Vatican City: Pope Francis came under fire Friday after an off-the-cuff remark in which he defended the right of parents to spank their children.
In comments during his weekly general audience on Wednesday, the pontiff described a good father as one who knew how to forgive but also how to "correct with firmness."
"Once, in a meeting with married couples, I heard a father 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! He knows the sense of dignity! He has to punish them but does it justly and moves on."
The comment made no waves in Italy but has been severely criticised in Germany, one of several countries which completely outlaws all forms of corporal punishment.
"There is no way of hitting children with dignity," the country`s Minister for the Family, Manuela Schwesig says in an interview with Die Welt, due to be published on Saturday.
The German Association for Children`s Aid called on the pope to correct his own error.
"This pope is particularly humane, but anyone can make a mistake. By suggesting it is okay to hit a child if it is done with dignity, he completely misses the point."
The leader of the world`s Catholics also came under fire from Peter Saunders, a member of Francis`s recently-established panel on child protection.
"I think that is a very misguided thing to have said and I`m surprised he said it, although he does come up with some howlers sometimes," Saunders told the Daily Telegraph.
"It is a most unhelpful remark to have made and I will tell him that," he added.
Saunders is in Rome for the first full meeting of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, a body of clerics and lay people which is supposed to drive reforms within the Church in response to serial revelations of the abuse of children by priests.
Saunders is one of two victims of priest abuse on the multinational panel.