Catholic Group Spent Millions to Out Priests As Gay Using Dating Apps

A conservative, Colorado-based Catholic group reportedly spent millions of dollars to gather information and identify priests who use gay dating apps and share those data with bishops nationwide.

The Washington Post and the Guardian first reported that the Catholic Laity and Clergy conducted the project for Renewal, a conservative Catholic non-profit group based in Colorado. According to their website, the group is “dedicated to offering resources to Church leaders so they can better care for their priests and faithful.

In addition, the mission of the project, according to tax records the Washington Post obtained, is to “empower the church to carry out its mission” and give bishops “evidence-based resources” to help further identify weaknesses in training.

The group has reportedly spent at least $4 million on the project and shared the information they gathered with several bishops across the United States.

Although the project’s data on priests remains unclear, an anonymous source told the Washington Post that the information gathered by the Renewal project might push some clergy members to go on early retirement or not receive any promotions.

Some of the project’s participants were allegedly instrumental in publicly outing a prominent Catholic clergy member, Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill. In July 2021, he was forced to resign as secretary-general of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) after a Catholic news site, Pillar, used commercially available data to track his usage of gay dating apps and his visits to a gay bar and bathhouse.

His resignation and this recent discovery of the Renewal project raised significant concerns from data privacy specialists and LGBTQIA+ activists, saying that it is an invasion of privacy targeting vulnerable people.

The power of this story is that you don’t often see where these practices are linked to a specific person or group of people. Here, you can clearly see the link,” Justin Sherman, an expert on data privacy issues and a senior fellow at Duke University’s public policy school, told the Washington Post.

Sherman also noted that data privacy laws in the United States are limited, saying: “You can count them on one or two hands.

Some in the Catholic Church also condemned the use of surveillance to monitor the activities of clergy and use gathered information to out them.

Revealing information that harms a person’s reputation without an objectively valid reason – even if it’s true – is considered a sin,” a USCCB member who knows Burrill said, describing the “intense emotional distress” Burrill had to go through after his activities were revealed. 

While the Catholic Laity and Clergy for Renewal did not return requests for comment or interview, a spokesperson said that their president, Jayd Henricks, would give an interview regarding the project.

Henricks wrote a piece in the blog First Things published on March 8, saying that he had “been proud to be a part of [the] group.

After all, data is used by all major corporations, so why not the Church?” Henricks also wrote.

He added that the Renewal project had collected data other than information from gay dating apps.

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