Moral failure: Pope Francis tells parents hitting children is “beautiful” as long as the act of violence against a child is done with “dignity.”
The inflammatory and controversial remarks were made by Francis at his general audience Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square. Francis, speaking about the importance of fathers, said:
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 went on:
How beautiful! He knows the sense of dignity! He has to punish them but does it justly and moves on.
The Pope’s endorsement of hitting children was met with righteous outrage by many. In fact, even a group of child abuse experts summoned by Pope Francis himself to address the sexual abuse of children by priests in the Roman Catholic Church criticized the remarks.
One of those experts, the founder of the UK’s National Association for People Abused in Childhood, Peter Saunders, criticized Pope Francis’s support for corporal punishment, saying:
I think that is a very misguided thing to have said and I’m surprised he said it, although he does come up with some howlers sometimes.
Saunders, abused by two Catholic priests as a child, said the committee would ask Francis to reconsider his remarks. At a news conference at the Vatican, Saunders said:
It might start off as a light tap, but actually the whole idea about hitting children is about inflicting pain.
That’s what it’s about and there is no place in this day and age for having physical punishment, for inflicting pain, in terms of how you discipline your children.
The coordinator of the Global Alliance to End Corporal Punishment of Children, Peter Newell, said:
It is disappointing that anyone with that sort of influence would make such a comment.
In an attempt at damage control, Vatican spokesman Father Frederico Lombardi has issued a statement denying the Pope had encouraged parents to hit their children.
However, even the former president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, had harsh words for the pope. McAleese accused the Vatican of reversing its position on parental corporal punishment, and questioned whether the pope “has turned the clock back considerably.”
McAleese, pointing out that the Holy See is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which advocates for the universal abolition of corporal punishment of children, asks:
What faith are we to have now in the Holy See’s commitment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child?
Is the Holy See now doing what it claimed not to be doing a year ago, namely actively and internationally promoting the corporal punishment of children?
This is not the first time Pope Francis has shown sympathy and support for violence. Last month, commenting on the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Pope Francis declared “one cannot make fun of faith” and that anyone who throws insults can expect a “punch,” offering a tacit justification for terror and violence in response to a cartoon making fun of religious superstition.
Let us be clear. There is no “dignity,” no “beauty,” in striking a child. Spanking, smacking, hitting, or beating a child is always wrong. Full stop.