Priests for Life files FOIA request on Biden admin.'s 'targeting' of 'traditional Catholics'


A pro-life organization has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Department of Justice seeking details about federal law enforcement's retracted report labeling "radical-traditionalist Catholics" as terror threats. 

Priests for Life announced in a statement Tuesday that it filed a FOIA request "to get to the bottom of the Biden administration's targeting of pro-life individuals and its increased scrutiny of 'traditional Catholics.'"

Frank Pavone, a former Catholic priest who serves as director of Priests for Life, said the purpose of the request was 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."

The FBI faced pushback this year after "radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology" was identified as a national security threat in a memo circulated in the FBI's Richmond Field Office on Jan. 23.

"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," he added.

"We are demanding more information about that as well. We want to see the memos; we want to know about the communications they have undertaken to pursue American citizens based on their religious beliefs and practices."

Pavone demands to "know what members of the hierarchy have been complicit in this," referring to Catholic Church leaders.

Priests for Life filed the Freedom of Information Act request with the assistance of the American Freedom Law Center.

"We have seen an unprecedented attack against 'traditional' Catholics and pro-lifers under the Biden administration," Rob Muise, co-founder and senior counsel for the AFLC, said in a statement.

"Biden and his attorney general, Merrick Garland, have weaponized the Department of Justice, which includes the FBI, to target peaceful, law-abiding citizens because they are political adversaries."

Muise alleges, "federal law enforcement authorities turn a blind eye to the observed and well-documented violence of left-wing radical groups associated with Antifa and the Black Lives Matter movement because this administration considers them political allies."

"These police state tactics must stop. We intend to use the Freedom of Information Act to shine a light on these dark tactics of the Department of Justice," he added.  

The January memo stated that "the increasingly observed interest of racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVEs) in radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology almost certainly presents opportunities for threat mitigation through the exploration of new avenues for tripwire and source development." 

The document, made public by former FBI Special Agent Kyle Seraphin in February, defined "radical-traditionalist" Catholics as those "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."

The memo attempted to clarify that "radical-traditionalist Catholics compose a small minority of overall Roman Catholic adherents and are separate and distinct from 'traditionalist Catholics' who prefer the Traditional Latin Mass and pre-Vatican II teachings and traditions."

The FBI told The Daily Signal that the document did not "meet the exacting standards" of the law enforcement agency and "quickly began taking action to remove the document from FBI systems and conduct a review of the basis for the document.

Catholic advocacy groups have viewed the federal government's corrective actions as inadequate. 

Priests for Life is not the first advocacy group to seek documents from federal law enforcement following the publication of the Richmond office memo.

Earlier this year, CatholicVote sued the FBI and the Department of Justice after the agencies declined to comply with its FOIA requests in a timely manner. 

An investigation conducted over the summer by the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee revealed that the FBI's Richmond Field Office "coordinated with multiple FBI field offices across the country" when compiling the memo warning of "radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology." 

In a lesser-redacted version of the memo, the committee found that "both FBI Portland and FBI Los Angeles field offices were involved in or contributed to the creation of FBI's assessment of traditional Catholics as potential domestic terrorists." The discovery came after FBI Director Christopher Wray assured lawmakers when testifying under oath that the memo was limited to a "single field office."

The pre-dawn arrest at the home of pro-life activist Mark Houck in 2022 is often cited as the most prominent example of the Biden administration's targeting of the pro-life movement, which Priests for Life's FOIA request also inquires about. Houck was arrested for a purported violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act for allegedly assaulting an abortion clinic escort. 

Houck maintained his innocence and contended that he "pushed" the clinic escort because the man repeatedly harassed and cursed in front of him and his young son as they prayed outside a Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

A jury found Houck not guilty on all counts in late January.

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

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