A new book, Why a Saint? by Monsignor Slawomir Oder, alleges that Pope John Paul II practiced self-flagellation.
… even when he was not ill [with cancer and Parkinson’s disease], he inflicted pain on himself, known in Christianity as mortification, so as to feel closer to God.
“In Krakow as in the Vatican, Karol Wojtyla flagellated himself,” Oder writes in the book, citing testimony from people in the late pope’s close entourage while he was bishop in his native Poland and after he was elected pope in 1978.
“In his closet, among his vestments, there was hung on a clothes hanger a particular kind of belt for pants, which he used as a whip,” Oder writes.
When he was bishop in Poland, he often slept on the bare floor so he could practice self-denial and asceticism, Oder writes.
According to Slate’s Explainer column:
The Catholic Church does not officially sanction self-flagellation. But some Popes have spoken favorably of it, and passages of the New Testament have been interpreted as approving of the practice. “[S]hall not we be moved by God’s grace to impose on ourselves some voluntary sufferings and deprivations?” wrote Pope John XXIII in a 1962 encyclical. Some of the earliest references to mortification, as the practice is sometimes called, are in the letters of the apostle Paul, who wrote in the book of Romans, “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye live through the Spirit to mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” And in Colossians, he wrote: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” Devout Catholics have practiced mild self-flagellation for centuries, often with a simple belt but sometimes using the cattailed whip known as a “discipline.” Some still do. But the practice has become rare since the Vatican II reforms in the 1960s, and it’s rarely discussed in public.