A leaked, since retracted, FBI memo has landed the U.S. intelligence agency in hot water. In it, Catholics who prefer the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass are labeled an extremist threat, since they adhere to “anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT, and white supremacy” ideology.
Kyle Seraphin, a former FBI special agent and federal whistleblower, had obtained the document in question from the bureau’s field office in Richmond, Virginia, and published it on February 8th through the website UncoveredDC.
In contrast to the document’s author, Seraphin draws
the important distinction between ‘traditional Catholics,’ who simply prefer the Traditional Latin Mass and pre-Vatican II teachings, and RTCs [the FBI acronym for Radical-Traditionalist Catholics], who ‘espouse more extremist ideological beliefs and violent rhetoric.’
Titled “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities,” the bureau designates so-called “Radical-Traditionalist Catholics (RTC)” as persons of interest since the designated group offers a recruitment pool for “Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists (RMVE).”
The memo notes there is a “growing overlap” between the far-right white nationalist movement and RTCs.
Released on January 23rd, the document claims that RTCs—although they constitute a small minority within the Catholic Church—adhere to “anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT and white supremacy” ideology.
The memo goes on to add that such Catholics are opposed to the Second Vatican Council, which among other things introduced a new liturgy and shows a “disdain for popes elected since Vatican II.”
The FBI document drew heavily on the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)—a source, Seraphin notes, the FBI has “distanced itself from” in the past 10 years because of “blatant” partisanship and unsubstantiated claims.
In a “perspective” note, the document however states, “as of 2021, the Southern Poverty Law Center identified nine RTC hate groups operating in the United States.”
While the SPLC defines itself as a civil rights advocacy group, it is little favored by many on the Right, who consider it a partisan tool employed by the ideological Left to discredit or otherwise persecute its political opponents.
Following the swift backlash the leak triggered, on February 9th, the FBI confirmed to several news sites that it had removed the document from its systems because it does not meet its“exacting standards.”
“While our standard practice is to not comment on specific intelligence products, this particular field office product—disseminated only within the FBI—regarding racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism does not meet the exacting standards of the FBI,” the statement read.
“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 statement added.
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.
Since the leak, there has been no letting up on the criticism directed at the bureau.
On February 9th, popular Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson (a non-Catholic), devoted a segment to the bombshell, as he interviewed Kyle Seraphin on the matter. Carlson noted that the FBI had decided that “if you are too sincere about Catholicism, you are a criminal,” and that the document relied on “obvious lies” from the “fascist and dishonest Southern Poverty Law Center several times.”
Seraphin told Carlson he believed the memo is an “open door” to eventually targeting all Christians in the U.S. as criminals.
Even after the FBI said it had retracted the memo, outcry persists.
In a February 13th statement, the Bishop of Richmond called on all legislators in Virginia to condemn the FBI over its targeting of traditional Catholics. Bishop Barry Knestout wrote:
I call on all national representatives from the Commonwealth of Virginia in the House and Senate to exercise their role of oversight, to publicly condemn this threat to religious liberty, and to ensure that such offenses against the constitutionally protected free exercise of religion do not occur again.
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty under the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said on February 16th that anyone espousing racism or promoting violence is “rejecting Catholic teaching on the inherent dignity of each and every person,” and continued:
I agree with my brother Bishop Barry Knestout that the leaked memorandum was nonetheless ‘troubling and offensive’ in several respects—such as in its religious profiling and reliance on dubious sourcing—and am glad it has been rescinded. We encourage federal law enforcement authorities to take appropriate measures to ensure the problematic aspects of the memo do not recur in any of their agencies’ work going forward.
The attorneys general of 20 U.S. states, including Virginia’s AG Jason Miyares, also issued a statement calling the memo “anti-Catholic” as well as “unacceptable, unconstitutional, and un-American.”