By Shannon Mullen
The arrest of a Catholic apostolate leader and father of seven in an FBI raid last week has sparked a groundswell of support for him and his family as new information has raised serious questions about how he was taken into custody.
As of Sunday night, an online fund drive had raised more than $126,000 to help the family, far surpassing an initial $30,000 goal.
Mark Houck, the founder and co-president of The King’s Men, a men’s ministry, faces federal assault charges stemming from an altercation with a Planned Parenthood escort outside a Philadelphia abortion clinic nearly a year ago.
Houck, who regularly prays the rosary outside the clinic, maintains he was defending his 12-year-old son from the escort’s verbal harassment, a family spokesman, Brian Middleton, told CNA on Sunday. The man fell when Houck pushed him away, Middleton said.
The altercation was captured on a video the Houcks are in the process of locating, Middleton added. As of Sunday the family had not yet hired a lawyer but they expect to do so on Monday, he said.
When both the city police and the district attorney declined to file charges against Houck, the escort filed a private criminal complaint in Philadelphia municipal court, Middleton said. The case was dismissed in July when the man repeatedly didn’t show up in court, Middleton said.
Just days later, Houck received a “target letter” from the U.S. Attorney’s Office informing him that he was the focus of a federal criminal probe into the same incident, Middleton said.
Through his attorney at the time, Houck tried to contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office to discuss the case but never received a response, Middleton said.
“The next time they heard anything was Friday morning,” he said.
That day, Sept. 23, federal law enforcement officials arrived outside the Houcks’ home in Kintnersville in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, around 7 a.m.
“A SWAT team of about 25 came to my house with about 15 vehicles and started pounding on our door,” Houck’s wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, told CNA on Friday, just hours after her husband’s arrest.
“They said they were going to break in if he didn’t open it. And then they had about five guns pointed at my husband, myself, and basically at my kids,” she added.
“They were pointing their weapons,” Middleton said. “They came in as if they were expecting some kind of confrontation.”
11 years in prison if convicted
The FBI told CNA that Houck was arrested outside his residence Friday morning “without incident.” In a press release, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said that Houck is being charged with a violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, more commonly referred to as the FACE Act.
The federal indictment says that Houck twice assaulted a 72-year-old man who was a patient escort at a Planned Parenthood clinic at 1144 Locust St. in Philadelphia on Oct. 13, 2021. Houck first shoved the escort, identified by the initials B.L., to the ground as B.L was attempting to escort two patients, the indictment says. Houck also “verbally confronted” and “forcefully shoved” B.L. to the ground in front of the clinic on the same day, the indictment says.
The indictment says that B.L. was injured and needed medical attention. Middleton, the Houck family spokesman, maintains the injury was minor, only requiring “a Band-Aid on his finger.”
If convicted, Houck could face up to 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $350,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The FACE Act “prohibits violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain or provide reproductive health services,” according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Middleton said Houck and his family are well-known in the Philadelphia area.
“The Houcks are incredible people. Mark’s whole life is a ministry,” he said. “This is really the family next door.”
Middleton speculated that many of those contributing to the fund believe the FBI used “unnecessary force” in arresting Houck.
He said the raid may fuel further criticism that the Biden administration’s Justice Department has a double standard where abortion politics are concerned, noting the contrast between the aggressive tactics used against Houck and the lack of any arrests by the FBI in connection with dozens of incidents of vandalism against pro-life pregnancy centers across the country in recent months.