A new book reveals several previously unknown secrets about Pope John Paul II. One of them is that he practiced flagellation -- whipping himself with a belt as an act of penitence.
The book is called "Why He's a Saint," written by Monsignor Slawomir Oder, the postulator, or main promoter, for John Paul's canonization cause. It is based on the testimony of the 114 witnesses and boxes of documentation Oder gathered on John Paul's life to support the case for sainthood.
At a news conference in Italy on Tuesday, Oder defended the late Pontiff's use of self-mortification, which some faithful use to remind them of the suffering of Jesus on the cross.
"It's an instrument of Christian perfection," Oder said, responding to questions about how such a practice could be condoned considering Catholic teaching holds that the human body is a gift from God.
In the book, Oder wrote that John Paul frequently denied himself food, especially during Lent, and "frequently spent the night on the bare floor," messing up his bed in the morning so he wouldn't draw attention to his act of penitence.
"But it wasn't limited to this. As some members of his close entourage in Poland and in the Vatican were able to hear with their own ears, John Paul flagellated himself. In his armoire, amid all the vestments and hanging on a hanger, was a belt which he used as a whip and which he always brought to Castel Gandolfo," the papal retreat where John Paul vacationed each summer.
While there had long been rumors that John Paul practiced self-mortification, the book provides the first confirmation of it.
The book also reveals that John Paul forgave his would-be assassin in the ambulance on the way to the hospital in 1981. That information comes from a draft of a speech that he never gave. He wrote that while he had forgiven Ali Agca that day, "the possibility of pronouncing it before in the ambulance that brought me from the Vatican to the Gemelli hospital where the first and decisive surgery was performed - I consider the fruit of a particular grace given to me by Jesus."
The book says John Paul considered the possibility of resigning when he turned 75, the normal retirement age for bishops, going so far as to convene a group of close collaborators for an informal discussion on the topic.
He asked then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican's orthodoxy office and now Pope Benedict XVI, to study the theological and historic issues implied in having an "emeritus pope."
Although he did outline circumstances in which he might resign, in the end, he never did. John Paul died in 2005 after suffering with Parkinson's disease for many years. His case for sainthood is moving through The Vatican bureaucracy.