FBI, DOJ Failed to Turn Over Documents Related to Investigation of Catholics, Lawsuit States

CatholicVote, Judicial Watch and others filed a lawsuit on Thursday against the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice. They claimed that both agencies had failed to respond when asked for records relating to the FBI investigation of Catholics.

The conservative nonprofits want to know about a memo sent by the Richmond, Va. field office of the Bureau that warned against “radical Catholic traditionalist ideology” and other records.

CatholicVote says it filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act on March 8, for any communications from high-level FBI officials and DOJ officials in the Office of the Attorney General dating back to March 1, 2022 that mention several key words, including “Catholics,” “Latin Mass,” “Radical-Traditionalist Catholics,” “Church Militant,” “Catholic League,” “Southern Poverty Law Center,” “Pope Francis,” “Vatican II,” and “Rosary.” The requests also asked for communications related to the removal of the memo from FBI systems, the FBI’s review of the basis for the memo, and any official actions taken by the bureau pursuant to the memo.

The FOIA mandates that agencies respond to requests within 20 working days or 30 in “unusual” circumstances. However, the group claims it has been more than a full month since the request was made and no agency has responded to the request or given any indication as to whether or not they will.

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The plaintiffs ask the judge to order the agencies to provide the records and to reimburse them for their attorneys’ fees.

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In a press release, CatholicVote’s President Brian Burch stated that “our weaponized and corrupted government agencies have shown a pattern contempt for justice and rule of law in prioritizing their partisan ideologies and agendas above the protection of Americans — especially those with whom they do not agree politically.” “We demand transparency from our government, and we are determined to uncover how far the anti-Catholic prejudice goes.”

The FBI’s Richmond Field Office released an internal memo warning against “radical Catholic traditionalism” in January. The memo was later retracted by the FBI, who said it did not meet their standards.

Kyle Seraphin was a Special Agent at the Bureau for six years, before he was suspended indefinitely without pay in June of 2022. He published the document “Interest by Racially and Ethnically Motivated Extremists Radical Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Presents New Mitigation Options” on UncoverDC.com.

“In making this assessment, FBI Richmond relied on the key assumption that [racially or ethnically motivated extremists] will continue to find [radical-traditionalist Catholic or RTC] ideology attractive and will continue to attempt to connect with RTC adherents, both virtually via social media and in-person at places of worship,” the document from January 23 states.

The report adds, “RTCs tend to be characterized by their rejection of Vatican II as a valid church body, disdain of most popes who have been elected since Vatican II – particularly Pope Francis and Pope John Paul II – and their adherence of anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ ideologies, along with white supremacist, antiimmigrant and anti-LGBTQ views.” 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, without the more extremist ideological beliefs and violent rhetoric.”

The report relied on information from the Southern Poverty Law Center. This legal advocacy organization has been criticized for including conservative non-profits such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, and the American College of Pediatricians in its list of “hate organizations” along with groups like the Ku Klux Klan, and the Nation of Islam.

In a February statement, the FBI said that the memo, which was only distributed within the FBI, did not meet its high standards. FBI Headquarters immediately began removing the document from FBI system and conducting a review on the basis of the document. “

The statement continues: “The FBI will not conduct or open an inquiry based solely upon First Amendment protected activities. It is committed to sound analytical tradecraft, to investigating and preventing violent crimes and other crimes and upholding constitutional rights for all Americans.”

The FBI has recruited an “undercover employee”, according to Representative Jim Jordan (R. Ohio), to “develop contacts among clergy and church leaders” in its efforts to identify Catholic Church extremists.

Jordan, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, issued a subpoena to FBI director Christopher Wray, demanding he testify and turn over more information to Congress about the bureau’s intelligence-gathering efforts targeting Catholic Americans.

In a letter Jordan sent to Wray, dated April 10, Jordan stated that “Americans go to church to worship God and to congregate to improve their spiritual and individual well-being.” “They must have the freedom to exercise their First Amendment rights, without fear that the FBI has planted ‘tripwires’ or other informants at their places of worship.” Jordan wrote in a letter to Wray on April 10.

After the leak of the memo, Jordan, who also chairs the House Weaponization Committee, demanded that the FBI turn over all information relating to its investigation into Catholics. Jordan claimed in a letter dated earlier this month, that the FBI has not responded to requests for additional information.

According to a letter, FBI documents obtained by a committee revealed that the bureau had “sought out Catholic houses of worship to be potential sources for monitoring and reporting on their parishioners.”