THE CATHOLIC agency campaigning for a total ban on the right of parents to smack their children has severely criticised a compromise pushed through the House of Lords.
Sarah Lindsell, the director of Caritas, called the amendment to the Children Bill “half-hearted” and claimed it would cause chaos and confusion.
The Lords voted on Monday to remove the old legal defence of “reasonable chastisement”, but to allow “moderate smacking”.
Any punishment that left bruises, scratches or reddening of the skin could mean the parent could be prosecuted for actual bodily harm.
Caritas, which has been campaigning for a complete ban on smacking, was disappointed with the vote and said the Lords did not go far enough.
“We are disappointed with this half-hearted attempt at law reform,” said Mrs Lindsell. “If you can hit your child but are not allowed to leave a mark, this is a recipe for chaos and confusion for parents who are placed in the impossible position of deciding where acceptable chastisement ends and unreasonable violence begins.
“Hitting children is as unacceptable as hitting anyone else and the law should clearly say so, to protect both children and their parents alike.” But others argue just as strongly that there was no need for a change in the law at all, and have criticised the peers for undermining the rights of parents.
“The current law provides children with adequate protection, protects children from abuse, and protects families from unnecessary intrusion,” said Norman Wells, director of Family and Youth Concern. “A ban on smacking would create more harm than good, because it would involve social workers, distracting them from more serious abuse.” The position of Caritas has caused controversy in the Church and raised the question of how far agencies are able to speak on behalf of the bishops.
Mr Wells said that he had asked Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff, who speaks for the Department of Christian Responsibility and Citizenship of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, whether the bishops were opposed to smacking. “He assured me that the bishops’ conference had made no such commitment,” he said.
Miss Lindsell claims her campaign for a change in the law was rooted in the respect Christ showed for children in the Gospel, but even this is being disputed.
“There is no magisterial teaching of the Church that supports her views,” said Canadian canon lawyer and theologian Mgr Vincent Foy who accused Miss Lindsell of “trying to promote a personal political position as a matter of Catholic doctrine”.
He said: “Assault is an unjust attack; disciplining a child with moderate physical force is permitted.” The Lords rejected, by 250 votes to 75, another amendment, which Caritas supported, which would have made any smacking of a child a criminal offence. This had the support of the Children Are Unbeatable! campaign, which took out full-page newspaper advertisements listing its supporters including the Catholic Church.
“If people say the Catholic Church is opposed to this, it carries an awful lot of weight,” said Eric Hester, a retired Catholic headmaster who considers the proposed measure to be yet another attack on the family.
Though Ms Lindsell has written in The Tablet about “the Catholic Church’s involvement in the campaign” some bishops have questioned if she has a mandate to speak on their behalf.
Retired Southwark Auxiliary Bishop John Jukes said: “An agency of the bishops’ conference can offer its opinion, but that should not be seen as a statement of the bishops’ conference. The Press, and sometimes the agencies, don’t always understand this.” He added: “My apprehension over laws which make things illegal is multiplied when it involves an incursion into the rights and duties of parents. When the state brings in legislation that seriously erodes the rights and duties of people, my view is that we ought to resist it.”