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Catholic Group Sought Out Gay Priests Through Info From Apps

Catholic Group Sought Out Gay Priests Through Info From Apps

Grindr app and cross

Catholic Laity and Clergy for Renewal says it looked at both gay and straight hookup apps, but the project appears to have concentrated on gay priests.

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A right-wing Catholic group from Denver has been gathering information on priests who use gay dating and hookup apps and forwarding it to bishops nationwide.

The group, Catholic Laity and Clergy for Renewal, “has spent millions of dollars to buy mobile app tracking data,” The WashingtonPost reports.

The Post sought an interview with the organization’s president, Jayd Henricks, but it did not happen. However, in an article for the Catholic journal First Things,Henricks expressed pride in his group’s work and said its purpose is “to explore ways technology might serve the bishops in addressing their greatest challenges.”

Its efforts have included more than tracking the hookup apps, but Henricks acknowledged, “It’s true, as part of our data analysis work, we learned that some clergy were publicly advertising their interest in actions that contradicted their promises of celibacy.” This included use of both “heterosexual and homosexual hookup apps,” he wrote.

“It should be noted that these sorts of hookup apps are designed specifically for casual, anonymous sexual encounters — it’s not about straight or gay priests and seminarians, it’s about behavior that harms everyone involved, at some level and in some way, and is a witness against the ministry of the Church,” Henricks asserted.

However, the church considers all same-sex encounters sinful and does not offer marriage to same-sex couples; it endorses sexual expression only within heterosexual marriage.

And most of the information that Catholic Laity and Clergy for Renewal gathered “appears to be from Grindr,” an app used by gay and bisexual men, the Post reports. “Those familiar with the project said the organizers’ focus was gay priests,” according to the paper.

The organizers bought the information from “data brokers who got the information from ad exchanges, which are sites where ads are bought and sold in real time, like a stock market,” according to the Post. “The group cross-referenced location data from the apps and other details with locations of church residences, workplaces and seminaries to find clergy who were allegedly active on the app.”

The data the group bought covered a period from 2018 through 2021. Some of those connected with the organization were also involved in the 2021 outing of Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill. He had worked for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops but resigned after it was revealed he had used Grindr and patronized a gay bar and bathhouse. The Post sought comment from Burrill, but he declined. Henricks is also a former staffer with the bishops’ conference.

Some saw the circumstances of Burrill’s outing as “a kind of weaponized, anti-gay surveillance,” the Post reports, adding, “Until now, the people behind Burrill’s outing and the extent of the project were not public, nor was the fact that the effort continued — for at least another year after that incident, according to the people familiar with it and documents.”

A digital rights activist, Bennett Cyphers of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the Post that the Burrill case was “a character assassination of a private citizen for some kind of political reason based on information [the citizen] didn’t know they were being tracked on.”

Representatives of various apps said they were taking steps to keep information private, such as ceasing to share location data or ending the use of third-party ad networks. “We are infuriated by the actions of these anti-LGBTQ vigilantes. Grindr has and will continue to push the industry to keep bad actors out of the ad tech ecosystem, particularly on behalf of the LGBTQ community,” Grindr’s Patrick Lenihan told the Post. “All this group is doing is hurting people.”

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.
Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.