Pocono Record [Stroudsburg PA]
October 25, 2021
By Hannah Phillips
The priest arrived at a Tobyhanna Wawa to have sex with two teenage boys, police said.
Instead, he was confronted by a self-avowed “predator catcher” — a man who’d posed as a 15-year-old boy in sexually explicit text messages to Gregory Loughney, priest at Most Holy Trinity Catholic parish in Cresco.
“I made a mistake, and I need to report myself,” Loughney said in a call to police immediately after the confrontation. “I messed up.”
Pocono Mountain Regional Police arrested Loughney, 42, Friday evening on charges related to attempted sexual assault of minors. In interviews with officers, the priest described the intimate text relationship he shared with “Cyrus,” the person he believed was a teenage boy.
They met on a dating app and and began to share sexually explicit messages and photographs over text, Loughney said. He continued to pursue a relationship with Cyrus despite believing the boy was a minor, he told police.
“I went down the rabbit hole,” Loughney said.
Cyrus, whose real name is Nicholas Goodlauage, belongs to a Facebook group known as 507 Predator Catchers. Members of the group pose online as teenagers or children and then film encounters with adults they say try to engage them sexually.
“The worst kind of bully is an adult that preys on children,” their online bio says.
Loughney arranged to meet with Cyrus and his 16-year-old friend Billy at Wawa on the night of his arrest. No longer posing as a teenager, Goodlauage filmed their encounter.
“Why are you here to meet little boys?” Goodlauage said while standing in the aisles at Wawa. Loughney held up his hand to block his face from the camera. “You were going to take them back to your house, man?”
Loughney initially denied the accusation before he conceded in conversation with Goodlauage outside.
“I was wrong. I was reckless. I was foolish,” he said.
Loughney “was going to have a three-way” with the boys, he told one of the officers who arrived first on the scene. Later, he told police that he wanted to bring Cyrus and Billy back to his home for dinner and cookies because Cyrus “was having a rough time in life,” and the priest wanted to help him.
Pocono Mountain Regional Police Chief Chris Wagner called incidents like Friday’s a “double-edged sword.”
“We appreciate any help we can get from the public with bringing child predators to the justice system,” he said. “On the other hand, we have to be cautious. Posing as a fictitious person online can become problematic if there’s an enticement element.”
A predator catcher who entices someone to commit a crime they normally wouldn’t commit is considered entrapment, Wagner said. Amateur investigators run the risk of violating rules of criminal procedure that law enforcement has to abide when investigating cases like these. Whether entrapment will play a role in Loughney’s prosecution is a legal decision that will be made “down the road.
The Diocese of Scranton announced on Saturday that Loughney was removed from active ministry “pending the outcome of the investigation.”
“Learning the details of the behavior with which Father Loughney has been charged is extremely upsetting,” said Bishop Joseph C. Bambera. “In no way is this alleged behavior to be tolerated in the life and ministry of a priest.”
Loughney was charged with attempted statutory sexual assault, corruption of minors, indecent assault and criminal use of a cell phone. He is being held at the Monroe County Prison in lieu of $75,000 bail. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Nov. 4 at 9:45 a.m. under judge Danielle Travagline.
Hannah Phillips is the public safety reporter at Pocono Record. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.