Several years ago, as a result of increasing concerns over terrorist attacks at home and abroad, the Department of Homeland Security began running a major public awareness campaign with the main message built around the statement, “If you see something, say something.” The main idea centers on helping Americans be more aware of their surroundings, not just in airports, train stations and bus stations, but also local schools, shopping malls or church parking lots, not to mention encouraging all of us to pick up the phone and dial 911 if we’re convinced there’s danger ahead.
The same language in terms of seeing something and being willing to say something could easily be applied to what the laity are being encouraged to do as we attempt to get to the bottom of the current abuse crisis. For too long, those not in sync with Church teaching have been able to forge ahead with their own brand of Catholicism without fear of repercussions.
How else can one explain the long list of “Catholic” high schools and colleges that do little to pass on the Faith beyond offering weekly Mass? And that’s just one area within the Church. How about all of the problems with marriage preparation classes at the parish level, RCIA classes, baptism classes and weekly homilies that are often free-for-alls when it comes to Church teaching?
I can recall attending a retreat with my husband where the main presenter, who was a priest, openly called for the ordination of women throughout his presentations and even invited his fellow retreat leader, a nun, up to the ambo during the homily. This sister proceeded to give her own message, which she used to attack the Church claiming women weren’t welcome. What was even more frightening was the ease with which these retreat leaders went about their business. They didn’t seem the least bit concerned about being disciplined. It was as natural as could be. And this retreat, by the way, was held in an archdiocese known for its orthodoxy.
Part of the reason we’re in this mess is directly connected to the fact too many of us — both clergy and laity — have permitted such situations to go on without lovingly pushing back with the truth. Maybe we didn’t feel qualified or well-versed enough in our own understanding of the Faith. Maybe we were uncomfortable with the thought of confronting someone. But this type of fear needs to end now if things are ever going to change.
If we know the truth, we have an obligation to defend it because souls, as well as the future of the Church, are at stake. We should pray and discern the best way to bring an issue forward. We should make sure we have a clear understanding of what was said before speaking up, but enough is enough; we definitely need to say something when we see something.
Getting back to that awful retreat several years ago, we were thrilled to learn that we weren’t the only ones who had taken detailed notes and turned the information over to those in charge. The organizers were eventually taken to task for their poor choice of presenters.
Thinking back, I could kick myself. What if we had paid more attention in the first place before attending the event? Perhaps if we had looked more closely at the warning signs, as in the retreat announcement, and done a bit of research beforehand, we might have been able to stop the event from happening in the first place. That said, given the current climate in the Church, it looks like all of us will have plenty of opportunity to put the “see something, say something” motto into practice.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio, and the author of “Beyond Sunday: Becoming a 24/7 Catholic” (OSV, $14.95).