Carol Rhodes, a member of a conservative Catholic media organization based outside Detroit, was shocked recently to learn that her group was one of nine traditional Catholic groups being cited by the FBI as radical and extremist.
“We don’t hate anyone. We’re very peaceful,” Rhodes, a member of the traditional Catholic media site Church Militant, told The Post. “This is America. We have the right to practice our faith. It was really over the top to hear all this. This is crazy and doesn’t make any sense.”
An eight-page dossier leaked by former FBI agent Kyle Seraphin earlier this month indicated that the FBI’s Richmond, Va., office, at the behest of the Department of Justice, was going after “radical traditionalist” Catholics and their possible ties to “the far-right white nationalist movement.”
“The FBI’s Richmond Division would like to protect Virginians from the threat of ‘white supremacy,’ which it believes has found a home within Catholics who prefer the Latin Mass,” Seraphin wrote on Uncoverdc.com, where he leaked the memo.
The dossier, which was put together with help from the Southern Poverty Law Center‘s list of alleged “hate groups” with Catholic ties, has since been deleted after a media backlash. The memo did not make clear if it was just so-called “rad-trad” Catholics that the FBI was targeting — or traditional Catholics who prefer the Latin Mass as well.
Seraphin told The Post that when he first saw the memo, he thought it as an “appalling” violation of the 1st Amendment.
“As a Catholic and a former Agent, it was yet another example of the FBI trying to pick winners and losers in an arena it is forbidden to engage in,” Seraphin said. “It also shows how woefully out of touch the FBI’s intel cadre are compared to regular people who never consider this type of connection between Catholics and white supremacists remotely fathomable.”
Chief law enforcement officers from 20 states also sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland last week condemning what they called the “anti-Catholic” document.
“The memorandum deploys alarmingly detailed theological distinctions to distinguish between the Catholics whom the FBI deems acceptable, and those it does not,” the letter read.
But the damage was done, according to several traditional Catholics interviewed by The Post.
“It’s an empty accusation of the SPLC and I wonder why the FBI uses such a biased organization as the source of the document,” said Atila Sinke Guimarães of Tradition in Action, one of the groups mentioned in the memo.
Guimarães wrote on the group’s news site that it’s not the first time Tradition in Action has been targeted by the SPLC, adding “what this new episode reflects is that we are leaving the regime of democratic liberty and respect for one’s beliefs and entering the dark zone of a growing dictatorship.”
The majority of traditional Catholics do not go along with many or all of the reforms introduced by the Second Vatican Council and instead worship according to traditional Roman Catholic rites, including the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.
Included in this group is actor Mel Gibson, who has been open about his “traditionalist” Catholic views and even built his own church in the hills above Malibu — where the congregation follows the Roman Catholic faith as it was practiced before the reforms and modernization by the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965.
Mel’s father, Hutton Gibson, who died at age 101 in 2020, was called an “extremist” for his radical Catholic views in his obituary in The New York Times. He moved his family from the US to Australia in 1968 and started his own Catholic splinter group, the Alliance for Catholic Tradition.
”I go to an all-pre-Vatican II Latin mass,” Hutton told USA Today in 2001. “There was a lot of talk, particularly in the ’60s, of ‘Wow, we’ve got to change with the times.’ But the Creator instituted something very specific, and we can’t just go change it.”
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said the FBI needs better priorities.
“Antifa is a threat, BLM is a threat,” Donohue said. “That’s where the FBI should focus. These people [traditional Catholics] are nice people. They’re not a violent threat to America … Who the hell is the FBI to stick their nose in their business? It’s ridiculous.”
Michael Voris, an Emmy-winning former CBS News producer who now heads Church Militant, dismissed the FBI memo as misguided and erroneous.
“The FBI report is based on ‘reporting’ by far-left extremist groups and media outlets that demonstrate zero understanding of Catholic theology,” Voris said in a statement. “Those voluminous errors then found their way into this FBI report where flat-out false conclusions are drawn. Church Militant … in no way hates women, Blacks, Jews, immigrants or anyone else we may be accused of hating. To disagree with social or political points of view does not signify ‘hate.’ It signifies disagreement.”
The Church Militant site is named after the Catholic doctrinal distinctions in the universal Church among the Church Militant, Church Penitent, and Church Triumphant. It is not military in any sense; the phrase refers more to the Biblical struggle of fighting the flesh and devil.
The attacks on traditional Catholics don’t just come from the FBI, however.263
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In 2021, Pope Francis issued a document “Traditionis Custodes,” that attempted to curtail where and when the old Mass can be celebrated. He upset traditional Catholics again this summer when he criticized them for not going along with all the Vatican II reforms. “I do not see how it is possible to say that one recognizes the validity of the Council — though it amazes me that a Catholic might presume not to do so — and at the same time not accept the liturgical reform,” the pontiff wrote.
“These are people who prefer the older version of the Catholic mass in Latin and are more traditional when it comes to moral stances,” Father John Baldovin, a professor at the Boston College of Theology and Ministry, told The Post. “Traditional Catholics can be very passionate but they’re not a threat and they’re not a group who should be targeted. Traditional Catholicism does represent something which is socially more stable for people which can be attractive in an unstable world.”
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