Former Irish President Mary McAleese has taken exception to Pope Francis’ support for parents smacking their children in the name of discipline.

McAleese, who was Irish president for 14 years until 2011, accused the Vatican of reversing its position on parental corporal punishment, and questioned whether the Pope “has turned the clock back considerably.”

She asked in letters to the Irish Independent and The Irish Times, “What faith are we to have now in the Holy See’s commitment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child?”

McAleese pointed out the Holy See is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which advocates the universal abolition of corporal punishment of children.

She asked, “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?”

Speaking in Rome last week, Pope Francis outlined the traits of a good father – one who forgives but is able to “correct with firmness” while not discouraging the child.

The Pope told a 7,000-strong audience, “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.’ How beautiful! He knows the sense of dignity.”

Later, Vatican spokesman Father Frederico Lombardi issued a clarifying statement denying the Pope had encouraged parents to hit their children.

In a note to the Catholic Communications Office in Maynooth Lombardi said, “I wish only to point out that the Pope was speaking about the responsibility of parents to 'correct without humiliating,’ or rather, to assume the responsibility of keeping their children on the right track and to help them to grow up well, but always to do so with love and with respect for their dignity.

“Finding the right way to 'correct without humiliating' is part of the responsibility of good parents in a variety of situations. The Pope, for his part, was not encouraging parents to hit their children.”

But Marie Collins, the Irish survivor of sexual abuse who advises Pope Francis on child protection, joined a chorus of dissent following the pontiff's endorsement of what he called “dignified” corporal punishment in the home

Collins was in the Vatican for a meeting of the Commission for the Protection of Minors, to which Pope Francis appointed her shortly after his election in 2013.

At a news conference she disagreed with the Pope’s remarks but added, “The good thing about the Holy Father is he speaks without thinking, which in many ways I think is good because it is refreshing. Maybe sometimes he sort of puts his foot in it, but he’s an honest man and I respect him for that.”

 

Former president and theologian Mary McAleese.Photocall