The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) responded Thursday to a leaked document from the FBI that appears to reveal that the bureau’s Richmond division launched an investigation into “radical traditionalist” Catholics and their possible ties to “the far-right white nationalist movement.”

“Let me first be clear: Anyone who espouses racism or promotes violence is rejecting Catholic teaching on the inherent dignity of each and every person,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee for Religious Liberty, said in a Feb. 16 statement. “The USCCB roundly condemns such extremism and fully supports the work of law enforcement officials to keep our communities safe.”

The leaked document has been condemned by several federal and state officials, as well as clergy, including Bishop Barry Knestout of the Diocese of Richmond, who recently called the memo a “threat to religious liberty.”

“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in several respects — such as in its religious profiling and reliance on dubious sourcing — and am glad it has been rescinded,” Dolan said. “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.”

Since the document was leaked, many Catholics have criticized the FBI, but in a statement to CNA Feb. 9, the bureau said it would remove the document because “it does not meet our exacting standards.”

The FBI’s national press office confirmed to CNA that the document came from the Richmond office but stated that it would “remove the document from FBI systems” because it “does not meet the exacting standards of the FBI.”

“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 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,” the statement from the FBI National Press Office concluded.

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The document, dated Jan. 23, claims that racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists will likely become more interested in “radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology” within the next 12 to 24 months “in the run-up to the next general election cycle.”

It points to potential “policy issues of mutual interest” between “radical-traditional” Catholics and violent extremists such as “abortion rights, immigration, affirmative action, and LGBTQ protections.”

Marked “unclassified/for official use only,” the document includes a list of organizations with Catholic ties that are listed on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) list of hate groups.

Some of the organizations identified in the document as adhering to “radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology” include Tradition in Action, The Remnant, Culture Wars Magazine, and the Fatima Crusader.

The SPLC has faced questions about its credibility from conservative and Christian organizations that have accused the group of a left-wing bias. Among the groups that made the SPLC’s 2021 list of supposed “hate groups” are the conservative and pro-family groups Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Research Council, ACT for America, the Center for Security Policy, and the American Freedom Law Center.

The internal memorandum, titled “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities,” was first published Feb. 8 by the website UncoverDC and can be read here

You can read CNA’s report on the memo here.

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