DUBLIN (AFP) - Ireland's former president Mary McAleese spoke out against Pope Francis Saturday after he defended the rights of parents to smack their children.
Her intervention came after the Catholic leader said good fathers knew how to forgive but also to "correct with firmness" during his weekly general audience Wednesday.
He described as "beautiful" and dignified the response of one father who said he sometimes smacked his children "but never in the face so as to not humiliate them".
In a letter to the Irish Times newspaper, McAleese, who left office in 2011, noted that the Vatican was a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and that the committee monitoring this wants all corporal punishment of children to be banned.
In submissions to that committee last year, the Vatican said it did not promote corporal punishment, citing "respect for the inviolability of physical life and the integrity of the person," she added.
"Is the Holy See now doing what it claimed not to be doing a year ago, namely actively and internationally promoting the corporal punishment of children?" McAleese wrote.
"If it is, then Pope Francis has surely turned the clock back considerably.
"What faith are we to have now in the Holy See's commitment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child?"
Corporal punishment is banned in schools in Ireland but not in the home.
Some 84 percent of people in Ireland identify themselves as Catholic, according to the last census in 2011.
The Catholic Church in Ireland has endured controversy over its handling of clerical sex abuse scandals in recent years.
Last year, the leader of the Irish Catholic Church, Cardinal Sean Brady, resigned at retirement age after facing criticism for his management of the scandals.