Francis made the remarks this week during his weekly general audience, which was devoted to the role of fathers in the family.
Francis outlined the traits of a good father: one who forgives but is able to “correct with firmness” while not discouraging the child.
“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!” Francis remarked. “He knows the sense of dignity! He has to punish them but does it justly and moves on.”
The Rev. Thomas Rosica, who collaborates with the Vatican press office, said the pope was obviously not speaking about committing violence or cruelty against a child but rather about “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. “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.”
The Catholic Church’s position on corporal punishment came under sharp criticism last year during a grilling by members of a U.N. human rights committee monitoring implementation of the U.N. treaty on the rights of the child.
In its final report, the committee members reminded the Holy See that the treaty explicitly requires signatories to take all measures, including legislative and educational, to protect children from all forms of physical or mental violence – including while in the care of parents.