The Convention on the Rights of the Child is part of the legal system of all European countries and it is very clear. In Article 19, right after establishing the rights and responsibilities of parents for the upbrining of their children, it says: States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child. This is legal basis for anybody respecting the rights of the child to say NO to any form of physical punishment.
The strange statement was uttered at an audience dealing with the role of fathers. The Pope was very rightfully saying that a good father is forgiving but driving the child along with firm beliefs and firm hand. However a firm hand is never one that can hit a child small or older and not only because of the legal obligations. A human being is a human being because we have a conscious mind, able to solve conflicts instead of acting in a violent, agressive way. If hitting a child is an instinctive action (I don't even want to mention planned, deliberate physical punishment), it necessarily is humiliating for both the child and the parent. To be physically punished in a situation when you are not able to give an equal answer means that you are not treated as an equal human being. Hitting somebody is not a solution, but the excercising of an animal instinct, thus humiliating the agressive parent, too, instead.
Still there are many parents who have a parental role model that offers no human solutions to a number of situations. It is the obligation of governments to offer help to these parents to learn other role models and other solutions. We, other parents and parents associations also have an obligation to support these people to become good parents, but also to raise our voice against statements that explicitly or implicitly suggest that being an animal when parenting, phyisically punishing your child instead of driving and supporting him or her, could be right.
Eszter Salamon president EPA