POPE Francis has said it is acceptable for parents to hit their children if they have misbehaved.
He made the remarks in front of his weekly general audience in St Peter's Square in the Vatican.
The Pope recalled a conversation he had with a father, who told him that he sometimes strikes his children to punish bad behaviour.
Pope Francis recalled: "One time, I heard a father say, 'At times I have to hit my children a bit, but never in the face so as not to humiliate them'.
"That's great. He had a sense of dignity. He should punish, do the right thing, and then move on."
The surprising comments are the latest in a series of controversial remarks.
Last month, Pope Francis suggested that those who insult another person's religion should expect a violent reaction.
He made the statement in relation to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, stating that if someone insulted his mother, he could expect a "punch" in the face.
Speaking on board the papal plane, he said freedom of expression had its limits.
Last night, a leading children's rights campaigner described the Pope's latest comments as "not appropriate" and "out of step".
Senator Jillian van Turnhout said: "I would ask him to talk to parents and re-look at what message he is giving out.
"Because for me, it is very out of step with the understanding that we now have.
"The message he's sending to parents is not appropriate.
"I think we should be helping parents, supporting parents, but we build that by giving them good ways that they can raise their children.
"I'm Catholic, and for me it's about forgiveness, it's about tolerance," she added.
Ms van Turnhout previously called for a ban against chastising children, which is still permitted here.
"In Ireland, we still allow reasonable chastisement either by parents or if you're minding up to three children. I certainly think it should be banned.
"One hundred years ago you were allowed to hit your wife, your child and your dog. You're still allowed to hit your child."
The chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance, Tanya Ward, who supports such a ban, added: "Human rights law is very clear. Children are to be protected from all forms of harm."