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Pope’s sex abuse commission alarmed by spanking comment

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    Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley arrives for a meeting of a Vatican commission on sex abuse, at the Vatican, Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015.

VATICAN CITY » Members of Pope Francis’ sex abuse commission have criticized his remarks that it is OK for parents to spank their children, saying there is no place for physical discipline and that the commission would be making recommendations to him about protecting kids from corporal punishment.

The commission met with its full 17 members for the first time this week and announced progress Saturday on drafting policies for holding bishops accountable when they cover up for pedphile priests. Commission members also said they were organizing educational seminars for Vatican officials and newly minted bishops on protecting children from predators.

But they got an unexpected and urgent new task when Francis told his weekly general audience this week that it was OK for parents to spank their children if their dignity was respected. The remarks were criticized by Germany, where corporal punishment for children is illegal, and from leading advocacy groups.

Commission member Peter Saunders, who was sexually abused by a priest as a teen, said the committee would recommend that the pope revise his remarks.

"It might start off as a light tap, but actually the whole idea about hitting children is about inflicting pain," he said. "That’s what it’s about and there is no place in this day and age for having physical punishment, for inflicting pain, in terms of how you discipline your children."

Another commission member, Dr. Krysten Winter-Green, a New Zealand native now working in the U.S. with abused young people, said any physical punishment of children by a parent or someone in a more powerful position was unacceptable.

"There has to be positive parenting, in a different way," she said.

While an entire working group is dedicated to corporal punishment, the bulk of the commission’s work is devoted to helping the church develop best practices to protect children from sexual abuse.

Commission head Cardinal Sean O’Malley said members were close to finishing recommendations to send to Francis about how to "respond in an expeditious way" when bishops cover up for pedophile priests. Members haven’t discussed what the consequences might be. The main complaint from victims is that the Vatican has never disciplined a bishop for failing to report a priest.

Saunders said he would give the Vatican a year or two to make real progress on holding bishops accountable before deciding whether to remain a member.

"There have been far too many cover-ups," he said. "This has got to be consigned to history very very quickly. If in a year or two there isn’t firm action on those matters, then I don’t think I’ll be sitting here talking to you."

"We’re not here for lip service," he added. "We’re here to protect our children and our children’s children."

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