“On the contrary, I am of the firm conviction that responsible parents can and have administered corporal punishment in a self-restrained manner, such that the children remember it not as an act of hate or abuse, but a loving act of discipline that desires only to uphold their welfare.”
So said the Philippine chief executive in explaining why he vetoed the bill to ban corporal punishment and verbal abuse of children.
His full statement is spreading across social media.
Since one question is often enough to expose the weakness of a claim, we ask:
Did the Malacañang occupant interview anyone before he painted his picture of the restrained punisher and of grownups who fondly, gushingly, warmly, gratefully recall episodes of loving subjection to pain?
In 2014, the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children wrote a brief on the Holy See and the Vatican for the Committee Against Torture.
The committee, under the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, recommended that the Holy See overtly “oppose all corporal punishment in childrearing, amend both Canon Law and Vatican City State laws to explicitly prohibit all corporal punishment of children within the family.”
The committee further recommended that the Catholic Church ensure the enforcement of this prohibition “in all Catholic schools and institutions working with and for children, and promote positive, non-violent forms of discipline including through interpretation of Scripture as not condoning corporal punishment.”
The Church’s delegation, during examination by the committee, stated that it would consider the proposals.
The delegation, then headed by Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi had expressed its openness to suggestions from the committee that would help the Holy See promote and encourage “the respect of the rights of the child,” and implement the international convention and protocols against torture.
So there is growing realization among today’s leaders at the Holy See, in dialogue with experts at the United Nations that the corporal punishment of children may be a subset of what the convention calls “torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The most explicit statement by far against corporal punishment from a Catholic hierarchy comes from the bishops of South Africa. In 2013, they wrote: “There is nothing in the Catechism of the Catholic Church which supports the rights of parents to use corporal punishment.”
Will there be doctrinal development leading to a clear statement in the Catechism against corporal punishment of children?
Doctrine, to recall has evolved on capital punishment, with the Church definitively teaching henceforth from 11 May 2018 that “in the light of the Gospel… ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,'” and that the Church works with determination for capital punishment’s abolition worldwide.
If convicts should be spared from capital punishment as well as “torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” notwithstanding their crimes, surely there is nothing excessive about demanding that every child — each a reflection of the Child of Bethlehem, the God who appeals, in his vulnerability to our tender protection — be spared from corporal punishment.
The Malacañang occupant trivializes the global movement against the corporal punishment of children. He has called it a Western trend that Filipinos should resist “in favor of a more balanced approach.”
This is not a Western trend. Countries that have banned the corporal punishment of children include Paraguay, Mongolia, Peru, Benin, Nicaragua, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Honduras, South Sudan, Congo, Kenya, Tunisia, Costa Rica, Togo, Venezuela, Uruguay, and Turkmenistan.
In their pastoral statement against corporal punishment of kids, the Southern African bishops quoted Catholic psychologist and theologian Gregory Popcak: “there is an important distinction to be made between discipline and punishment… discipline assumes a teacher‐student relationship, and its main objective is to teach the offender what to do instead of the offence… discipline is less concerned with teaching compliance with the law than it is with teaching children to have deeper, more respectful and loving relationships.”
More graphically, a writer Popcak has referenced wrote: “The facts are in, and extrinsic motivation just does not work. Period. And Christians should know that, since we know that is not how God made us. God made us to be free, that is to say to do what is right because of our own intrinsic motivation. God did not make us to be lab rats who get a shock when they do this and a piece of cheese when they do that.”
Some might concede that work against corporal punishment of children may not be Western but is trendy, faddish, unsupported by timeless teaching. They need to read the saints, whose writings Popcak has quoted:
“Have not recourse to blows and accustom him not to be trained by the rod; for if he feel it,” said Saint John Chrysostom “he will learn to despise it. And when he has learnt to despise it, he has reduced thy system to nought.”
“The birch is used only out of bad temper and weakness for the birch is a servile punishment which degrades the soul even when it corrects, if it indeed corrects, for its usual effect is to burden” said Saint Jean Baptiste de la Salle.
“To strike a child in any way must be absolutely avoided” said Saint John Bosco. “[These punishments] greatly irritate the child and degrade the [parent].”