Home National News FBI subpoenaed by Congress for withdrawn memo regarding ‘radical traditionalist’ Catholics

FBI subpoenaed by Congress for withdrawn memo regarding ‘radical traditionalist’ Catholics

The Federal Bureau of Investigation seal is seen at FBI headquarters before a 2018 news conference in Washington. (OSV News photo/Yuri Gripas, Reuters)

WASHINGTON — Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, issued new subpoenas to the FBI on April 10 for documents as House Republicans investigate a leaked and withdrawn memo from the bureau’s Richmond field office about political extremism in some Catholic groups.

In a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, Jordan alleged the FBI “relied on at least one undercover agent to produce its analysis, and that the FBI proposed that its agents engage in outreach to Catholic parishes to develop sources among the clergy and church leadership to inform on Americans practicing their faith.” Jordan further alleged the FBI suggested that “certain kinds of Catholic Americans may be domestic terrorists.”

Jordan said the FBI has provided “limited information” in a probe conducted by a subcommittee investigating the alleged political “weaponization” of the federal government.

A spokesperson for the FBI acknowledged receipt of the subpoena, telling OSV News the bureau “recognizes the importance of congressional oversight and remains fully committed to cooperating with Congress’s oversight requests consistent with its constitutional and statutory responsibilities.”

“The FBI is actively working to respond to congressional requests for information,” including “voluntary production of documents,” the spokesperson added.

In March 8 in testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Wray said when he learned of the memo, he was “aghast.”

“And we took steps immediately to withdraw it and remove it from FBI systems,” Wray said. “It does not reflect FBI standards. We do not conduct investigations based on religious affiliation or practices, full stop.”

Wray said the inspection division was tasked with investigating how and why the memo was written, and “to figure out how we can make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”

“And we do not and will not target people for religious beliefs and we do not and will not monitor people’s religious practices,” he said. “That’s not acceptable.”

The FBI is facing congressional scrutiny after a leaked memo dated Jan. 23 suggested some “radical traditionalist” Catholics pose threats of racial or ethnically motivated violence.

In the memo, an analyst at the FBI’s Richmond Division said “Radical Traditionalist Catholics” are “typically characterized by the rejection of the Second Vatican Council.” The ideology, the memo said, can amount to an “adherence to anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ and white supremacist ideology.” The memo also named far-right personality Nick Fuentes, who publicly self-identifies as Catholic and whom the memo says has ties to “white Christian nationalism.”

However, the memo did distinguish explicitly between “radical traditionalist” and “traditionalist” Catholics, describing “radical traditionalist” Catholics as “separate and distinct” from Catholics who “simply prefer the Traditional Latin Mass and pre-Vatican II teachings.”

A cited source in the memo was the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that monitors “hate groups” but has faced criticism from some who say the group too widely applies that label. SPLC in 2021 identified nine organizations as “radical traditional Catholicism hate groups,” some of which are not in full communion with the church, including the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary located in Richmond, New Hampshire, which has no canonical status in the Catholic Church.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, who oversees the U.S. Department of Justice, called the memo “appalling” at a March 1 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, adding that it was withdrawn.

“Our department protects all religions and all ideologies, it does not have any bias against any religion of any kind,” Garland said.

The FBI has previously faced accusations of targeting certain religious groups. Three Muslim Americans filed a lawsuit against the FBI in 2011, claiming the bureau unconstitutionally and illegally spied on their communities based on their religion in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the FBI last year in a ruling The New York Times called “modest and technical.”