Professor Alexis Jay, the chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which for the past seven years has investigated abuse in places such as schools, children’s homes and religious institutions, said this morning that an estimated one-fifth of children experience sexual abuse before the age of  16. 

Patrick Hudson writes that in its final report, published today, the inquiry calls for failure to report a disclosure of child sexual abuse to be made a criminal offence, including disclosures made in the confessional.

There is a lot to absorb in a 458-page report but the Church will now face the difficult task of defending the seal of the confessional.

The report makes severe criticisms of the Catholic Church, the Church of England and other religious organisations; what it leaves undisturbed are the intractable and elusive roots of abuse.  

The purpose of the Second Vatican Council, which sixty years ago had just begun its first session, was to renew the Church, to evangelise the world, and to engage with those outside the Church rather than to excoriate them.

There were shortcomings and unintended consequences, writes Shaun Blanchard in his reading in The Tablet today of the balance sheet, but sixty years on Vatican II’s achievements are clearer than ever.

The Council recognised the development of doctrine as the means by which “the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth”.

This dynamic language fits uneasily with a fortress-like view of the Church, but dovetails with Vatican II’s image of a pilgrim church, a church on a journey.

Nevertheless, synodality, the Pope’s chosen vehicle for taking the Council’s reforms forward, is still an awkward fit in some respects.

As we say in our leader this week, the “sense of the faithful”, which synodality is designed to capture, can easily be ignored if the authorities do not like what they hear. In practice, Church teaching still flows downwards from the hierarchy rather than upwards from below, because that is the way the Church is structured. This is a bit of an impasse.

Or, to look on the bright side, a tension that is a source of life and dynamism.

Top picture: Professor Alexis Jay who was once a social worker at Dumbarton District Council.

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