A conservative Catholic group in Colorado bought mobile app tracking data worth millions of dollars in order to identify gay priests across the US.
According to a Washington Post investigation(Opens in a new window), Denver-based Catholic Laity and Clergy for Renewal exclusively used commercially available information in its bid to track and locate gay priests. The data spans 2018 through 2021 and includes gay dating and hookup apps like Grindr, Scruff, Growlr, and Jack’d, as well as OkCupid. The Post found that most of the data appears to be from Grindr.
In its hunt for gay priests, Catholic Laity purchased data from ad brokers that showed the type of device, its location, the device ID, and the internet service provider being used along with other identifiers. The group then cross-referenced the legally purchased data with church residences that house priests.
As the Post notes, the group’s aim is to explore ways technology can “empower the church to carry out its mission” by serving bishops “evidence-based resources” that they can use to check for weaknesses “in current formation practices and priestly life.” Putting its mission into practice meant the group sent bishops intel they had gathered on gay priests.
The Catholic Laity’s trustees are John Martin, who owns a large natural gas production company, Mark Bauman, a former entertainment company executive, and Tim Reichert, a founder of a consulting firm who attempted a run for Congress as a Republican last year. For its investigation, the Post obtained recordings of the groups’ meetings and reviewed leaked documents and public records.
The investigation also found that members of the Catholic Laity group were involved in the outing of a high-profile priest(Opens in a new window). In 2021, Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill resigned from his position in the church when Catholic news outlet The Pillar published location data from his mobile phone that showed visits to gay bathhouses, bars, and nightclubs.
In a lengthy first-person statement(Opens in a new window) on the religious site First Things, Catholic Laity’s president Jayd Henricks defended the groups’ actions saying, “data is used by all major corporations, so why not the Church?” He added, “Our work has always been a labor of love, and a work of service, practical and spiritual. It’s a blessing to be able to offer constructive help on issues like parish life, formation, and Church administration.”
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Speaking to Gizmodo(Opens in a new window), a Grindr spokesperson said that the gay dating app made changes to the data it shares with ad tech partners in 2020. The spokesperson added: “We are infuriated by the actions of these anti-LGBTQ vigilantes,” Lenihan said. “Grindr has and will continue to push the industry to keep bad actors out of the ad tech ecosystem, particularly on behalf of the LGBTQ community. All that group is doing is hurting people.”
Between 2017 and early 2020, Grindr was selling precise location data to ad brokers. The Wall Street Journal last year reported(Opens in a new window) that historical data on the platform was still available for purchase.
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