As residents of Hazle Township in Luzerne County debate renaming a street that is named after a priest who appeared in a new grand jury report on clergy abuse, thousands are expected to protest during Pope Francis' visit to Ireland this weekend over the church's role in abuse scandals.
Which hammers home the fact that the sickening 1,356-page report detailing sexual abuse of minors in six dioceses in Pennsylvania represents just a small part of a very large, very global problem.
And nothing but radical change is going to solve it.
There was hope that the ascension of Francis to the papacy five years ago might have represented that radical change. The new pontiff presented a vital combination of humility, humanity, and holiness. He washed the feet of prisoners, spoke out about immigration, and spoke up for the poor of the world. Francis seemed to be just what the church – and the world — needed after years of upheaval.
That is now in question.
In the grand jury report, hundreds of priests were implicated in cases involving the victimization of at least 1,000 children. As stomach-turning as the monstrous details of sexual abuse were, it was the complicity of the church hierarchy in covering up and hiding the abusers behind the shield of a self-protecting institution that truly shocked.
Sexual depravities inflicted on innocent children are hard to process; that they were inflicted by men who were entrusted with the faith, spiritual development, and the very souls of their parishioners can only be considered evil.
Now the church must find a way to acknowledge the depth of this evil. It must acknowledge that something in its very structure has been complicit in creating a safe space — if not a breeding ground — for predators.
Sadly, it's hard to imagine the church capable of the kind of soul-searching that would be required to truly come to grips with the black heart of this evil — and then to change. It will be impossible without serious input from church members.
Pope Francis has made a few of the right noises; he established a Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in 2014. But that the only two members who are sex-abuse survivors resigned from the commission speaks volumes about its effectiveness.
The pope has said compassionate words over the latest revelations, but words alone don't heal. He needs to act. True action – cleaning house of powerful bishops, or changing rules governing the private lives of priests –would upend the very structure of the church.
While the buck may ultimately stop at the pope, this is the responsibility of everyone in the church. The bishops – in Pennsylvania especially – should be more explicitly vocal and specific about the actions they plan.
But the most effective change could come from church members who begin pressuring and demanding that their church change in fundamental ways. The faithful questioning the authority of the church, especially for one as hierarchal and steeped in mystery as the Catholic Church, could be the most radical change of all.
Since that sacred authority was used to ruin young and innocent lives, though, staying silent would be the ultimate sin.