Catholic group has tracked priests who use gay “hookup apps.”

Catholic group has tracked priests who use gay “hookup apps.”


March 10, 2023 | 10:36 a.m

A Catholic group in Colorado spent millions tracking priests who used mostly gay “hookup apps” and then sent them out to bishops.

The leader of the Catholic Secular and Clear for Renewal admitted his secret research in a lengthy response to The Washington Post’s exposé on Thursday.

The DC paper detailed that the Denver-based nonprofit spent at least $4 million to buy data primarily from Grindr, but also from Scruff, Growlr, Jack’d and OkCupid.

Some of those in the group were directly behind the outing of Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, who resigned in July 2021 over allegations that he used Grindr and went to gay bars and baths, the paper said.

Renewal president Jayd Henricks confirmed the work to First Things, saying he felt “blessed” to be able to help and vowed to “make sure we’re by the book in every little detail.”

“The goal was simple: to love the Church and to help the Church be holy by whatever means we could give,” Henricks said — including the “darker side of technology.”

“Trading in obscene content, even criminal content, poses a risk to the church and its children,” the former “heartbreaking wake-up call” wrote about grooming and abuse.

The job is said to have been prompted by the outing of Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, who resigned in July 2021 after being reported to have used Grindr.
Catholic News Service

“When we studied legal methods to understand the risks to the health of the technology-plagued church, including the use of connection apps by clergy, we studied this.

“We learned a few things. And we shared what we learned directly with the bishops,” admitted Henricks.

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“It is true that, as part of our data analysis work, we learned that some priests have publicly announced their interest in actions that contradict their vows of celibacy.”

Renewel analyzed “publicly available, routinely purchased data” to show how “apps catering to heterosexual and homosexual relationships” were used in ways that were “not isolated moral lapses”.

“It should be noted that these types of hookup apps are specifically designed for casual, anonymous sexual encounters,” Henricks wrote.

“It’s true,” the group leader said of working with the “darker side of technology.”

“It is not about heterosexual or gay priests and seminarians, but about behavior that on some level and in some way harms everyone involved and testifies against the service of the church.”

The data was not made public, the head of the group stressed, saying that it was shared “with the proper authorization of rectors and bishops to act with caution.”

Former Monsignor Burrill, then the chief administrator of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), would not comment to The Washington Post about the apparent fallout at the hands of the group.

But Bennett Cyphers, a special adviser to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, called Burrill’s ouster “a character assassination against a private citizen for some political reason.”

“This was the first needle in a haystack case where someone sifts through millions of places in apps and finds a person and then tries to use that information to prosecute,” Cyphers told the paper.

But others celebrated Burrill’s exit as a clean sweep of the church.

“The vow of celibacy is a public act, not a private commitment,” the Rev. Gerald Murray, a New York canon lawyer, told the paper, calling Burrill’s outing “a very good thing.”

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“It is in the public interest if these are scandalously violated,” he said.

Grindr said it was “outraged by the actions of anti-LGBTQ vigilantes”.

Grindr said it was “outraged by the actions of anti-LGBTQ vigilantes”.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

“Grindr has and will continue to strive to keep bad actors out of the ad tech ecosystem, especially on behalf of the LGBTQ community,” spokesperson Patrick Lenihan told the DC paper.

“Everything this group does hurts people.”

The app said it stopped sharing location data in early 2020 and now only shares limited information with advertising partners.

OkCupid’s owner, the Match Group, said that “location data within one kilometer is obscured for security reasons.”

Perry Street Software, which owns Jack’d and Scruff, said it has also removed third-party ad networks.

“Ad networks always publish location data implicitly, so today we do all our advertising in-house and don’t share data with our advertisers,” CEO Eric Silverberg told The Washington Post.

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