VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis says it's OK to spank your children to discipline them - as long as their dignity is maintained.
Francis made the remarks this week during his weekly general audience, which was devoted to the role of fathers in the family. Francis outlined the traits of a good father: one who forgives but is able to "correct with firmness" while not discouraging the child.
"One time, I heard a father in a meeting with married couples say 'I sometimes have to smack my children a bit, but never in the face so as to not humiliate them,'" Francis said.
"How beautiful!" Francis remarked. "He knows the sense of dignity! He has to punish them but does it justly and moves on."
Human rights challenge
The Catholic Church's position on corporal punishment came under sharp criticism last year during a grilling by members of a U.N. human rights committee monitoring implementation of the U.N. treaty on the rights of the child. In its final report, the committee members reminded the Holy See that the treaty explicitly requires signatories to take all measures, including legislative and educational, to protect children from all forms of physical or mental violence - including while in the care of parents.
The Vatican had argued that it in no way promoted corporal punishment, but that it also had no way to enforce any kind of ban on its use in Catholic schools, over which it has no jurisdiction.
Education through smacking?
That said, it stressed that the term "punishment" isn't even used in the section of church teaching that refers to parents' duties to "educate, guide, correct, instruct and discipline" their children.
Some 39 countries prohibit corporal punishment in all settings, including at home, where most abuse occurs. Those nations range from Sweden and Germany to South Sudan and Turkmenistan.
In the United States, parents can legally hit their child as long as the force is "reasonable." In 19 U.S. states, it's still legal for personnel in schools to practice "paddling."
Corporal punishment in schools was banned in 1997, and both the Bill of Rights in the constitution as well as the Children's Act of 2005 provide for the protection of the child and the dignity of the child. The Children's Act specifically promotes positive, non-violent approaches to discipline.
Despite these provisions, many parents still use smacking (or even beatings) as a form of discipline, insisting that it is the only way to shape a child's behaviour. By law, if a child is injured by the parent and there is evidence such as lacerations or bruising, that parent could be prosecuted for child abuse.
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