Pope Francis has weighed in on spanking, saying it’s acceptable to take your hand in a heavy-handed way to your child, as long as you’re not whacking them in the face. Francis called it “dignified” discipline. The Pope has waded into a number of polemic issues of late; it appears that the Vatican City State sovereign is adding another topic to his repertoire of controversial subjects.
Writes CNN on Feb. 6: “Pope Francis has stirred up a hornet’s nest with remarks in which he said it’s OK for parents to spank children, so long as they do it with dignity. The comments came in his general audience Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square, when Francis was talking about the importance of a good father within a family.”
Speaking on the virtues of a good father, the Pope said to those gathered: “I once heard at a wedding a father say, ‘I sometimes have to hit my children a little but never in the face, so as to not demean them.’ How nice, I thought, he has a sense of dignity,” the Holy Father commented. “When he punishes, he does it right and moves on.”
Some feel the Pope’s thoughts on spanking are in line with the Bible’s advice, sourced from such scriptures as what King Solomon penned at Proverbs 22:15, which says that “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a boy, but the rod of discipline will remove it far from him,” and Proverbs 13:24, that says: “Whoever holds back his rod hates his son, but the one who loves him disciplines him diligently.” And Proverbs 29:15 brings out: “The rod and reproof impart wisdom, but a child left unrestrained brings shame on his mother.”
But the Bible does not advocate thumping a child into submission. The Hebrew word for “rod” literally meant a staff, much like a shepherd would use. A loving shepherd would never beat his sheep with his rod, but would use it in an appropriate way, to guide them and nudge them, keep them from danger and assist them to remain in the protected flock. Similarly, “the rod” of parental authority represents loving guidance, not punitive abuse.
The issue of corporal punishment is a hot button topic, especially among parents. As expected, the Pope’s comments have prompted a wide swath of both support and criticisms. While the Vatican has not issued a formal statement on Pope Francis’ comments, Vatican spokesman Thomas Rosica said people should not take the Pope’s words out of context.
“It’s about time that we stop and allow the Pope to speak the language of most ordinary people, especially parents, who understand the Pope far better than those who parse every single word and statement that comes out of his mouth,” Rosica said. “Let us not read into the Pope’s words anything other than what is there. He speaks constantly of mercy and tenderness. He speaks as a pastor and loving father figure who loves children and wants the best for them.”
Adds USA Today: “The development comes one year after a United Nations committee focused on implementation of a children’s rights treaty recommended that the Vatican amend its laws to insure that they prohibited corporal punishment.”
To that, the Pope responded at the time that he would review the recommendations, but also cautioned that 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.”
Where do you fall on the “spare the rod, spoil the child argument?” Is Pope Francis spot on to advocate spanking?