Members of Pope Francis’s newly established sex abuse commission yesterday sharply criticised his remarks that it is appropriate for parents to spank their children, saying: “You don’t hit kids.”
The 17-member Vatican commission, which was meeting for the first time, announced that it would be making recommendations to the papacy on protecting children from corporal punishment as a result of his remarks.
Peter Saunders, a commission member who was sexually abused by a Catholic priest as a teenager, said the Pope should revise his comments, given that “millions of children around the world are physically beaten every day”.
“It might start off as a light tap, but actually the whole idea about hitting children is about inflicting pain,” Mr Saunders told a press conference.
“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.”
Another commission member, Dr Krysten Winter-Green, a New Zealand native now working in the United States with abused young people, said there was no type of corporal punishment for children that was acceptable. “There has to be positive parenting, in a different way,” she said.
The commission also announced progress on drafting policies for holding bishops accountable when they cover up for paedophile priests. It has been tasked with organising educational seminars for Vatican officials and newly minted bishops about protecting children from predators.
But commission members got an unexpected and urgent new responsibility when Pope Francis said at his general audience this week that it was OK for parents to spank their children if their dignity was respected.
“One time, I heard a father 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 added: “He knows the sense of dignity! He has to punish them, but does it justly and moves on.”
The comments prompted international condemnation.
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