CatholicVote, Judicial Watch sue FBI, DOJ for ignoring FOIA requests for docs targeting Catholics

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department building in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 24, 2023.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department building in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 24, 2023. | STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

A Catholic advocacy group has filed a lawsuit against the FBI and Department of Justice after the agencies failed to respond to their request for documents and communications pertaining to investigations into those targeted as being “radical-traditionalist Catholics.”

CatholicVote, along with the nonprofit organization Judicial Watch, filed a complaint against the DOJ and FBI in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Thursday. The lawsuit comes a month-and-a-half after the plaintiffs sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the federal agencies seeking all communications between officials at the agencies that contained a series of terms related to the Catholic Church.

The terms in question include: “Catholics,” “Latin Mass,” “Radical-Traditionalist Catholics,” “RTC,” “Church Militant,” “Catholic League,” “Southern Poverty Law Center,” “SPLC,” “Pope Francis,” “Vatican II,” “Second Vatican Council,” “Rosary” and “FSSP.” The term FSSP is an acronym for the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, which describes itself as “a community of priests who do not take religious vows, but who work together for a common mission in the Catholic Church, under the authority of the Holy See.”

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The March 8 FOIA request followed the publication of a document distributed by the FBI’s Richmond Field Office warning about “the increasingly observed interest of racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVEs) in radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology.” As part of a “mitigation” strategy against such a threat, the FBI’s Richmond Field Office sought to explore “new avenues for tripwire and source development.”

The document, distributed on Jan. 23, defined “radical-traditionalist Catholics” as those “typically characterized by the rejection of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) as a valid church council; disdain for most of the popes elected since Vatican II, particularly Pope Francis and Pope John Paul II; and frequent adherence to anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT, and white supremacist ideology.”

“Vatican II took place from 1962-1965 and essentially shaped the Modern Roman Rite Catholic Church,” the document stated. “It was intended to help the church respond to global cultural changes in the aftermath of World War II and resulted in significant reforms to the liturgy, attitudes towards non-Christian religions, roles and responsibilities of the laity, views on religious freedom, etc.”

The document attempted to differentiate “radical-traditionalist Catholics” from “traditionalist Catholics” who “prefer the Traditional Latin Mass and pre-Vatican II teachings and traditions, but without the more extremist ideological beliefs and violent rhetoric.”

It sparked outrage among Catholic advocacy groups for relying on the Southern Poverty Law Center, a left-wing organization known for classifying groups that hold traditional beliefs on sexuality and marriage as “hate groups,” when compiling a list of so-called radical-traditionalist Catholic organizations.

According to the lawsuit, the FBI and the DOJ “have failed to: (i) determine whether to comply with the requests, (ii) notify Plaintiffs of any such determination or the reasons therefor; or (iii) produce the requested records or otherwise demonstrate that the requested records are exempt from production.” Therefore, the plaintiffs are asking a federal judge to order the defendants to search for the relevant documents, prevent them from withholding the records and award them attorneys’ fees.

CatholicVote President Brian Burch elaborated on the purpose of a lawsuit in a statement. “Our weaponized and corrupt government agencies have demonstrated a pattern of contempt for justice and the rule of law by prioritizing partisan ideology and agendas over the protection of the American people — in particular those with whom they disagree with politically,” he said. “We are demanding transparency from our government and are determined to uncover just how high up the anti-Catholic bigotry goes.”

For its part, the FBI released a statement in response to the backlash, asserting that the document circulated in the Richmond Field Office “does not meet the exacting standards of the FBI.” The federal law enforcement agency insisted that “upon learning of the document, FBI Headquarters quickly began taking action to remove the document from FBI systems and conduct a review of the basis for the document.”

The FBI vowed that it was “committed to sound analytic tradecraft and to investigating and preventing acts of violence and other crimes while upholding the constitutional rights of all Americans and will never conduct investigative activities or open an investigation based solely on First Amendment protected activity.”

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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