A Nonprofit, a Scandal, and the Scapegoating of Gay Catholics

A Nonprofit, a Scandal, and the Scapegoating of Gay Catholics March 9, 2023

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I didn’t think I’d have to talk about scapegoating of LGBTQ Catholics again so soon, but here I am.

Today, it’s been reported, in a bombshell article from the Washington Post, that a nonprofit known as Catholic Laity and Clergy for the Renewal spent millions of dollars to buy mobile app tracking data which they then handed over to bishops all over the country. They did this to expose gay priests who were using dating and hookup apps.

The article quotes people familiar with the group, albeit anonymously, as saying that catching gay priests was their goal.  The group’s president, Jayd Heinricks, denies this and says it’s not about hetero or homosexuality, just about priests using dating and hookup apps. But the Post reports that Catholic Laity and Clergy for the Renewal sought and obtained information from Grindr, Scruff, Growlr and Jack’d, all of which are specifically for gay people, as well as OKCupid which is for all sexualities, and that most of the data they purchased came from Grindr. It seems obvious which offenders the group wanted to catch.

Obviously, no Catholic priest should be meeting people for casual sex.  In my opinion, nobody should, but especially not priests. We can argue whether  priests should be required to be absolutely celibate the way they are in the Latin Rite, or whether the Latin Rite should adapt a system more like the married priests of the Eastern churches or make up an even looser one. We can and ought to have a serious discussion about the power imbalance between a priest and a lay person and whether a priest can ever be said to be having a consensual “affair” or one-night stand at all.  But besides all of that, if a man becomes a priest, they’re expected to abide by all the rules. It’s not only a violation of the rules but a violation of the Faithful’s trust if they don’t. Taking a hard line on celibacy and being cruel but fair about enforcing it across the board has a certain logic. Deciding you’re going to spy on all priests you suspect of violating their promises and turning them all in is something I could imagine a person doing with a good motive– maybe not to the tune of spending millions of dollars, but to an extent.

But that’s not what Catholic Laity and Clergy for the Renewal did, at least not according to the Washington Post article.

They seem to have specifically sought information on priests trying to violate their promises by having sex with other men. That was the bulk of the information they chose to purchase. That was what the eyewitnesses told the Post. They could have gone about their stated business in any other way, and they chose this way.

And at that point, it simply is about hating queer people. If you pretend to care about priests who violate celibacy in general and then set out your dragnet in such a way that it mostly catches the gay violators, that’s what you’re trying to do. You’re just trying to hurt and humiliate gay people.

It’s especially clear what you’re trying to do if you defend yourself for those actions in an article which starts out with the story of former Cardinal McCarrick, who was defrocked for sexually abusing boys and young men, and then segue awkwardly into talking about how you’re helping clean up the Church after such a scandal, which is exactly what Heinricks did in the previously linked First Things article. Whether or not you mean to, you are yet again blaming homosexuality for sexual abuse when you do that. And the actual data does not back that up. Being gay and even being promiscuous is different from being an abuser.

Chastity is for al the faithful. Getting your reputation ruined by having your sexual orientation revealed is something that happens to gay Catholics.

Everyone who cheats on a promise they make as part of their priesthood or consecrated life should be ashamed. Only gay Catholics get scapegoated for a sex abuse crisis with both male and female victims. Priests who break their promises ought to be punished. Going on a witch hunt especially for gay priests isn’t the way to see that that happens. Hunting down closeted people wastes time looking for the actual abusers, besides being cruel and abusive to the closeted people, even if you catch some in wrongdoing.

I am dizzy just trying to imagine what else could have been done with four million dollars from these so-called philanthropists. I think of the homeless people who could have spent the winter in warm rooms. I think of the hungry who could have been fed. I think of children who could have gotten a free ride to a great private school. But the work they chose to do with their millions and millions of dollars was spying on and ratting out gay priests.

I can’t imagine something less worthy of anyone’s time. But, at least we know where conservative Catholics’ priorities lie.



Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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