Pope Francis seems to support spanking children as a form of discipline, as long as it preserves the dignity of the individual and is not done to the face.
The leader of the Catholic church delivered the comments during his weekly general audience, which he devoted to the role of fathers in the family, The Associated Press reported. He said a trait of a good father is 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 continued. "He knows the sense of dignity! He has to punish them but does it justly and moves on."
Rev. Thomas Rosica, who collaborates with the Vatican press office, told the AP the pope wasn't speaking about committing violence or cruelty against a child, but rather about "helping someone to grow and mature."
Last year, the United Nations Human Rights Committee criticized the Catholic church for its stance on corporal punishment. Members reminded the leaders that a treaty on the rights of the child requires signatories to take all measures to protect youngsters from all forms of physical or mental violence.
Francis made news earlier this week when House Speaker John Boehner tweeted that he would be the first pontiff to address a joint meeting of Congress when he visits the United States in September. The pope will begin his four-day trip to America on Sept. 20, and has stops planned in Philadelphia, New York City and Washington, D.C. He will visit the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 24 to speak in front of legislators.
The trip will be Francis' first to the U.S. since he took control of the papacy from Pope Benedict XVI in March 2013. Since then, Francis has made significant rhetorical breaks with Catholic tradition.
On Friday, the Vatican worked to finish renovations on public restrooms in St. Peter's Square that will include three showers and a barber shop for homeless men and women. The plans, made public in November, were another effort by Francis to change the public's expectations of the Catholic church and ease some residents' suffering.