Spank your kids, but maintain their dignity

by Staff, |
Pope Francis looks on as he leads the synod of bishops in Paul VI's hall at the Vatican October 6, 2014. | Reuters/Claudio Peri

VATICAN CITY (Christian Examiner) -- Pope Francis said parents should be able to spank their children as long as "their dignity is maintained," a recommendation likely to upset some child activists who are against corporal punishment. The Catholic leader was speaking during his general weekly audience at the Vatican on the topic of fathers in the family.

The pontiff mentioned a story he had heard a father say about hitting his children. The man mentioned he never would hit his children in the face "so as to not humiliate them."

"How beautiful!" the Pope said. "He knows the sense of dignity! He has to punish them, but he does it justly and moves on."

The Argentine Catholic leader said that the point of the story is to learn to "correct with firmness" while not discouraging the child.

Rev. Thomas Rosica of the Vatican press office further clarified the pontiff's remarks, saying that Pope Francis does not condone violence or cruelty to children.

"Who has not disciplined their child or been disciplined by parents when we are growing up?" Rosica said in an email to the Associated Press. "Simply watch Pope Francis when he is with children and let the images and gestures speak for themselves. To infer or distort anything else ... reveals a greater problem for those who don't seem to understand a pope who has ushered in a revolution of normalcy of simple speech and plain gesture."

The Catholic Church does not have any power to enforce or discourage corporal punishment in its many schools, but the pope's statement may not sit well with child advocates. The United Nations Human Rights Committee criticized the Catholic Church last year, warning them that they have a responsibility to protect children from all forms of physical violence.

Though some data points to spanking having either neutral or negative effects on children, most American parents agree with the practice. A 2012 General Social Survey found that over 75 percent of men and 65 percent of women felt it is sometimes necessary to give their child a "good, hard spanking."