Pope Francis said Wednesday that it is acceptable to smack children, as long as it is done in a manner that preserves their dignity and the blow is not administered to the face.

The pontiff made the comments during his weekly general audience, which focused on the role of fathers in the family. "One time, I heard a father in a meeting with married couples say 'I sometimes have to smack my children a bit, but never in the face so as to not humiliate them,'" Francis said.

"How beautiful!" he added. "He knows the sense of dignity! He has to punish them but does it justly and moves on."

The Rev. Thomas Rosica, who works with the Vatican press office, said the pope was obviously not speaking about committing violence or cruelty against children, but about "helping someone to grow and mature," The Associated Press reported.

The pope's comments come a year after a report by a United Nations committee was sharply critical of the Catholic church's record on child protection.

The report from U.N. Committee on Convention of the Rights of the Child said that it was “gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators,” according to the National Catholic reporter.

The Holy See responded that it would review the recommendations, but also said parents "should be able to rectify their child's inappropriate action by imposing certain reasonable consequences for such behavior, taking into consideration the child's ability to understand the same as corrective," USA Today reported.

Catholic-run institutions in many countries, including the U.S. and Ireland, were found to have subjected children in their charge to harsh physical and sexual abuse for decades during the last century. The Vatican subsequently implemented new child protection standards, but victims' groups have been critical of what they see as lackluster implementation.