Count me among those grateful for the work of Catholic Laity and Clergy for Renewal (CLCR). A recent Washington Post article reports that this Denver-based non-profit worked to provide bishops and seminary rectors with information about potential problems in the clergy, especially behaviors that strongly suggest that individual priests are regularly violating their promise of celibacy.
The techniques used by CLCR are unique to our digital age. Although search engines, websites, and the apps we download seem free, in fact they are paid for by targeted advertising based on our online history, as well as our location. For example, if you are navigating with Google Maps and open another window on your smartphone, you may get ads from nearby stores or restaurants.
The same goes for dating apps like Tinder (popular for hook-ups between men and women) and Grindr (which caters to gay men). These apps are even more location-interested, given that they are designed to put you in touch with people nearby who want to have sex. There exist data marketplaces where those who wish to advertise can buy tranches of location information from tech companies, and then use them to target ads.
It takes well-designed data analysis programs to use a tranche of location data to zero in on individual phones. CLCR has done exactly that—for the purpose of discovering priests and seminarians who are chronic users of hook-up apps. After these individuals are identified, CLCR approaches those in positions of ecclesiastical responsibility and presents the evidence of grave clerical misconduct.
The Washington Post article quotes anonymous sources in the Catholic bureaucracy who decry these efforts to bring clerical misconduct to the attention of those vested with responsibility for the Church. One says, “Revealing information that harms a person’s reputation without objectively valid reason—even if it’s true—is considered a sin.”
Correct in principle, but wrong in this circumstance. Every Catholic has an “objectively valid reason” to be concerned about the integrity of the priesthood, all the more so after revelations of clerical sexual abuse that have bankrupted dioceses and severely damaged the Church’s mission.
If you or I saw our parish priest stumbling drunk on a number of occasions, we’d be culpable if we did not get this information to the chancery. The same would be true if we saw him entering a gay bar with a demeanor that suggested something other than the ambition to engage in heroic evangelization among the sodomites. Or if we noticed that he had the Grindr app on his smartphone.
CLCR is undertaking due diligence. This group is not luring priests into sexually compromising situations. It is analyzing publicly available data to discover patterns of sexual misconduct among men who have promised to remain celibate. This is useful and important information. I do not want to be led by men who make a mockery of their promise of celibacy, any more than I want to socialize with couples who routinely violate their marriage vows.
Others have warned that CLCR encourages an “anti-LGBT” agenda. If “pro-LGBT” means affirming the legitimacy of gay sex, then I hope that’s true. Whatever our pastoral judgments about how to minister to the victims of the sexual revolution, we should all be “anti-LGBT.” But let’s be clear: Monitoring clergy for violations of the promise of celibacy is primarily about the integrity of the Church’s leadership and its ability to remain true to its own standards and commitments.
For a long season, bishops were culpably negligent in their oversight of clerical behavior in matters of sexual misconduct. More recently, they have awoken to their responsibilities. CLCR is providing important information to help bishops discharge their duties of oversight, among the most important of which is to discern who is and is not fit for service among those ordained to the priesthood.
Priests are not perfect. We’re all fallen. But our vulnerability to sin does not mean we should have no standards. In my opinion, a priest who succumbs to temptation and violates his commitment to celibacy can be forgiven and healed by his sincere cooperation with God’s grace. In these circumstances, the proper medicine of discipline is for a bishop to determine. But no man who is regularly using Grindr—a clear sign of premeditated and persistent sin—ought to be ministering to God’s people.
R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.
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