- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Sen. John Kennedy, Louisiana Republican, prodded the Justice Department on Wednesday to act against rising crime targeting Catholic churches and worshipers, saying he has received no response since raising the issue in 2020.

In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Mr. Kennedy cited numerous examples of attacks on Catholic churches and institutions, including arson, vandalism and beheading of holy statues.

“If the government continues to let these crimes go unpunished, it will further inhibit the people’s practice and enjoyment of their fundamental, constitutional right,” Mr. Kennedy said. “Thus, I again ask that the DOJ increase efforts to identify and prosecute criminals targeting Catholic people and property so that the tens of millions of Catholics in our country can continue to practice their faith safely.”

He sent a letter in August 2020 urging then-Attorney General William Barr to “act swiftly and carefully in bringing an end to this injustice” as anti-Catholic attacks surged during the 2020 pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests.

The uptick prompted the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to keep a log of incidents dating back to May 2020. The list now numbers more than 100.

Mr. Kennedy said more than 80 attacks have occurred since his first letter urging the Justice Department to step in.

“In my state of Louisiana, a delinquent broke the heads off statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary and threw planters and statues at the church’s stained-glass windows,” said the Kennedy letter. “In March, Missouri nuns woke up to bullets coming through their walls, only feet from where they were sleeping.”

The Justice Department said Thursday that Mr. Garland has made it a top priority to counter hate crimes and incidents, including those against houses of worship, citing his two hate-crime directives and listing a half dozen, high-profile prosecutions of attacks on synagogues, churches and a mosque.

Examples included a California woman sentenced to 15 months in March 2021 for threatening to bomb a Catholic prep school in Washington, D.C., and a Tennessee man sentenced last month to seven years for setting fire to four churches — three Baptist and one Catholic.

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has vigorously investigated hate crimes and has supported efforts by federal, state, and local partners in their investigations of such crimes,” said the DOJ in an email. “In 2021, the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division designated civil rights crimes as a national threat priority, thereby elevating civil rights from the FBI’s fifth investigative priority to one of the top priorities across all FBI investigative programs.”

Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta responded after CatholicVote president Brian Burch urged the department in December to investigate anti-Catholic crimes.

“We share your concern with and commitment to preventing and addressing acts of vandalism, property destruction, and other incidents that target religious symbols, shrines, statues, or churches,” she said in a Jan. 28 letter to CatholicVote posted on the group’s website.

“The Department is taking numerous steps to address such violence, consistent with our commitment to combat unlawful acts of hate in all their forms,” Ms. Gupta added.

Mr. Burch said the bishops had documented 114 instances of arson, vandalism and desecration in 29 states.

“We haven’t seen widespread vandalism against the Church like this since the rise of the Ku Klux Klan,” said Mr. Burch in his December letter to Mr. Garland.

C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League, said that hate crimes against Catholics have been underreported in Massachusetts.

He cited the Feb. 18 state hate-crime report that listed only two incidents against Catholics in 2020, even though the league counted at least eight episodes of arson, theft and vandalism reported in the local media.

“As state hate crime statistics are compiled from data provided by local police departments across the Commonwealth, the likely culprit in this undercounting of anti-Catholic incidents is the Catholic Church itself, which has a long history of not reporting church vandalisms to local authorities,” said Mr. Doyle in a Feb. 20 statement.

He urged the Catholic Church to “emulate other religious communities by reporting these attacks, and demanding accountability from police, prosecutors and elected officials.”

In his letter, Mr. Kennedy asked the department to send within 30 days an update on the “specific steps being taken to bring these injustices to an end.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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