A group of House Republicans led by Representative Jim Banks (R., Ind.) on Friday called on attorney general William Barr to investigate a recent rise in anti-Catholic hate crimes.
There have been 70 instances of anti-Catholic violence in North America this year — with 57 crimes being reported since May alone — according to a letter sent to the attorney general by Banks and 15 other House Republicans.
By contrast, in all of 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, the FBI reported 53 incidents of anti-Catholic hate crimes in the U.S.
“Bigoted criminals are threatening Catholics and undermining America’s core ideal of religious liberty,” Banks said in a statement. “The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division exists to combat spikes in targeted violence. It needs to fulfill its duty, determine who is behind this pattern of attacks and bring them to justice.”
Beginning in early July, reports of “horrific and brutal attacks on Catholic and Church properties” spiked, the letter says, including in Boston where a statue of the Virgin Mary at Saint Peters Parish Church was set ablaze.
One day earlier, the letter says, a man in Florida allegedly drove a van into a church with parishioners inside before spilling gasoline in the church’s foyer and attempting to set it on fire.
That same day, San Gabriel Mission in California was burned down. The letter calls the issue “ongoing,” citing an incident in September where a man was videotaped toppling an Our Lady of Guadalupe statue in Coney Island, N.Y.
“As in any other instance of a rapid spike in hate crimes targeted at a specific group, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has an obligation to investigate the perpetrators of this violence and any organizational or ideological connections between them,” the letter states.
“Crimes like these aren’t just targeted at individuals and their property; they are targeted at American society as a whole,” it continues. “They are motivated by a destructive impulse to harm property and persons, but also the equally warped desire to undermine America’s constitutionally guaranteed rights and social trust within our communities.”
The Republicans’ call to investigate concludes in saying the attacks threaten the physical safety of Catholics as well as the integrity of the American system, and saying the Department of Justice has an obligation to uphold both.