A group that promotes the celebration of the Mass in Latin organized a service in the U.S. Capitol yesterday as a protest of what they see as anti-Catholic sentiment from the F.B.I. But the event also violated church rules restricting where the Latin Mass can be celebrated.

The Arlington Latin Mass Society posted on its Facebook page that several dozen people gathered inside the Capitol yesterday for the Mass, thanking three Republican lawmakers, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, Rep. Jim Jordan and Rep. Dan Meuser, for their support.

The event coincided with the first anniversary of a leaked F.B.I. memo, in which agents suggested that some traditionalist Catholic communities may pose a security threat because they are aligned with right-wing political groups. The memo was condemned by church leaders, and it led to investigations by a House oversight committee. The F.B.I. also denounced the intelligence memo, saying that it did not follow department protocol and removed it from its system.

Mass organizers said they wanted to show that, rather than threats to national security, they are instead “liturgy nerds” who are often apolitical.

“Yesterday, on the one-year anniversary of that memo, we celebrated the Traditional Latin Mass in the United States Capitol, as fully American as anyone else,” the statement from the Virginia-based organization read. “An estimated 60-70 faithful were in attendance, ranging from an infant to octogenarians.”

Mass organizers said they wanted to show that, rather than threats to national security, they are instead “liturgy nerds” who are often apolitical.

An editor of The Pillar attended the event and agreed to keep secret the identity of the priest who celebrated the Mass. In an interview with The Pillar, the organizer of the Mass, Ryan Ellis, said that he hoped the illicit Mass “shows the FBI that traditional Catholics are not domestic terrorists.”

F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray condemned the memo during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in December, saying that the law enforcement agency does not target people based on their religion. That hearing followed the publication of a report on Dec. 4 from the House Committee on the Judiciary and the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, which highlighted the “mishandling of domestic violent extremism investigations against Catholic Americans exercising their First Amendment rights.”

In a statement, the agency dismissed notions that it had targeted Catholics.

“Any characterization that the FBI is targeting Catholics is false,” the F.B.I said in a statement to the Catholic News Agency last month. “We have stated repeatedly that the intelligence product prepared by one FBI field office did not meet the exacting standards of the FBI and was quickly removed from FBI systems. An internal review conducted by the FBI found no malicious intent to target Catholics or members of any other religious faith and did not identify any investigative steps taken as a result of the product.”

In his interview with The Pillar, Mr. Ellis said participants in the Latin Masses organized by his group pose no risk to national security.

“We’re not a threat to America in any way. We’re Catholics,” he said. “We’re Catholics that maybe have a little particular idea of how you ought to do liturgy.”

But that “particular idea of how you ought to do liturgy” runs afoul of the church rules limiting the use of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass.

Pope Francis issued Traditionis Custodes, a motu proprio that limits the use of the Mass, in 2021. While the Mass can still be celebrated, doing so requires permission from the Vatican and the process for seeking that permission varies from diocese to diocese.

In 2022, the Diocese of Arlington published guidance about the Latin Mass, noting that it could be celebrated in eight parishes throughout the diocese. But the Capitol is located across the Potomac River, in Washington, D.C., where the celebration of the Latin Mass has been restricted to three locations. In a statement, the Archdiocese of Washington said that it was neither asked nor did it give permission for the Latin Mass to be celebrated inside the Capitol.

“Regarding yesterday’s Mass at the U.S. Capitol, 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,” the statement read.

The Arlington Latin Mass Society did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the Diocese of Arlington said in an email, “As the liturgy was celebrated in another diocese, we do not have any position on it and would not have the authority to provide approval or denial.” There is no formal relationship between the diocese and the Arlington Latin Mass Society.

The controversy surrounding the leaked memo has been an issue in the 2024 presidential election. It has become something of a talking point for former President Donald Trump, who has tried to link it to what he says is an anti-Catholic bias permeating the Biden administration.

In a speech last night celebrating his victory in the New Hampshire Republican primary, Mr. Trump thanked the conservative political group Catholic Vote for their endorsement and repeated claims that Democrats are hostile to Catholics.

“The F.B.I. is going after Catholics,” Mr. Trump said. “Why would a Catholic be voting for Biden or Democrat? Doesn’t make sense. It’s horrible. What they are doing is horrible.”

From America magazine