Congressional Report Confirms FBI Spied on Catholics

December 15, 2023
FBI targets Catholics over faith | First Liberty Institute

by Jorge Gomez • 3 min read

A Congressional report confirms the FBI spied on American Catholics.

In February, the House Judiciary Committee and its Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government began a lengthy investigation into the FBI’s categorization of Catholic Americans as potential “domestic terrorists.” The committees recently published a 30-page interim report titled, “The FBI’s Breach of Religious Freedom: The Weaponization of Law Enforcement Against Catholic Americans.

“Under the guise of tackling the threat of domestic terrorism… the FBI abused its counterterrorism tools to target Catholic Americans,” the report states.

The congressional investigation was prompted by a leaked memo, which revealed the FBI had efforts underway to identify Catholics as “potential terrorists.” A whistleblower leaked a report from the Richmond, Virginia field office titled “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities.”

That document allegedly stated that the agency vowed to spy on “radical traditionalist Catholics and their ideology.” It sparked national controversy and drew sharp criticism from religious groups across the country.

This infamous “Richmond memo” relied on information from the Southern Poverty Law Center, a discredited, radical organization known for labeling political opponents as “hate groups.” It also referenced multiple left-leaning news sources, citing them as evidence of the emergence of white supremacy among “radical traditionalist Catholics.”

The Congressional report found the FBI “interviewed a priest and choir director affiliated with a Catholic church in Richmond, Virginia” when drafting its memo. It also “relied on at least one undercover agent to develop its assessment and the FBI even proposed developing sources among the Catholic clergy and church leadership.”

What’s more, the FBI’s probe involved several field offices, including Los Angeles, Milwaukee and Portland. Even more concerning, it’s still not clear “how many FBI employees accessed the memorandum before its removal and cannot confirm whether any outreach occurred to Catholic parishes as a result of the memorandum.”

At a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Josh Hawley grilled FBI Director Christopher Wray about what the report uncovered and demanded that Director Wray hold accountable the individuals involved:

“Now we know that in fact, FBI agents did approach a priest and a choir director to ask them to inform on parishioners,” Sen. Hawley said. “Good heavens, Director, this is one of the most outrageous targetings. You have mobilized your division, the most powerful law enforcement division in the world, against traditionalist Catholics.”

“Your memo labels traditional Catholics as racially, and ethnically, motivated violent extremists in need of investigation,” he continued. “You have repeatedly said ‘We don’t target churches, we don’t list churches,’ but they’re listed in the memo.”

Sen. Hawley concluded by saying this “tells you a lot about the dangers to religious liberty in this country right now.” He’s right. Religious Americans must remain vigilant.

The weaponization of law enforcement agencies to track the faithful is no longer a distant possibility. It’s not something reserved only for the pages of an Orwellian novel. It’s a reality we’re witnessing in America.

As the report itself states, this is a “reminder that Americans’ civil liberties and core Constitutional rights must be vigorously guarded against government overreach, including in this case from an overzealous law enforcement agency.”

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