Pope Francis says spanking is OK if done 'with dignity'

Pope Francis holds a baby during his weekly general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican.(Photo: Reuters)

Pope Francis spoke in favor of corporal punishment last week in a speech focusing on fatherhood. 

The pontiff said fathers should "correct with firmness," while still showing love for their children. 

"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! He knows the sense of dignity!" he added. "He has to punish them but does it justly and moves on."

Rev. Thomas Rosica, who collaborates with the Vatican press office, clarified that Francis was not advocating child abuse, but rather promoting the physical discipline of children as a means of "helping someone to grow and mature."

"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."

Last year, a UN human rights committee criticised the Catholic Church for the use of corporal punishment in some Catholic schools, but the Church argued that it has no jurisdiction over the institutions. 

The Vatican also noted that the term "punishment" is not used in its guidelines for parents to "educate, guide, correct, instruct and discipline" their children.

"[Parents] should be able to rectify their child's inappropriate action by imposing certain reasonable consequences for such behavior, taking into consideration the child's ability to understand the same as corrective," the Vatican said in their written response.