Lawmakers question FBI memo warning of 'radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology'

A pedestrian walks past a seal reading 'Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation,' displayed on the J. Edgar Hoover FBI building, in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 15, 2022.
A pedestrian walks past a seal reading "Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation," displayed on the J. Edgar Hoover FBI building, in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 15, 2022. | MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Congressional Republicans are demanding answers after the FBI's Richmond office circulated a document classifying "radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology" as a potential national security threat.

Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Mike Johnson, R-La., wrote a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray Thursday describing the "FBI's targeting of a set of Catholic Americans for their religious beliefs" as the latest example of a "serious misuse of federal law enforcement resources" for "apparent political purposes."

Jordan serves as the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, while Johnson is the chair of the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government. 

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"On January 23, 2023, the FBI's Richmond Field Office published an official document that linked 'racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists' (RMVEs) with a 'radical-traditionalist Catholic' ideology," the lawmakers wrote.

The document, which has since been rescinded by the FBI's headquarters, warned that "the increasingly observed interest of racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVEs) in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 FBI Richmond Field Office defined RTCs 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."

It noted that "Vatican II took place from 1962-1965" and reformed "the liturgy, attitudes towards non-Christian religions, roles and responsibilities of the laity, views on religious freedom, etc."

The document attempted to differentiate RTCs from "'traditionalist Catholics' who prefer the Traditional Latin Mass and pre-Vatican II teachings and traditions" and expressed concern that "RMVE interest in RTCs is likely to increase over the next 12 to 24 months in the run-up to the next general election cycle."

The memo also suggested that RMVEs and RTCs would find common causes on the issues of "abortion rights, immigration, affirmative action, and LGBTQ protections."

Jordan and Johnson took issue with the document's use of "biased and partisan sources," including the Southern Poverty Law Center, a far-left advocacy group that has been criticized for categorizing organizations that it disagrees with on political issues like marriage, abortion and immigration as "hate groups."

The lawmakers argued that the SPLC "maligns several mainstream conservative and religious organizations as 'hate' groups, simply because the SPLC disagrees with their views."

"The fact that the FBI would blindly accept and regurgitate the SPLC's spin is highly concerning and undercuts the FBI's assertion that it is unbiased and politically neutral," the letter reads. 

After the FBI Richmond office's report was criticized by a former FBI agent, the FBI headquarters acknowledged in a statement to the media that the report "does not meet the exacting standards of the FBI."

"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," a statement from the FBI headquarters reads. "The FBI is 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."

Although the document was withdrawn, Jordan and Johnson insist that "there remain many questions about the genesis, review, and approval of this document, as well as the FBI's commitment to upholding First Amendment protected activity."

The lawmakers requested that the FBI provide them with documents related to the domain product circulated in the Richmond Field Office. 

They are seeking "all documents and communications referring or relating to intelligence products about 'racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists' and 'radical-traditionalist Catholics,'" and "all documents and communications referring or relating to intelligence products about 'racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists' and 'radical-traditionalist Catholics."

Jordan and Johnson are also seeking a list of the FBI investigations that the FBI's field office used when making its assessments in the Jan. 23 document and a list of all employees involved. 

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives began hearings investigating the politicization of the U.S. Department of Justice and federal law enforcement agencies.

Brian Burch, the president of the advocacy organization CatholicVote, outlined concerns about the rescinded FBI memo in a statement

"The FBI's partnership with a discredited left-wing activist organization directly violates agency guidelines and makes a mockery of the Department of Justice's claims to fairly and impartially apply the law," he added. "Further, the growing pattern of hostility toward Catholics by the Biden administration, from its failure to properly address violence against Catholic Churches, to the relentless persecution of innocent pro-life advocates, deserves far more scrutiny by this Congress. Retracting this memo isn't nearly enough."

The federal government previously drew blowback for an early-morning arrest last September of Mark Houck, a Catholic pro-life activist. The Justice Department charged the father of seven with assaulting a Planned Parenthood volunteer escort as he and his son prayed outside an abortion facility in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Houck was acquitted by a federal jury on all charges of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act on Jan. 30. He told his side of the story on the Real America's Voice program "The War Room," recalling that he "turned and pushed" the Planned Parenthood escort after the escort continued to engage in a conversation with his then-12-year-old son even after the pro-life activist informed him "you don't have permission to talk to my son."  

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights wrote a letter to the leadership of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee following Houck's arrest.

"This kind of overreaction for a minor infraction of the law is deeply troubling, and it becomes even more troubling when paired with the underreaction by the Department of Justice when the pro-life side is targeted," Donohue lamented.

Burch addressed the "underreaction by the Department of Justice" in a Jan. 24 letter to Jordan discussing the Biden administration's response to the wave of vandalism directed at Catholic churches. While the anti-Catholic violence mentioned by Burch dates back to May 2020, it intensified after the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the U.S. Constitution did not contain a right to abortion in its June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision. 

Burch detailed how the DOJ previously promised to institute a "15-day review to ensure that all appropriate resources are being deployed to protect houses of worship." He concluded that the DOJ's vows were "mere platitudes" because "the federal government has only found evidence to charge two individuals involved in only a handful of cases, despite hundreds of actual incidences of violence." He said the department has taken "aggressive action" against "over one hundred pro-life advocates."

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

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