A Catholic advocacy group has strongly criticized the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) over the FBI’s alleged surveillance of Catholics’ efforts targeting certain “traditionalist” Catholics. The FBI, which initially faced criticism from religious freedom advocates, has been accused of overstepping its boundaries and violating the rights of Catholics across America.
FBI’s Alleged Surveillance of Catholics
According to Washington Examiner, CatholicVote, a prominent Catholic advocacy group, took issue with a recent disclosure that suggests the FBI’s Richmond, Virginia office was not the sole perpetrator of a controversial initiative to monitor specific segments of the Catholic community and they call it as FBI’s alleged surveillance of Catholics.
The initiative which was initially associated with the Richmond office, has now been linked to FBI offices in Portland and Los Angeles, indicating a potential widespread effort of FBI’s alleged surveillance of Catholics.
CatholicVote President Brian Burch expressed his concerns in a statement, asserting, “The FBI has finally acknowledged what we have long suspected, namely that FBI efforts to spy on Catholic churches went far beyond a single field office and a so-called rogue agent.”
Burch’s statement also raised questions about the intention, purpose, and legality of the FBI’s alleged surveillance of Catholics.
The controversy started from the leak of an FBI document that was initially circulated within the agency’s Richmond field office. The document, which surfaced in January, presented a threat assessment focusing on “radical-traditionalist Catholics.”
The FBI’s assessment reportedly claimed that this group represented a “small minority of overall Roman Catholic adherents” and highlighted a perceived interest in violent extremism within this faction.
The assessment was based on a combination of factors, including the work of an undercover agent, communications with jails, local law enforcement reports, and liaison and contact reports. Notably, information from liaison contacts in Portland and an FBI investigation in Los Angeles was cited in the document, revealing the extent of potential involvement from multiple offices.
Response to FBI’s Alleged Surveillance of Catholics
The document’s content triggered significant criticisms from advocates of religious freedom calling it as FBI’s alleged surveillance of Catholics. This prompted FBI Director Christopher Wray to condemn the document during a congressional hearing.
He referred to it as “a single product by a single field office” and stated that he had ordered its withdrawal from FBI systems as soon as he became aware of its existence.
As a further step, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan demanded records from Director Wray to ascertain whether the surveillance operation or what advocacy groups call as FBI’s alleged surveillance of Catholics was more extensive than previously believed.
CatholicVote has taken legal action against the FBI, filing a lawsuit in April to compel the agency to fulfill a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. In response, the FBI contended that CatholicVote was not entitled to the information, citing FOIA exemptions or exclusions that protect the records from disclosure.
Burch referenced this legal battle in his statement, suggesting a possible link between the FBI’s reluctance to release information and the newly revealed scope of the surveillance effort.
The recent revelations about the FBI’s alleged surveillance of Catholics have ignited a fierce debate over the agency’s actions and the boundaries of religious freedom.