Richmond bishop condemns FBI memo that sought to link Latin Mass to violent extremism


Bishop Barry Knestout. Photo Courtesy of Archdiocese of Washington / null

Washington D.C., Feb 13, 2023 / 19:44 pm (CNA).

Bishop Barry Knestout of the Diocese of Richmond on Feb. 13 called on members of Congress from Virginia to publicly condemn a leaked FBI memorandum that sought to link Catholics to violent extremists.

According to the leaked FBI memo, “radical-traditional” Catholics who are interested in the Traditional Latin Mass are likely to have ties to “the far-right white nationalist movement.”

The internal memorandum, titled “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities,” was produced by the FBI’s Richmond field office and published Feb. 8 by the website UncoverDC.

Calling the memo a “threat to religious liberty,” Knestout called on lawmakers to “ensure that such offenses against the constitutionally protected free exercise of religion do not occur again.”

“Racism, religious bigotry, violence, and discrimination have no place in our Church or teachings,” Knestout said.

The leaked memo specifically points to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) and the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) as potential points of contact for outreach. Both offer the Latin Mass within the Richmond FBI’s area of responsibility.

On Feb. 9, the FBI’s national communications office confirmed to CNA on Feb. 9 that the leaked document came from its Richmond field office and issued a statement retracting it.

Bishop Knestout’s statement condemning the memo reads as follows:

“People of all faith groups have long found refuge in the constitutional protections of our great nation. We all seek to share in God’s gift of life, enjoy the fruits of liberty that our nation offers, and assist one another in ensuring the common good.

“I was alarmed to read the reports written late last week about the contents of the internal memo created by the Richmond Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I was also surprised to learn of the mention of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), a religious order, which celebrates the traditional form of the Catholic Mass. FSSP has served with devotion for many years the parishes within our Catholic community and to the faithful of our diocese who appreciate this form of the Catholic Mass in our diocese.

“The leaked document should be troubling and offensive to all communities of faith, as well as all Americans. I am grateful for the Virginia Attorney General and 19 attorneys general who have called upon the government to publicly release all materials related to the production of this memo. If evidence of extremism exists, it should be rooted out, but not at the expense of religious freedom. 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.

“Religious freedom is an important matter acknowledged every June by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in which my brother bishops and I value and celebrate Religious Freedom Week. Most recently, on Jan. 16, 2023, the U.S. celebrated Religious Freedom Day with USCCB Chair for Religious Liberty Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, noting “there is no freedom without the truth.” It is my hope we get to the truth of the memo published last week.

“Our faith and our Church instruct us to be a people of peace and to uphold human dignity. We do not condone violence. As Pope Francis wrote in his 2017 letter for the celebration of World Day of Peace, ‘Violence profanes the name of God’ and ‘the name of God cannot be used to justify violence. Peace alone is holy.’

“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. Racism, religious bigotry, violence, and discrimination have no place in our Church or teachings.”

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  1. “The leaked document should be troubling and offensive to all communities of faith.”


    Permit me to add a few descriptive adjectives – Idiotic, ignorant, scary, outrageous – and that’s just a few. Add this one – stupid, and you CAN’T fix stupid.

    One more thing – it is certainly worthwhile to not that this is happening on Joe Biden’s watch.

    FYI – I go to the 8:30 a.m. TLM at St. Peter & Paul Basilica in Lewiston Maine whenever I can and will continue to do so.

  2. And the response from the USCCB has been…what so far? Hmmm, silence perhaps.
    Are our bishops afraid of the FBI/DOJ? Or are they a bit too close to the FBI/DOJ?

  3. I think we who are Americans thought that we would never again face a witch hunt like that which was seen during the McCarthy era. Yet here it is before our eyes, brought to life again by the Biden administration. They clearly view any opposing views as not just a difference of opinion, but as sedition, insurrection, revolution. All to be suppressed by fair means or foul, legal or illegal means. Its harder to determine if this is in fact just deeply entrenched political partisanship, power mongering, stupidity, or all of the above. One can point to the absolute lies of people like Adam Schiff during the fake Russia Collusion investigations, of parents objecting to the sexualization of their children at PTA meetings being viewed as “terrorists” (hysterically funny in its level of stupidity if it wasnt so dangerous). Anyone who objected to woke policy in schools, tearing down American history, or radical CRT being taught in schools, was automatically branded a racist or white supremicist. Things have reached the point where even a black man beaten by 5 black officers is declared a matter of white racism. And what can one say about the discredited “1619 Project” being used as a curriculum at many schools? These folks make the mad hatter look sane. It will not be an easy course to correct but the future of our children and the future of the nation depends upon our being unwilling to be shoved in a corner and being told to sit down and shut up.

  4. I remember reading once that Pope Francis suggested that improving the usual (inartistic) accompaniments to the Novus Ordo Mass could make it easier for some to enter into it. Pope Benedict understood that this was one excellent reason for allowing the TLM to continue for those who want it. This has NOTHING to do with politics, secular or ecclesial. One of my father-in-law’s most memorable comments was “You can’t legislate musicality.” He was a concert pianist, a teacher, the son of a church musician and a devout Catholic. He considered teaching his apostolate.

    Those prelates and others who desire an improvement in Novus Ordo liturgies must realize that even 20 years of working with a congregation may make only a slight dent forward in the musicality of a parish, progress that can be lost in a week. Musicians should have true talent, but they should beg God for patience. The more artistic Catholic liturgies that can be visited, the better! The usual parish musicians cannot give what they do not know, and I am certain that some never have heard a lovely, prayerful, sometimes exuberant Novus Ordo Mass. I think of many of my grandchildren–and I can be sad, but, again, what they have not heard, they cannot miss. Thank heavens for heaven!

  5. There are many noteworthy people with great wealth whose only goal is to destroy the Constitution and install Socialism to control the health, wealth and freedoms. My point is we have many enemies from all stripes, from many countries. Some are even in our Government. They hate us because we are free, but they never fail to ask for our help and use our resources. I generally do not like Politicians who promise everyone, everything while only feathering their on pockets. I long for term limits and strict restrictions on all politicians. We do not need politicians in Washington or other offices every day. All they do today is foster division and pit one group against the other. The other day I found out that I am now considered a terrorist by the FBI, because of my faith. I gave over thirty years to this country to protect our freedoms and now I am considered a terrorist. I never thought I would live long enough for that to happen. I am starting to develop a pretty thin skin. The Ben Franklin one of the founding Fathers said “ you now have a Republic, if you can keep it”. I am also glad that I may not live long enough to see this country fail to protect its value, so, “I Pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all ” So, I am now one ticked off person.

  6. Well, it took the FBI’s stupid memo to bring to my notice another articulate, sensible bishop!
    William Barr, in a recent interview on EWTN, sheds some light on how this lunatic piece of “intelligence” would have been produced.

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