Pope Francis has been praised for his attempts to modernise the Catholic Church, but his views remain conservative when it comes to disciplining children.
At his weekly general audience, which was devoted to the role of fathers in the family, the Holy See said parents can smack their children as long as their dignity is maintained.
Outlining the traits of a good father, Pope Francis said parents must show forgiveness but also "correct with firmness" while not discouraging the child.
Pope Francis told his audience: "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'.
"How beautiful! He knows the sense of dignity! He has to punish them but does it justly and moves on."
But campaigners have condemned his advice. Peter Saunders, the founder of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, told The Telegraph: "It is disappointing that anyone with that sort of influence would make such a comment."
He added that the Pope’s comments were "very misguided"
In pictures: 'The many popes of Pope Francis'
In pictures: 'The many popes of Pope Francis'
1/12 The Pro-Gay Pope
In just a year, Pope Francis has managed to change the public perception of the Catholic Church, and the stance it takes on civil issues, like gay rights. Despite originally protesting the legalisation of gay marriage in his native Argentina some years ago, he told reporters this year: “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?”
2/12 The Rebel Pope
No other Pope has urged a shake-up of the Catholic Church quite like Pope Francis, a true rebel of the dioceses. Who, incidentally, used to be a night club bouncer.
3/12 The Graffiti Pope
Pope Francis become... SUPER POPE in this Vatican-approved street art. But was he happy with the reference to the fictional DC comic character?"To depict the pope as a sort of superman, a sort of star, seems offensive to me. The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps tranquilly and has friends like everyone else, a normal person," he said. So, that's a no, then.
4/12 The Biker Pope
Yes, the Pope used to own a Harley Davidson. And yes, he auctioned it off this year and donated the proceeds to a charity that feeds the hungry in Rome. Very Papal.
5/12 The ‘Blue’ Pope
Dropping the 'F' bomb during Sunday service? Classic Pope Francis. Sadly, down to a Spanish-speaking slip of the Italian language rather than pure bad-assery.
6/12 The ‘Because I’m Worth It’ Pope
That awkward moment when your Papal hat blows off, forcing your barnet into Sesame Street-like spikes. Pope Francis has been there.
7/12 The Chocolate Pope
Imagine the Pope's delight (horror?) when he was presented with a giant chocolate replica of himself outside the Vatican by by students on a chocolatier course at the Accademia of Maestri Cioccolatieri, near Venice.
8/12 The Rock Star pope
The one and only religious leader ever to grace the cover of Rolling Stone magazine? Introducing... Pope Francis.
9/12 The People’s Pope
His U-turn attitude towards sexuality won him Time magazine's coveted Person of the Year accolade, and the cover of gay rights magazine The Advocate.
10/12 The Merchandise Pope
Thongs, mugs, onesies, earrings and even a baby mobile adorned with decapitated Pope heads, the 'Francis Effect' has seen sales of Papal merchandise soar by 200% over the last year.
11/12 The Fashion Pope
The only Pope, as far as we're aware, to be compared to fashion royalty (Karl Lagerfeld. Yes way.) and win Esquire's Most Stylish Man of 2013 award, too.
12/12 The Modern Pope
Let it be said, Pope Francis knows a thing or two about social media. He might be a way off 'doing a Dalai' and opting for Instagram, but he's not above posing for the odd 'Selfie' on Twitter.
Reverend Thomas Rosica, a Vatican press office spokesman, later said that the Pope was not condoning violence or cruelty towards children, but was instead advising on "helping someone to grow and mature".
"Who has not disciplined their child or been disciplined by parents when we are growing up?" he asked, adding: "Simply watch Pope Francis when he is with children and let the images and gestures speak for themselves!"
He went on to argue that to "infer or distort anything 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."
The Pope’s remarks come after the UN human rights committee sharply criticised the Catholic Church’s position on corporal punishment last year, as part of a report monitoring the implementation of the UN treaty on children's rights.
Recommendations by the committee were prompted by reports of widespread physical abuse and the use of corporal punishment in Catholic-run schools and institutions, which it said had reached "endemic levels."
In the report, the committee members reminded the Holy See that all signatories are required to take all possible measures to protect children from all forms of violence, both mental and physical.
The committee recommended that the Catholic Church amends its laws to prohibit the corporal punishment of children, including within their family, and to create ways to enforce that ban in Catholic schools and institutions around the globe.
The Vatican responded by saying that it did not promote corporal punishment, and it had no power to enforce any kind of ban in Catholic schools, and was only responsible for protecting children in the Vatican City state.
Under the treaty, corporal punishment, including at the home, is prohibited in as many as 39 countries from Sweden and Germany to South Sudan and Turkmenistan.
Additional reporting by PA