Pope’s comments on smacking children


Sir, –Further to the remarks of Pope Francis on the use of corporal punishment in the home (“Pope says it’s okay to smack your children”, February 6th), the Holy See is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). The Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors the implementation of the convention, advocates the universal abolition of corporal punishment of children in all circumstances believing it to be a violation of their rights under the convention (and natural law) to bodily integrity, human dignity and freedom from violence. In 2014 the Holy See made both written and oral submissions to the committee on this subject: “On the international level, the Holy See does not promote corporal punishment . . . the overall message, which the New Testament will bring to perfection, is a forceful appeal for respect for the inviolability of physical life and the integrity of the person . . . The 1987 Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes that parents are obliged in the first instance to educate, guide, correct, instruct and discipline their child; the terms ‘corporal punishment’ or ‘punishment’ are not used”.

On the strength of those assurances, the concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child said: “The Committee welcomes the statement during the interactive dialogue that the delegation of the Holy See will take the proposal of banning corporal punishment of children in all settings back for consideration. However, the Committee is concerned that while corporal punishment, including ritual beatings of children, has been and remains widespread in some Catholic institutions and reached endemic levels in certain countries, as revealed notably by the Ryan Commission in Ireland, the Holy See still does not consider corporal punishment as being prohibited by the Convention and has therefore not enacted guidelines and rules clearly banning corporal punishment of children in Catholic schools, in all Catholic institutions working with and for children, as well as in the home”.

The Holy See in turn responded by saying: “The Holy See takes note of the Concluding Observations on its Reports, which will be submitted to a thorough study and examination, in full respect of the Convention.”

In the light of the Pope’s recent advocacy of parental corporal punishment of children (provided it does not involve face-slapping, apparently) are we to take it that the Holy See has conducted the thorough study and investigation it promised the Committee on the Rights of the Child and has decided to oppose the stated view of the committee that the corporal punishment of children should be banned? Is the Holy See now doing what it claimed not to be doing a year ago, namely actively and internationally promoting the corporal punishment of children? If it is, then Pope Francis has surely turned the clock back considerably. What faith are we to have now in the Holy See’s commitment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child? Will we hear anything on this subject from the Holy See’s new Pastoral Commission for the Protection of Minors? – Yours, etc,