Catholic Prayer App Hallow platforming “Fringe Elements” on the Catholic right

Catholic Prayer App Hallow platforming “Fringe Elements” on the Catholic right

A wildly popular Catholic prayer app that has climbed the App Store’s charts is taking controversial Catholic figures, including chastity influencers, and pretending to hold mainstream views, experts told VICE News.

The Hallow app, which raised $40 million in venture capital in its last round of funding and is backed by Peter Thiel and JD Vance, has been in the mainstream media in recent weeks, including actor Mark Wahlberg speaking about his faith on NBC’s Today’s show as a paid spokesperson for the app. Classical singer Andrea Bocelli and her children have appeared in social media ads for Hallow, whose co-founder and CEO Alex Jones — no relation to the InfoWars founder — said was the first faith-based app to break into the App Store’s top 10 downloads.

But in addition to mainstream celebrities, Hallow also casts other, more right-wing American Catholics.

Jim Caviezel, an actor who played Jesus in Mel Gibson The Passion of Christ, is already featured in ads and leads the Way of the Cross on the app as part of the Lenten prayer offering. In 2021, he spoke at two QAnon conferences, including one in Las Vegas, where he gave a rousing speech about the need to fight Satan and liberal values, ending with QAnon exclaiming “a storm is upon us”, referring to followers of the day. expected Donald Trump to arrest a cabal of celebrities, officials and Democratic politicians believed to be engaged in child sex trafficking.

“Extremist elements on the Catholic right are nothing new, but the presidency of Donald Trump and his refusal to accept the election results after his defeat has really fueled the Catholic subculture, which is now fertile ground for conspiracy theories and reactionary politics,” said John Gehring, the Catholic. program director at Faith in Public Life, a Washington-based advocacy group, told VICE News.

“Catholic bishops and other church leaders must be vigilant and never be associated with a platform that helps mainstream and legitimize individuals who peddle white Christian nationalism and dangerous conspiracy theories that undermine our democracy.”

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One of the financiers of the application is Thiel, one of the major financial supporters of Donald Trump’s candidates in the 2022 midterm elections. Thiel co-founded PayPal and is believed to have donated millions of dollars to 2022 House and Senate candidates promoting Trump’s bogus election fraud line. Narya Capital, co-founded by Sen. Vance of Ohio and backed by Thiel, also invested in Hallow.

The app features voices known for their conservative stance on sexual and reproductive health rights. Praying on the app is Lila Rose, who is the president and founder of Live-Action, an anti-abortion organization with a major social media presence that recently protested outside drugstores that distribute abortion pills. His prayers on the app focus mainly on the Virgin Mary, along with a “Litany for Life” where he says, “help us respect human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.”

Rose has received several grants in the past from the Leadership Institute, an advocacy group that trains conservative activists.

Hallow co-founder Jones told VICE News in an emailed statement that the app is “proud of Pope Francis and the Church’s pro-life stance.”

“Hallow is a Catholic prayer app. We make sure that all content on the app is in line with Church teaching, while our goal is to make Hallow the friendliest, most inclusive and non-judgmental place possible.” – said in the announcement. “We are proud of Pope Francis and the pro-life stance of the Church, but at the same time we are blessed that people of all faiths from all parts of the political spectrum gathered to pray in the sanctuary community, and this is incredibly important to us. that everyone knows that God welcomes and loves them.”

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He continued, “When it comes to working with individual characters or speakers, we are grateful to be able to work with so many different people in so many different fields who help bring the Scriptures to life in new and inspiring ways. We have hundreds of people who help us capture content for the app, and each of them has their own personal view on many different issues. While we ensure that all content on the app is kind, accessible, rooted in Scripture, and consistent with church teaching, we do not stand behind or endorse any past personal statements, actions, or opinions of any individual. voice actors.”

Popular Catholic social media influencers have created sponsored content promoting the Shrine and reciting prayers at it, including Emily Wilson, who has 131,000 subscribers on YouTube and whose most popular videos are vlogs about her sojourn from sex to marriage .

She is not the only “virginity” influencer. Another Hallow worshipper, Sarah Swafford, is a speaker at the Chastity Project, an organization that falsely preaches that “safe sex is a LIE” to schoolchildren. Jason Evert, founder of the Chastity Project, offers Psalms of Hope on Hallow. The group’s website features blogs featuring people who celebrate abandoning the “LGBTQ+ mindset” and “embracing purity” and that “contraception doesn’t make you strong.”

Matt Fradd, a public speaker who often collaborates with Evert, also recites a prayer on Hallow and is a vocal advocate for a “porn-free” life.

The app features members of the clergy voicing anti-abortion support, including priest and social media star Father Mike Schmitz, a former speaker at March For Life, and Bishop Barron, founder of the Catholic media organization Word on Fire. a frequent critic of President Joe Biden’s stance on abortion. Other characters who appear on Word on Fire programming will also appear on Hallow.

Hallow is available in multiple languages ​​and is available for users four years and older. Many prayers are aimed at the “little ones”, the age group of 3-7 years.

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Dr. Dheepa Sundaram, a scholar of performance, ritual and digital culture at the University of Denver, told VICE News that the app appears to offer “a religious marketing strategy that exploits the devotional needs of worshipers to promote ideological and political ideas as part of an authentic religious vision. . devotion”.

He added: “In general, digital religious spaces, like analogue spaces, rely on spiritual authorities and authentication mechanisms to be trusted by users/believers. It seems that this app needs to appeal to conservative Catholics, given the lineup of speakers and priests who pray.”

Jamie L. Manson, president of Catholics for Choice, a pro-abortion group, told VICE News, “There is a strong desire among young Catholics for community, purpose, and tradition in a church where their lives are. they can often feel ignored and their voices often not heard. Far-right forces are trying to fill this void by sinking huge sums of money into the development of Catholic apps like Hallow, which appear to be spiritual resources but are in fact thinly veiled attempts to give a new face to their outdated, extremist, retrograde faith. on gender, sexuality, reproductive health and the role of women.”

Manson added: “These views, which are vastly different from the beliefs of the majority of Catholics, are an integral part of the Christian Right’s crusade against abortion – and ultimately will not feed young Catholics or bring them closer. to find the real spiritual food they are looking for.”

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