Latin Mass held in Capitol on anniversary of FBI memo targeting traditional Catholics 

Latin Mass capitol A Tractional Latin Mass was held in the US Capitol building on Jan. 23, 2024. | Credit: Ryan Ellis

One year after the FBI’s Richmond office sent out a memorandum outlining an investigation into traditionalist Catholics, a Latin Mass was held in the U.S. Capitol with the support of House Speaker Mike Johnson and two other Republican members of the House.

“On Jan. 23, 2023, the FBI circulated an internal memo in which traditional Catholics were called ‘violent extremists’ and compared to ‘domestic terrorists,’” a note about the Mass said.

“Today, on the one-year anniversary of that memo, we celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass in the United States Capitol, as fully American as anyone else,” it said. 

Ryan Ellis, treasurer of the Arlington Latin Mass Society, which coordinated the event, told CNA Tuesday that there were about 60 to 70 attendees at the Mass. 

Ellis said that no members of Congress were in attendance as they were out of town for recess but that they helped coordinate the Mass. Rep. Dan Meuser, who Ellis said helped make the event possible, is Catholic, while Speaker Johnson is Baptist, and the other congressman who was involved, Rep. Jim Jordan, is Protestant.

He said that some staffers were there but did not specify from which office. He added that the organization was very intentional about who was invited so that word would not spread too widely.

“We intentionally sacrificed some of the knowledge of the Mass because we wanted to be discreet about it,” he said. “This was something that, given the Traditionis Custodes atmosphere around here, could have easily had the kibosh put on it by the Archdiocese of Washington.”

In July 2021, Pope Francis published the apostolic letter Traditionis Custodes, which established new guidelines for how the older form of the Mass could be celebrated. The Holy See then published additional guidelines in February 2023 that clarified that any dioceses wanting to grant parishes special dispensations to celebrate the old Mass needed the express approval of the Vatican to do so. The result of these instructions was a restriction on the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass throughout the world.

In line with Traditionis Custodes, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington, published his own liturgical guidelines in July 2022 in which he reduced the number of parishes that could celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass to three. 

On Jan. 24, the Patricia Zapor, director of media relations for the Archdiocese of Washington,released the following statement to CNA:

"The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington was not asked for permission to hold a Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) outside of the three designated Archdiocese of Washington churches where this Mass is regularly celebrated, in keeping with Pope Francis’s guidance in Traditionis Custodes."

Ellis told CNA that with the first anniversary of the memo approaching, he thought, “We ought to see if we can do something that shows that the House majority stands four square with traditional Catholics against this persecution from the FBI.” 

“They’ve already done great oversight on this, but this would be a symbolic, sort of incarnated way of showing that support,” he said.

The Mass was originally planned to take place in a small room in the Capitol, but the organizers had to relocate it to a room, “probably three times the size,” Ellis said, citing the large number of RSVPs from people wanting to attend.

He said that his organization was working with the Catholic advocacy group CatholicVote to publicize the event.

Ellis added that the Mass was “great” and that he received a lot of positive feedback from those who attended. 

“So it was very nice. And certainly nothing that the Capitol has seen, I think, in a long time, if ever,” he said.

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He said that the priest who celebrated the Mass asked to remain anonymous.

CNA reached out to each congressman for comment but did not receive a response Tuesday night. 

The leaked FBI memo, dated Jan. 23, 2023, 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.

In response to an inquiry from CNA at the time of the leak, the FBI said it would remove the document because “it does not meet our exacting standards.”

Following the leak of the memo, the U.S. bishops denounced it as “troubling and offensive.”

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The House Judiciary Committee and the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government launched a monthslong investigation into the memo, which culminated in an interim report released in December.

Speaking to Erik Rosales on “EWTN News Nightly” in an interview published Monday, Speaker Johnson — a member of the judiciary committee — said that the FBI has been “weaponized.”

“Well, Congress has a very important responsibility of oversight, and we have to bring accountability for agencies that have been spun out of control,” he said.

“Really we use the term weaponized because that’s exactly what it is. We have agencies that were designed to protect and serve the American people in so many cases in recent years, and the Biden administration, have been turned against them. And that’s just what the facts show,” he said.

“To keep a constitutional republic — a government of, by, and for the people — the people have to believe that their justice system is fair and that they’re not picking on or discriminating against people of faith. And we’ve got to make sure that that happens,” Johnson concluded.

That full interview can be seen below:

This article was updated on Feb. 1, 2024.

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