The big religion story today is a new book that says Pope John Paul II used to whip himself both at home and on vacation. This is reported in Why He’s a Saint, a new book by Monsignor Slawomir Oder, the Vatican advocate for JPII’s canonization; a contradicting document is expected shortly from Christopher Hitchens.
The Pope used also to sleep on the floor, the Monsignor tells us, as part of the self-mortification JPII apparently found necessary to get himself closer to God.
Such self-abuse stories are a bold though potentially hazardous play by the pro-sainthood faction…
On the one hand, the spectacular lengths to which St. Simeon Stylites took mortification of the flesh (e.g., “tying rope around himself until his flesh rotted and teemed with worms“) made him a shoo-in, much as gaining all that weight for Raging Bull increased Robert DeNiro’s Oscar chances in 1980. On the other hand, things have changed a bit since the 4th Century, even in the Catholic Church, and if you take self-harm too far people might just think you’re nuts.
As the smart money has the popular John Paul II achieving sainthood in record time no matter what, we have to wonder if the notoriously old-fashioned current Pope, Benedict XVI, got Oder to stick the stories in, less for his predecessor’s sake than in hopes that they would popularize self-injury as a path to godliness, thereby encouraging horny teens toward an effective remedy to such hormonal urges as might lead them unto the bad kind of self-abuse.