Catholic Advocacy Group Sues FBI and DOJ for FOIA Documents Related to Government Targeting of Catholics

National Catholic advocacy organization CatholicVote filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit with Judicial Watch Thursday against the FBI and DOJ for failing to provide records requested under FOIA regarding the government’s targeting of Catholics.

CatholicVote President Brian Burch spoke to Fox & Friends Thursday about the lawsuit:

We filed a Freedom of Information Act request over a month ago. And so far, the Biden Justice Department and the FBI have refused to turn over legal documents and communications that we are entitled to as American citizens. And, so, this morning, when the courts open up, we’ve been left with no choice, and we will file a federal lawsuit against both the FBI and the Department of Justice to uncover exactly what happened here. And why the FBI is apparently planning to spy on Catholic churches and treat churchgoers across the country as domestic terrorists.

CatholicVote reported April 11 that it had filed the FOIA request with the FBI in Richmond, Virginia, on March 6, asking for communications documents regarding the targeting of traditional Catholics.

“As of the date of this Complaint, FBI and DOJ have failed to: (i) determine whether to comply with the requests; (ii) notify Plaintiffs of any such determination or the reasons therefor; or (iii) produce the requested records or otherwise demonstrate that the requested records are exempt from production,” the lawsuit states.

A leaked FBI Richmond Division memo, which cited a statement by the discredited radical Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) that warned “white supremacy” has “found a home” in traditionalist Catholics, had been uncovered in February by former FBI special agent Kyle Seraphin.

The memo, now reportedly rescinded, warned Virginians about “Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists” and “Radical-Traditionalist Catholics.”

“The document assesses with ‘high confidence’ the FBI can mitigate the threat of Radical-Traditionalist Catholics by recruiting sources within the Catholic Church,” Seraphin cited the document, adding that a footnote further explained the term ‘RTCs’:

RTCs are “typically characterized by the rejection of the Second Vatican Council.” The writer makes an unsubstantiated leap that a preference for the Catholic Mass in Latin instead of the vernacular and a number of more traditional views on other world religions can amount to an “adherence to anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ and white supremacist ideology.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH-04) issuedsubpoena to FBI Director Christopher Wray for the agency’s records as part of its investigation into the leaked memo, asserting his committee was conducting oversight into the FBI’s “handling of domestic violent extremism investigations against Catholic Americans and its effect on protected First Amendment activity.”

Jordan wrote to Wray:

Based on the limited information produced by the FBI to the Committee, we now know that 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. This shocking information reinforces our need for all responsive documents, and the Committee is issuing a subpoena to you to compel your full cooperation.

Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt noted to Burch that when U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland was asked about the leaked memo, he said it was “appalling.”

CNN reported on March 1 on Garland’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee related to the leaked FBI memo targeting Catholics:

“It’s appalling. It’s appalling,” Garland said. The FBI “has withdrawn it, and it’s now looking into how this could ever happen,” he added.

Garland continued: “The FBI is not targeting Catholics, and as I’ve said, this is an inappropriate memorandum. And it doesn’t reflect the methods that the FBI is supposed to be using – should not be relying on any single organization without doing its own work.”

In one exchange during Garland’s hearing, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri asked the attorney general whether the department had informants in Catholic churches.

“I don’t believe we have any informants aimed at Catholic churches,” Garland replied, adding: “We have a rule against investigations based on First Amendment activity, and Catholic churches are obviously First Amendment.”

“Ou[r] department … protects all religions and all ideologies, does not have any bias against any religion of any kind,” he said.

“[Garland] said this was instigated by a low level rogue agent within the FBI,” Earhardt observed to Burch. “But then Congressman Jordan’s subpoena confirms it was actually approved by a senior Intel analyst and distributed to field offices around the country. So, Garland is saying one thing, and then we’re finding out it’s something different. He said that under oath that it was a low level rogue agent.”

Burch responded:

Well, you’re right, the Attorney General said this was appalling. The head of the FBI said he was aghast and, if in fact that’s true, and this is just a little misunderstanding by a rogue agent, then why is the FBI withholding these documents from us? Turn it over. Let the public see. We’re just asking for transparency.

Seraphin, the self-described “recovering FBI agent” who uncovered the FBI memo … tweeted his thoughts Thursday about distrust in the FBI and DOJ:

The reason people can’t trust the @FBI and #DOJ is because they refuse to behave like trustworthy and auditable agencies under the FOIA. This information belongs to the American public, not this intel agency with arrest authority.

CatholicVote noted in a press statement the DOJ “has also virtually ignored hundreds of attacks on Catholic Churches and pregnancy resource centers across the country – tracked by CatholicVote here and here – while prosecuting pro-life advocates to the fullest extent of the law.”

“Our weaponized and corrupt government agencies have demonstrated a pattern of contempt for justice and the rule of law by prioritizing partisan ideology and agendas over the protection of the American people – in particular those with whom they disagree politically,” Burch asserted in a statement. “We are demanding transparency from our government and are determined to uncover just how high up the anti-Catholic bigotry goes.”

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Susan Berry, PhD is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]




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