(LifeSiteNews) — Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) urged Attorney General Merrick Garland in a Tuesday letter to reveal the extent to which the Department of Justice (DOJ) is working with “undercover informants” in Catholic parishes and other religious groups.
Hawley’s demands follow the FBI’s disclosure to the House Judiciary Committee that, “relying on information derived from at least one undercover employee,” it planned to “engage in outreach” to leaders of the traditional Catholic Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) in the Richmond, Virginia area “to sensitize these congregations to the warning signs of radicalization and to enlist their assistance to serve as suspicious activity tripwires.”
According to Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan, the FBI similarly wrote of other opportunities to develop “suspicious activity tripwires” in the Richmond area, including by contacting so-called “mainline Catholic parishes” and local “diocesan leadership.”
Hawley accordingly demanded “immediat[e]” responses from Garland revealing “how many undercover informants or other agents” in Catholic parishes or religious organizations the DOJ is working with or “otherwise employ[ing.”
Jordan had also noted in his Monday letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray that “We know from whistleblowers that the FBI distributed this document to field offices across the country,” and that “it is unclear” how many FBI employees have accessed Catholic houses of worship across the country as a result of the original Richmond document.
In light of this information, Hawley also urged Garland to share “within which, and how many FBI field offices was guidance related to the infiltration of traditionalist Catholic parishes distributed?”
Hawley shared his letter to Garland in a tweet declaring that what Garland had previously told him under oath – that “the FBI was not targeting Catholic parishes” – “appears to have been a lie.”
Merrick Garland told me – under oath – the FBI was not targeting Catholic parishes. That appears to have been a lie. I want the truth 👇 pic.twitter.com/HE8ncapeYz
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) April 11, 2023
Hawley had questioned Garland last month before the Senate Judiciary Committee about an “emerging pattern” of “anti-Catholic actions” by the DOJ following the leak of an FBI Richmond office memo that directed surveillance of “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists” who have allegedly found common ground with “radical-traditionalist Catholic (RTC)” ideology.
Hawley pointed out in his Tuesday letter that when he had asked Garland whether the DOJ was “cultivating sources and spies” in Latin Mass and other Catholic parishes, Garland had clearly responded, “No, the Justice Department does not do that.” Garland also told Hawley, “I don’t believe we have any informants aimed at Catholic churches.”
The recent investigative findings of the House Judiciary Committee have shown that “all of this was false,” wrote Hawley, who cited the FBI’s disclosures to the Committee, as shared by Jordan.
“Let’s be clear: your Department has decided to turn Catholic congregations into front organizations for the FBI, and when asked about it, you’ve decided to fudge the truth before Congress. This is an unconscionable assault on American Catholics’ First Amendment rights and an abdication of your duty to enforce the law without fear or favor,” wrote Hawley.
Following intense backlash over the leak of the original FBI Richmond Office memo, the FBI released a statement saying it would not only retract the memo, but also investigate why it was issued, saying the document had failed to meet its “exacting standards.”
The whistleblower who had publicized the memo, Kyle Seraphin, suggested the agency only backed off because it had been held to account. “The FBI doesn’t confirm information, but they confirmed this,” he wrote. “Because they were called out. Not because they would NEVER approve it. They approved it, and are embarrassed. This is the only way.”
Earlier this week, LifeSiteNews reached out to the Diocese of Richmond for comment about Rep. Jordan’s revelation that the FBI had reached out to “diocesan leadership.” The diocese referred LifeSiteNews to its previous statement about the original leaked FBI memo. The SSPX has yet to respond to requests for comment.