A recent Washington Post article slammed a Denver nonprofit known as Catholic Laity and Clergy for Renewal (CLCR), saying the organization “spent millions on app data that tracked gay priests.” Elsewhere, the Post cited anonymous sources and no other evidence to claim that “those familiar with [CLCR’s] project said the organizers’ focus was gay priests.”
In reality, the organization legally used data to uncover both homosexual and heterosexual priests and seminarians who used hookup apps. “…[T]hese 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,” wrote CLCR President Jayd Henricks in First Things, responding to The Post.
The Post mischaracterized CLCR efforts as both “political” and “anti-gay” and failed to understand why it’s wrong for Catholic priests, who take vows of celibacy during their ordinations, to use hookup apps.
“To [The Washington Post], discussions about sex and celibacy, sin and salvation, are just fodder for clicks and titillation for readers,” wrote Henricks. “I disagree, and so does the Church. Ignoring the importance and reality of human sexuality and its expression isn’t healthy, and pretending problems aren’t there only stores up worse trouble for everyone…”
According to Henricks, Catholic Laity and Clergy for Renewal kept its work entirely private to “protect the privacy of those affected.” Without setting any expectations, CLCR handed the information directly to the appropriate church rectors and bishops to address the issue as they saw fit.
But it appears some of these church leaders have not appreciated CLCR’s work. Several of them participated in The Washington Post article, anonymously telling the Post that they “disapprove of the project” and consider it “un-Catholic.” Another anonymous source smeared similar work done by Catholic news site The Pillar in 2021, describing it as harmful and sinful.
It is not sinful to hold Catholic priests accountable to their vows, however, especially considering that the weight of entire congregations’ souls rests on their shoulders. “…[I]t is incumbent on all of us to do what we can, to help bishops to care for their clergy, and to help priests to take care of their own spiritual, emotional, and physical health,” wrote Henricks.
The Post article focuses heavily on data privacy despite the fact that the data was obtained legally. The outlet might have a point that the information used by CLCR should be kept private, but that’s a separate argument. It has little to do with the matter at hand, which is that Catholic priests should not be using hookup apps. The church has a duty to make sure clergymen are not breaking their vows and are doing their best to lead parishioners to heaven. Lay people have a vested interest in that, which makes what CLCR did entirely defensible.
It’s also worthwhile to note the rank hypocrisy here. If it were a group of conservatives experiencing a privacy breach of this kind, having their unsavory or humiliating secrets exposed, The Post’s framing would be the opposite of what it is in this case. Instead of hand-wringing over privacy concerns, the Post would be broadcasting the dirt far and wide, reveling in it. As always, the corporate media outlet’s outrage is selective, as is its judgment about who deserves privacy and who doesn’t. Indeed, reporters for the Post routinely attack private citizens, like last April when Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz doxxed Chaya Raichik, the woman behind Libs of TikTok, who now says she receives regular threats.
The Post also neglected to mention that investigating priestly celibacy is not the only thing CLCR does. According to Henricks, it uses technology to assist bishops in a wide variety of ways. For example, CLCR “has used data to identify models of parish and diocesan life that flourish, as well as those that were less successful.” It learned that seminarians who spend a year without technology upon entering the seminary are “able to discern better and faster if they have a vocation” and “conducted studies on why Catholics leave the Church.”
What CLCR really wants is not to embarrass or humiliate wayward priests but to help them “live out their vocations faithfully.” There is nothing wrong with wanting the spiritual leaders of the church to be in communion with Christ. The secular Washington Post clearly doesn’t understand Catholic theology nor our culture’s imperative need for holy priests in a world of hookup culture and moral decadence.