Is the FBI targeting traditional Catholics?
“Anti-Catholic bigotry appears to be festering in the FBI, and the Bureau is treating Catholics as potential terrorists because of their beliefs.” This startling charge was leveled by 19 state attorneys general in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray on Feb. 10, after a memo from the FBI’s Richmond field office came to light.
The memo — withdrawn amid a storm of criticism last week — warned of extremists being drawn into “radical-traditionalist” Roman Catholic organizations known primarily for their love of the Latin Mass and the relatively few churches where it is celebrated. While I prefer my Masses in English and under 50 minutes (and indeed choose when possible the Mass without music), I know many “Rad Trads” and find the idea that they might be dangerous so laughable that at first I didn’t believe the report.
Minus “Da Vinci Code” delirium, the most dangerous thing a Rad Trad might do is leave a rosary lying about for someone to slip on. They do indeed quarrel with Pope Francis (as they did with Pope Benedict and Saint John Paul II and — for that matter — everyone who doesn’t think Vatican II caused enormous damage). But they dissent by writing books, essays and letters; by praying; and by resolutely attending the traditional Latin Mass.
I know the Latin Mass. I memorized the Latin Mass as an altar boy. The Latin Mass is a friend of mine. But I can count on one hand the number I have attended in the more than half a century since its general abandonment after Vatican II. I’m the kind of Catholic who loves his Masses quiet and in spoken English, free of the mess that modern music and dreadful singing have made of the liturgy. If the author of the bureau’s memo — an “intelligence analyst” in the Richmond office — had targeted mainstream Catholics for lack of musicality, at least the FBI would have had truth on its side. But extremism tending toward violence? A target ripe for surveillance and, apparently, undercover penetration? Risible.
My Rad Trad friends are — every one of them — kind, generous and devout folks who take very seriously their duties to seek out and serve “the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind” (Luke 14:21). But it seems the FBI is bent on hounding harmless people — if they are conservatives. The idea that traditional Catholics pose a threat joins the earlier suspicion of parents who protest actions of their local school boards. This needs to be cleaned up, fast.
The GOP attorneys general are perhaps overly dramatic when they write: “We are particularly alarmed by the memorandum’s suggestion that FBI operatives should be developing ‘sources with access,’ including in ‘places of worship,’ to identify the bad Catholics.” It is one memo approved by one office and quickly withdrawn, after all.
But this is an urgent opportunity for Wray to address growing distrust of the bureau. The Republican majority in the House has created a select subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee on the weaponization of the federal government to investigate precisely such matters as this. Rep. Daniel S. Goldman, D-N.Y., a member of the subcommittee, tweeted on Feb. 11 that the “Republicans’ entire ‘investigation’ is a baseless conclusion in search of evidence.” As a veteran of House Democrats’ fruitless Trump-hunting Russia investigation, Goldman should know about baseless conclusions. “So far,” Goldman added after a single hearing, “there is no evidence to support their conclusions.”
Goldman, it appears, missed the proverbial memo.
Wray must know blanket denials of partisan behavior by FBI staff won’t convince much of the country. I thought Wray a superb choice to head the bureau when President Donald Trump chose him. I valued the opinion of retired federal judge J. Michael Luttig, for whom Wray clerked before embarking on a distinguished career at the Justice Department. As the bureau lurched into another scandal, I asked Luttig — again — about the director. “Chris Wray’s integrity, honesty, and conduct has always been beyond reproach,” Luttig told me in an email. “He doesn’t have a political bone in his body, let alone a conspiratorial one, and he is impervious to political attack — as the Director of the FBI should be.”
The FBI employs about 36,000 people, including about 14,000 special agents. It isn’t anti-Catholic, anti-parents or anti-anything except spies, terrorists and organized crime. But quality control has obviously slipped, and Wray must firmly and forcefully bring hammers down on those ideological outliers and political partisans operating inside the bureau. Congress should give Wray the power to toss them out without the endless process that surrounds even minor disciplining of civil-service-protected careerists.