(WTNH) — Pope Francis is getting some blowback for comments he made this week about corporal punishment.
During his weekly general audience, where he focused on the role of fathers in the family, he cited a father who once told him he had to “smack” his children a bit, but never in the face. “How beautiful,” Francis said. “He has to punish them, but does it justly and moves on.”
The Vatican press office rushed in to clarify, saying the pope wasn’t talking about violence against children, but about “helping someone to grow and mature.”
That doesn’t really clarify anything, at least not for the children’s rights groups denouncing the remarks, or the comments starting to heat up on social media. Corporal punishment is always a dicey issue, but the research on the topic — and there’s been a lot of it — is fairly unanimous: hitting children is not an effective or acceptable form of punishment, and not a good path to growth and maturity.
It is a worldwide issue. There’s a UN treaty on the rights of the child, and the Vatican is a signatory to the agreement. The UN has criticized the Catholic Church’s implementation of the treaty’s provisions, particularly about corporal punishment. It may be worth mentioning here that parents in the United States can legally hit their child, as long as the force is “reasonable.”
Reasonable. Beautiful. Not words I would use to describe a fully-grown adult physically striking a child. Has never happened with my kids, and never will.
I’d love to hear from all of you about where your family stands on this issue, and on the pope’s endorsement. I always try to remember that social mores change over time. The notion of NOT spanking your kids would have seemed absurd to perhaps even a majority of families up until relatively recently. But those mores do change, because we learn and observe and do research, and find better ways to do things.
Pope Francis is of an age when he would remember, and respect, the “old ways.” But he’s also been justifiably honored for taking some of the church’s old ways, challenging them, and getting the faithful to see old habits and prejudices in new ways. I think he would do well to add corporal punishment to that list of new perspectives. Let me know what you think.