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The Deacon's Bench

This has been reported before, but the details revealed today are raising a lot of eyebrows:

Pope John Paul II always took penitence seriously, spending entire nights lying with his arms outstretched on the bare floor, fasting before ordaining priests or bishops and flagellating himself, said the promoter of his sainthood cause.

pope-john-paul-2.jpgMsgr. Slawomir Oder, postulator of the late pope’s cause, said Pope John Paul used self-mortification “both to affirm the primacy of God and as an instrument for perfecting himself.”

The monsignor spoke to reporters Jan. 26 at the launch of his book, “Why He’s a Saint: The Real John Paul II According to the Postulator of His Beatification Cause.”

Earlier in the day, two Italian news Web sites reported that an October date had been set for Pope John Paul’s beatification, but Msgr. Oder said nothing could be confirmed until physicians, theologians and cardinals at the Congregation for Saints’ Causes accept a miracle credited to the late pope’s intercession and Pope Benedict formally signs a decree recognizing it.

Msgr. Oder’s book, published only in Italian, is based largely on what he said he learned from the documents collected for the beatification process and, particularly, from the sworn testimony of the 114 people who personally knew Pope John Paul and testified before the Rome diocesan tribunal investigating his fame of holiness.

Because of the reticence surrounding the process, the witnesses who served as the source for particular affirmations in the book are not named, although some are described loosely as members of the papal entourage or the papal household.

“When it wasn’t some infirmity that made him experience pain, he himself would inflict discomfort and mortification on his body,” Msgr. Oder wrote.

He said the penitential practices were common both when then-Karol Wojtyla was archbishop of Krakow, Poland, as well as after he became pope.

“Not infrequently he passed the night lying on the bare floor,” the monsignor wrote, and people in the Krakow archbishop’s residence knew it, even if the archbishop would mess up the covers on his bed so it wouldn’t be obvious that he hadn’t slept there.

“As some members of his closest entourage were able to hear with their own ears, Karol Wojtyla flagellated himself both in Poland and in the Vatican,” Msgr. Oder wrote. “In his closet, among the cassocks, there was a hook holding a particular belt for slacks, which he used as a whip and which he also always brought to Castel Gandolfo,” the papal summer residence south of Rome. 

The BBC article from a couple months back explains the thinking behind this practice.

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