and asked that Dziwisz burn all his personal notes. In Saturday's radio interview, Dziwisz suggested that some of the notes could prove useful in the late pontiff's beatification process. Dziwisz said he took his own daily notes throughout John Paul's papacy, which he said also could prove useful to that process but contain no opinions about individuals.

I find this quite interesting and don't know what to think about it. On the one hand, you want to see Pope John Paul's wishes fulfilled and have these notes burned, just as you would want anyone's will requests respected and carried out. The archbishop (who was just appointed archbishop of Krakow, PJP's job before becoming pope), however, was very close to our late Holy Father and loved him dearly, so I do have faith in him when he says that he thinks it is not right to burn them. There's no doubt, I'm sure, that great wealth is contained in them. He has a great point specifically about the use they could play in John Paul's beatification process. Additionally, there have been many people in history whose personal notes and writings have been preserved when they wanted them destroyed and have proven to be of great benefit.

This isn't quite a parallel case, but St. Therese's Story of a Soul, which was written in three parts for her sisters and never intented for public distribution, was heavily edited by her (biological) sister, Mother Agnes, before it was originally released because Mother Agnes didn't want some of the more sensitive family issues (especially their father's mental collaspse) in the notebooks to be read by others. Thankfully, later editors got copies of the orginal manuscripts and have published them in their entirety (though TAN, for instance, still publishes Story of a Soul using Mother Agnes' edits).

I'm sure the archbishop prayed and thought deeply about this before deciding not to burn them, so I trust him. The AP story quoted above, however, does not say if Pope Benedict was consulted about this decision and if there are any canonical or legal issues involved in not executing the will as it was written.