Pope Francis said that spanking is okay as long as it preserves the dignity of the child and is not done in the face.
The pontiff made the comments on Thursday during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
“One time, I heard a father say, ‘At times I have to hit my children a bit, but never in the face so as not to humiliate them,’ “ the Pope said.
“That’s great,” Francis continued. “He had a sense of dignity. He should punish, do the right thing, and then move on,” he added.
The Vatican has not responded to journalists’ questions about the comments, according to The New Daily out of Australia.
The development comes one year after a United Nations committee focused on implementation of a children’s rights treaty recommended that the Vatican amend its laws to insure that they prohibited corporal punishment.
The Holy See responded in writing that it would review the recommendations, but also said parents “should be able to rectify their child’s inappropriate action by imposing certain reasonable consequences for such behavior, taking into consideration the child’s ability to understand the same as corrective.”
Jared Pingleton, a clinical psychologist and minister who is director of counseling for the Focus on the Family non-profit organization, said that spanking when done lovingly and with thought can help educate and shape children safely.
On the Pope’s remarks, Pingleton said: “In general, yes, I would concur but I think this issue has so many controversial and deeply related emotional issues.”
Pingleton believes that spanking done reactively, in a way that does not take into account leaving permanent physical damage or that has not been explained to a child, is wrong. But he believes if a family handles spanking proactively, by deciding on the punishment ahead of time and explaining the reason for the punishment, that it is helpful. He also believes it should be done in private and with a child clothed, so as not to cause humiliation.
“Discipline comes from the root word disciple, to teach, and punishment is angry, often out of control, motivated by emotional activity,” Pingleton said.
But one foe of corporal punishment said Pope Francis should be using his position to stop corporal punishment.
“It is disappointing that anyone with that sort of influence would make such a comment,” Peter Newell, coordinator of the Global Alliance to End Corporal Punishment of Children, told Inquisitr.com. “Now, 44 countries worldwide have prohibited all physical punishment, including in the family, and another 45 are clearly committed to doing so,” he added.
Laura Markham, a psychologist and parenting expert, could not be reached but has said that corporal punishment is connected to higher rates of aggression, delinquency and mental health problems.