- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Last week, the bishop of Richmond, Virginia, issued (for him) an aggressive and welcome statement about the FBI‘s Richmond office identifying those Catholics who attend the traditional Latin Mass as potential threats to the nation’s domestic tranquility.

Bishop Barry Knestout said that the FBI memo “should be troubling and offensive to all communities of faith, as well as all Americans. … A preference for traditional forms of worship and holding closely to the Church’s teachings on marriage, family, human sexuality, and the dignity of the human person does not equate with extremism.”

He went on: “I call on all national representatives from the Commonwealth of Virginia in the House and Senate to exercise their role of oversight, to publicly condemn this threat to religious liberty, and to ensure that such offenses against the constitutionally protected free exercise of religion do not occur again.”

The whole thing is so egregious that even the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (through Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York City), whose members are reliably left-wing, said that the memo was “troubling and offensive in several respects — such as in its religious profiling and reliance on dubious sourcing.” The cardinal added that he was glad it has been rescinded.

As for the FBI, the bureau has evaded and avoided the problem and said that it was not a finished product (despite the fact that it had gone through the classification process) and no one relied on it. Even if it had, we have subsequently swept the whole unfortunate thing into the waste bin.

Allowing the FBI to slide away on this would be a mistake. At a minimum, the bureau should have to identify who wrote and who saw the memo. It seems reasonable to ask who at the FBI is willing to undermine freedom of religion and characterize an entire group of citizens as potential terrorists just because they have a solid preference for some old-time religion.

It is an especially important question given that federal law enforcement has turned a blind eye to about 250 attacks on Catholic churches and nearly 100 attacks on pro-life facilities over the last few years.

Perhaps FBI Director Christopher Wray, who got married in the Episcopal Church, and Attorney General Merrick Garland, who was raised Jewish, don’t care about these attacks because Roman Catholicism isn’t their favorite flavor. One would hope not, but there is no telling in the absence of actual answers.

The more important question, which has yet to be addressed by anyone (including the FBI), is, when did the FBI veer off course? The bureau has been widely respected for the lifetimes of most of us. That is not true anymore.

For a thousand years, it has been understood that when law enforcement migrates from a local to a national function, it devolves quickly into politicization, and abuse becomes common. When accountability is attenuated, as it is with the FBI, bad things become routine.

That’s a lesson we learned during the original Church Committee. All sorts of federal government agencies answered to no one. Consequently, they got into all sorts of trouble. Regardless of one’s politics, federal law enforcement was an equal opportunity offender, keeping an eye on people as different and dangerous as Walt Disney and Helen Keller.

Unfortunately, we forgot that lesson in the wake of 9/11. There was a bipartisan rush to remove any safeguards and much of the oversight that constrained federal law enforcement. Not surprisingly, those with guns and badges have gotten pretty aggressive. They’ve surveilled members of Congress, presidential campaigns, reporters. They’ve lied in the media and in courts. They’ve intervened in presidential elections in attempts to pick a winner.

Now they’re taking a run at religion.

The good news is that the citizenry is finally onto the game. Last Sunday, when the most recent target — St. Joseph’s parish in Richmond (home of a Latin Mass) — was alerted by the pastor to the FBI’s concerns, chuckles rippled through the pews. The parishioners know that the FBI has become unhinged, political and ridiculous.

Law enforcement lives and dies on its credibility. The FBI now has little. It is time to clean house.

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