In comments that are likely to ruffle child rights activists, Pope Francis has said it is OK to spank children, provided their dignity is kept. The Catholic Church has come under UN criticism for its stance on the topic.
Francis made his comments during his weekly general audience in the Vatican, where he dealt with the role of fathers in the family.
According to AP news agency, the pontiff commended the behavior of one father who had told him, "I sometimes have to smack my children a bit, but never in the face so as to not humiliate them."
"How beautiful!" Francis is quoted as having said. "He knows the sense of dignity! He has to punish them, but does it justly and moves on."
The Catholic Church was criticized last year by the United Nations for its position on corporal punishment after a UN committee on children's rights received reports of widespread physical abuse in Catholic-run schools and institutions.
The Vatican argued that it had no way to enforce any ban on the use of corporal punishment in Catholic schools, as it had no jurisdiction over them. But it stressed that the Church spoke in its guidelines only of parents' obligation to "educate, guide, correct, instruct and discipline" children, and never mentioned "punishment" in this regard.
It did, however, admit that church teaching said 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," in a written response to the committee quoted by AP.
'Not condoning violence'
Defending the pope's remarks, Rev. Thomas Rosica, who collaborates with the Vatican's press office, said Francis was not condoning violence or cruelty against children, but speaking about "helping someone to grow and mature."
"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," Rosica wrote.