OK to spank your kids? Pope says yes, if you don't demean them

The pontiff’s remarks on discipline and dignity, made during his weekly general audience in Rome, has sparked a global debate on social media.

Gregorio Borgia/AP Photo
Pope Francis gives his speech in the Synod hall on the occasion of the closing ceremony of the IV Scholas Occurrentes World Educational Congress, Thursday, Feb. 5, at the Vatican. The pope stirred controversy again this week when he told parents it's OK to spank children to discipline them, as long as they maintain the child's dignity.

Spank your kids if you must, but make sure you don’t demean them.

That was the gist of Pope Francis’ message to parents around the world during his weekly general audience – which was about the role of fathers in the family – held in Rome this week, the Associated Press reported.

“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,’” the pope said. “How beautiful!”

“He knows the sense of dignity!” Pope Francis added. “He has to punish them but does it justly and moves on.”

Some groups, including parents and children’s rights advocates, criticized the pope for what they saw as an endorsement of corporal punishment.

"It is disappointing that anyone with that sort of influence would make such a comment," Peter Newell, a coordinator at the Global Initiative to End Corporal Punishment of Children, told The Telegraph.

Peter Saunders, founder of the UK-based National Association for People Abused in Childhood, called the pope’s statement “misguided.”

“It is a most unhelpful remark to have made and I will tell him that,” said Mr. Saunders, who was abused by Catholic priests as a boy and whom the pope appointed to a Vatican commission protecting children from abuse.

Others took to Twitter to express their opinions:

The Vatican, however, said the pope wasn’t talking about committing violence or cruelty to children.

"Who has not disciplined their child or been disciplined by parents when we are growing up?" the Rev. Thomas Rosica, who works for the Vatican press office, told the AP in an email.

"Simply watch Pope Francis when he is with children and let the images and gestures speak for themselves!” Rev. Rosica went on. “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.”

This is not the first time the Catholic Church has faced criticism over its position: The subject came up last year during a UN investigation that into the implementation of the UN treaty on the rights of a child, according to the AP.

Nor is it the Pope’s first time to say something that didn’t quite sit well with one group or another: Since being elected pontiff in 2013, Pope Francis has been both lauded and lambasted for his “revolutionary” style of leading the Church.

His most controversial statements, which revolved around such polarizing issues as abortion, gay marriage, and sexual abuse by priests, have been met with alarm by conservative clergy and joy by more liberal Catholics worldwide.

Whatever your opinion about Pope Francis, one thing is certain: He's got everyone talking about the Church again.

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