NEW YORK – Almost a year after the FBI’s supposed targeting of traditional Catholics came to light, a conservative Catholic organization, led by a laicized priest, has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to find out just how far the FBI’s investigation went.
Priests for Life announced that it had filed the FOIA request on Nov. 28. The organization is led by Frank Pavone, a staunch anti-abortion activist who was removed from the priesthood by the Vatican last November for disobedience to his local bishop and what was considered inappropriate social media activity.
The FBI’s supposed targeting of traditional Catholics came to light last February, after a memo from the bureau titled “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities” was leaked online.
In a statement, Pavone said the FOIA request is to know the full extent of the investigation.
“We want to know exactly how they are using our taxpayer dollars to go after groups like ours and activists just like us, who is involved, and who has been targeted,” Pavone said.
The leaked memo was produced by the bureau’s Richmond, Virginia, office. In essence, the document highlights potential links between traditional Catholics and violent extremist groups.
At the time, Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond, Virginia, called the memo “troubling and offensive.” That sentiment was later echoed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the U.S. bishops Committee on Religious Liberty.
“I agree with my brother Bishop Barry Knestout that the leaked memorandum was ‘troubling and offensive’ in several respects – such as in its religious profiling and reliance on dubious sourcing – and am glad it has been rescinded,” Dolan said in a statement.
“We encourage federal law enforcement authorities to take appropriate measures to ensure the problematic aspects of the memo do not recur in any of their agencies’ work going forward,” Dolan said.
After the memo was leaked, the ensuing coverage became political. Republican lawmakers launched a federal investigation into the matter, and pressed Attorney General Merrick Garland on whether the Department of Justice and FBI targets traditional Catholics, which he called “outrageous.”
“The idea that someone with my family background would discriminate against any religion is so outrageous. So absurd,” Garland said at a hearing on Sept. 20, adding that both he and the director of the FBI were “appalled” by everything in the memo. Garland, who is Jewish, said earlier that his family fled persecution in Eastern Europe in the 20th century.
On the FOIA request, Pavone said they also want to know about any involvement of Catholic leaders.
“Republicans in Congress, with the help of courageous whistleblowers, have brought to light in recent months that the FBI is targeting ‘traditional Catholics,’ sometimes even enlisting the help of pastors and diocesan Church officials,” Pavone said.
“We are demanding more information about that as well. We want to see the memos; we want to know about the communication they have undertaken to pursue American citizens based on their religious beliefs and practices,” Pavone said.
“We also want to know what members of the hierarchy have been complicit in this,” he added.
Pavone has remained a vocal anti-abortion advocate on social media. At the time of his laicization, the Vatican characterized his communications on social media as “blasphemous.” They all cited “persistent disobedience” of his local bishop, who was Bishop Patrick Zurek of Amarillo, Texas.
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