FBI cites Southern Poverty Law Center to warn about ‘radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology’

A pedestrian walks past a seal reading 'Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation,' displayed on the J. Edgar Hoover FBI building, in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 15, 2022.
A pedestrian walks past a seal reading "Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation," displayed on the J. Edgar Hoover FBI building, in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 15, 2022. | MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

The FBI has rescinded a report classifying "radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology" as a national security threat based on claims from the far-left Southern Poverty Law Center after a former FBI agent voiced concerns about the FBI's reliance on partisan sources. 

Kyle Seraphin, a former FBI special agent, shared a document published by the FBI's Richmond field office warning that "the increasingly observed interest of racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVEs) in radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology almost certainly presents opportunities for threat mitigation through the exploration of new avenues for tripwire and source development."

FBI Richmond distributed the document internally on Jan. 23, and Seraphin posted a copy on the website UncoverDC Wednesday.

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"RTCs are typically characterized by the rejection of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) as a valid church council; disdain for most of the popes elected since Vatican II, particularly Pope Francis and Pope John Paul II; and frequent adherence to anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT, and white supremacist ideology," the document states.

FBI document noted that "Vatican II took place from 1962-1965 and essentially shaped the Modern Roman Rite Catholic Church."

"It was intended to help the church respond to global cultural changes in the aftermath of World War II and resulted in significant reforms to the liturgy, attitudes towards non-Christian religions, roles and responsibilities of the laity, views on religious freedom, etc," the document added.

While the document, which the FBI referred to as a "domain product," associated "radical-traditionalist Catholics" with opposition to Vatican II, it clarified that "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, but without the more extremist ideological beliefs and violent rhetoric."

"FBI Richmond assesses RMVE interest in RTCs is likely to increase over the next 12 to 24 months in the run-up to the next general election cycle complicating the overall RMVE threat picture while also creating new opportunities for mitigation efforts," the FBI report states.

"This assessment is made in light of the ongoing polarization characterizing the US political environment and the probability that policy issues of mutual interest to RMVEs and RTC adherents will remain in the public spotlight." 

The FBI states that RTCs and RMVEs might have a common cause to act following legislation or judicial decisions "in areas such as abortion rights, immigration, affirmative action, and LGBTQ protections."

"During this same 12 to 24 month period, the overall RTC community is likely to remain relatively stable or show modest growth based on potential disaffection with mainline Catholic churches on social issues in the aforementioned areas, providing RMVEs a persistent Catholic-oriented base with which to interact," the report states. 

The document included an appendix featuring examples of radical-traditionalist Catholic groups in the U.S. based on information compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that has long been criticized for classifying organizations that uphold traditional beliefs on marriage, sexuality and abortion "hate" groups.

Those groups cited in the FBI report include Catholic Apologetics International in Greenville, Pennsylvania; Catholic Family News/Catholic Family Ministries, Inc. in Niagara Falls, New York; Christ or Chaos in Corsicana, Texas, and Culture Wars/Fidelity Press in South Bend, Indiana.

Other organizations cited as hate groups by the SPLC are The Fatima Crusader/International Rosary Crusade in Buffalo, New York; In the Spirit of Charters Committee in Glenelg, Maryland; The Remnant/The Remnant Press located in Forest Lake, Minnesota; Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Richmond, New Hampshire; and Tradition in Action in Los Angeles, California.

The SPLC, which describes itself as an organization that "monitors hate groups and other extremists throughout the U.S. and exposes their activities to law enforcement agencies, the media and the public," has drawn criticism over the years for labeling organizations and individuals who oppose same-sex marriage as purveyors of hate. Over the last decade, the FBI has refrained from using SPLC in its reporting amid criticism of partisanship.

"When the FBI generates an intelligence product, it is important to note the analyzed sources. Typically, strict source vetting removes partisanship and bias, so a product is both consistent with federal law and can add value to the FBI's overall mission," Seraphin wrote. "Of note, this document was reviewed and approved for release by the FBI Richmond Chief Division Counsel, who is the office's top lawyer."

"The attached appendices refer to a number of articles and the out-of-FBI-policy Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) at the end of the document," he adds.

"For example, Appendix D is a direct copy of the SPLC list of 'Radical Traditional Catholicism Hate Groups,' including the web address accessed. The SPLC appears to be a source for the intelligence analyst's beliefs that RTCs exist and that they are anti-Semitic. The SPLC description for this 'hate group' states RTCs' may make up the largest single group of serious anti-semites in America.' Often in the intelligence world, this type of statement without any established evidence is often followed by the acronym 'NFI' or 'No Further Information' to indicate it is an unsubstantiated opinion."

"Additionally, SPLC states RTCs' embrace extremely conservative social ideals with respect to women,'" Serephin continues. "Nothing reported by the SPLC indicates the number of adherents to this alleged ideology nor any instances of violence. This lack of evidence and blatant partisan blindness is one of many reasons the FBI has distanced itself from the SPLC as a source in the past 10 years."

Seraphin also takes issue with the fact the FBI report cites left-leaning news outlets Salon and The Atlantic. He said the Salon articles cited "are typical of partisan click-bait writing."

In a statement sent to The Daily Signal on Thursday, the FBI admitted that the report from the Richmond office "does not meet the exacting standards of the FBI."

“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 reads. “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.”

Seraphin, a practicing Catholic, cited FBI Richmond's document as the latest example of a "politicalized FBI" intensely focused on advancing the cause of "abortion rights." He contends that "opening the door to associating white supremacists with traditional religious practices based on common Christian positions on abortion and the LGBTQ political agendas is a dangerous step."

Concerns about the politicization of federal law enforcement have loomed large in the controversy surrounding the prosecution of Mark Houck, a Catholic pro-life activist who was arrested at his home by over a dozen state and federal agents in the early morning hours last September on Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act charges. Houck was acquitted last week by a unanimous jury.

Houck's arrest prompted Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights President Bill Donohue to write a letter to Congress contending that "There seems to be much interest [by federal law enforcement] in pursuing alleged wrongdoing by pro-life activists, yet little interest in pursuing alleged wrongdoing by abortion-rights activists."

Donohue's comments reflect criticism that federal agencies have not acted with the same urgency when it comes to finding the perpetrators behind the wave of vandalism targeting pro-life pregnancy centers and churches following the publication of a leaked draft decision last May in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found no constitutional right to abortion. 

The wave of vandalism continued following the June release of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health ruling. 

FBI Richmond's document characterizing "radical-traditionalist Catholics" as a threat comes as restrictions on the Traditional Latin mass, conducted in Latin as opposed to the local vernacular that has become the standard form of liturgy for most Catholic masses, have caused concern among many in the Catholic Church. 

The restrictions follow the publication of Pope Francis' encyclical Traditionis Custodes, which urged bishops to impose limits on the Latin mass.

Traditionis Custodes marks a departure from Francis' predecessor Pope Benedict XVI's view that the Novus Ordo, mass conducted in the local vernacular, is the "ordinary expression of the Lex Orandi (rule of prayer)" while the Latin mass was the "extraordinary expression." Benedict outlined this teaching in an apostolic letter titled Summorum Pontificum.

Seraphin notes that the writer of the FBI Richmond report "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.'"

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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