House lawmakers grill Garland over retracted FBI memo on 'radical traditionalist Catholics'

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland testifies before a House Judiciary Committee hearing on "Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice" on Capitol Hill in Washington Sept. 20, 2023. (OSV News photo/Evelyn Hockstein, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) -- Attorney General Merrick Garland was questioned about a controversial and retracted FBI memo that suggested some "radical traditionalist" Catholics pose threats of racial or ethnically motivated violence during Sept. 20 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.

Garland reiterated his previous condemnation of that memo, which was leaked earlier this year.

In that since-retracted document, an analyst at the FBI's Richmond Division said "Radical Traditionalist Catholics" are "typically characterized by the rejection of the Second Vatican Council." The memo said the ideology can include an "adherence to anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ and white supremacist ideology."

While the memo differentiated between "radical traditionalist" Catholics as "separate and distinct" from "traditionalist Catholics," or Catholics who "simply prefer the Traditional Latin Mass and pre-Vatican II teachings," some accused the bureau of labeling Catholics as a threat or unfairly scrutinizing their worship.

After the memo, dated Jan. 23, was leaked, an FBI spokesperson told OSV News, “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."

At the Sept. 20 hearing, Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J., told Garland, "I hold you accountable for the anti-Catholic memo.”

"Imagine sending agents undercover into Roman Catholic churches," he said.

Garland bristled in response, noting he has previously condemned the now-retracted memo, and that his own family fled religious persecution in Eastern Europe at the start of the 20th century and his grandmother lost siblings in the Holocaust.

"The idea that someone with my family background would discriminate against any religion is so outrageous, so absurd,” Garland said.

Van Drew, however, insisted the FBI memo was about "traditional Catholics," specifically "Catholics that go to church."

However, the FBI's retracted memo named groups that identify as Catholic but have taken adversarial positions with respect to either the Catholic Church's leadership or its official teachings -- including one group denounced by the local bishop as "blatantly antisemitic" and forbidden by the Vatican from calling itself Catholic. Among those named is also far-right personality Nick Fuentes, who publicly promotes himself as a Catholic and whom the memo says has ties to "white Christian nationalism."

In a heated exchange between the pair, Garland added, "Catholics are not extremists, no."


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