I take the liberty of approaching you because I am working on a book about corporal punishment of children. A host of recent research results show that physical correction, even in the apparently harmless form of smacks and slaps, can have severe consequences for the children. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has taken account of this fact and for ten years now has been regularly questioning the governments that have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. At five-year intervals, these countries are required to submit a report on the status of children’s rights in their territories, with special reference to the use of physical force in families, schools, and the penal system. The reports and protocols of the Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva and the comments addressed to the respective states by that committee are accessible on the website http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf. In a frequently alarming way, these texts all reveal that-albeit to various degrees- children all over the world are victims of what the report calls a veritable form of “xenophobia.”
I would like to ask you what the Catholic Church is undertaking in this respect. The injunctions of the Gospels about the respect and protection to which children have a right could hardly be more unequivocal. How is this to be reconciled with an educational attitude where the humiliation of children is the rule rather than the exception? By their own admission, 80 percent of parents in France have recourse to physical violence as part of the child-rearing process. But my impression is that the church has done nothing to speak out against such practices. Of course, it has pilloried especially severe cases of child abuse, but the cases society elects to classify as such are exceptional instances where the perpetrators are conspicuous for their unusual cruelty and face legal prosecution for that reason. But the fact of the matter is that the distinctions between “child abuse,” “parenting,” and “disciplining,” are entirely artificial. If the truth be told, children all over the world are exposed to physical blows administered in the name of the parents’ right to bring up their children as they see fit.
In my attempt to collect reliable information on this point I have approached the editors of the journal Missions africaines because physical abuse is especially cruel and widespread on the African continent and the Catholic Church is very strongly represented there. The reply from Father Claude Remond was as follows: “Unfortunately I have no reliable sources on the degree to which the Church in Africa has been active in heightening parents’ awareness of the problem of physical violence in chi8ld rearing.” He kindly gave me the address of a nun in Togo who looks after street urchins. In her reply, she confirmed the fact that child-rearing in that area “cannot do without beating,” adding that she did not have the impression that the Church was doing anything to counteract this attitude because sometimes she saw adults in church keeping order among the youth groups with sticks in their hands. So where does the Catholic Church actually stand? Have there been any declarations by the Church on this problem? The pope has his bishops frequently referring to violence in general. But to my knowledge they never make any mention of the fact that children have their first encounter with violence-slaps in the face, blows to the head, back, or buttocks- at the hands of those they love the most, their parents. And this despite the fact that we now know that children learn not from what they are told but from the way they are treated. When adults are cruel it is because they, too, were once subjected to violence by those to whom they looked up. From the earliest infancy, they have had it drilled into them that conflicts can only be settled by brute force. So what is the use in pillorying violence without making any reference to the sources it stems from?
I would be grateful if you could tell me whether there have been any official statements on this problem by the Church, the Pope, or the bishops. If you are unable to give me an answer, perhaps you would be so inclined to indicate to whom else I might address my inquiry.
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Also, read my blogs Pope Francis Blames the Victims for Provoking the Abusers