La. Catholic School Last to Renounce Corporal Punishment

A Catholic high school in Louisiana has agreed to end its policy of punishing pupils with paddling this week, reportedly relinquishing its place as the final "refuge" of corporal punishment in the U.S.

St. Augustine High School in New Orleans was traditionally managed by the order of Josephites and had a tradition of using paddling for keeping discipline within the institution.

The decision to do away with paddling came after a legal struggle, a follow-up to a year-long dispute between parents, alumni and local board members, and the Josephites. The Josephites, who gained the support of New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond, claimed the issue touched on the school’s identity as a place of Catholic values.

St. Augustine High School was established in 1951 by the Archdiocese of New Orleans with funds raised from the local Catholic community, according to the institution's website. The all-boys school was originally designated for the education of young men from Black Catholic families in the city.

The issue of corporal punishment in Catholic schools is a controversial one, although the practice is by now mostly gone. But the issue of using corporal punishment for the purpose of religious upbringing -- a topic several mainstream media outlets have covered recently due to events involving children allegedly abused by their guardians who claimed they were using corporal punishment for religious reasons.

Decisions of using methods of corporal punishment in schools are considered "internal Church matters" and are being left for consideration of individual dioceses, Jeff Field, spokesman for the U.S. Catholic League, told CP Wednesday.

The Center for Effective Discipline, an advocacy group that researches legal grounds potentially allowing corporal punishment in schools, against which it advocates, has conducted a nationwide study in June 2011, which concluded that corporal punishment is not used or is prohibited by specific bans in all U.S. Diocesan Catholic Schools.

"While all Catholic Diocesan school have bans, there are several Catholic schools that are operated privately, by religious orders of nuns, priest or layman, that fall outside the diocesan system," a statement on the group's website reads. "We have surveyed many of these, and to our knowledge, there are currently no Catholic schools that are using corporal punishment."

A school board representative at St. Augustine said that the controversial method of punishment has not been used at the school for the past year and a half.

"We want St. Aug to maintain its track record for strict discipline. I’m confident that we can maintain that high level without paddling," Dan Davillier told the Religious News Service, adding that there would be no attempt to reinstate corporal punishment.

"The fact that the Josephites and the New Orleans Archbishop oppose hitting children to change their behavior -- and the fact that St. Augustine was the only Catholic school still allowing the practice -- show that there is a growing number of people of faith who recognize that today's progressive, compassionate parenting models exclude physical punishment," Janet Heimlich, author of Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment, a book analyzing reasons for physical punishment in religious communities, told CP Wednesday.

The school's decision to ban paddling also shows that "religions are living institutions that can change their outlooks as we learn more about child development," she added.

Although the very term "corporal punishment" is defined differently by various groups, UNICEF defines it as "the use of physical force causing pain, but not wounds, as a means of discipline."