The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ top administrator, Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, resigned following an investigation by Catholic media site The Pillar, which said it has cell phone data showing Burrill regularly used Grindr and went to gay bars.
“It is with sadness that I inform you that Msgr. Jeffrey Burrill has resigned as General Secretary of the Conference,” Archbishop Jose Gomez wrote in a memo to U.S. bishops Tuesday and reported by The National Catholic Reporter.
“On Monday, we became aware of impending media reports alleging possible improper behavior by Msgr. Burrill. What was shared with us did not include allegations of misconduct with minors. However, in order to avoid becoming a distraction to the operations and ongoing work of the Conference, Monsignor has resigned effective immediately,” Gomez wrote.
The Pillar allegedly tracked Burrill extensively, finding the apps he used and where he used data at.
“Commercially available app signal data does not identify the names of app users, but instead correlates a unique numerical identifier to each mobile device using particular apps. Signal data, collected by apps after users consent to data collection, is aggregated and sold by data vendors. It can be analyzed to provide timestamped location data and usage information for each numbered device,” The Pillar explained.
The outlet noted that using a location-based hookup app like Grindr would be inconsistent with clerical expectations. It is against church doctrine to engage in sexual relations outside of opposite-sex marriage. According to the alleged data, Burrill used Grindr while at gay bars and used it while at various private residences.
The Washington Post reported that several privacy experts couldn’t remember a time when phone data had been deanonymized and then publicly reported. It’s not illegal and may happen more often given this report.
A spokesperson for Grindr told the Post that the data described in The Pillar’s article could not be accessed publicly while describing the article itself as “homophobic.”
“The alleged activities listed in that unattributed blog post are infeasible from a technical standpoint and incredibly unlikely to occur,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “There is absolutely no evidence supporting the allegations of improper data collection or usage related to the Grindr app as purported.”
The Post reported that it could be possible though to glean some information from the available data and use it to connect it to the users. While no federal laws bar buying the data available, some states regulate it.
Jesuit priest and editor at large of America magazine Fr. James Martin, who was recently recognized by Pope Francis for his work with the LGBTQ+ community, struck out against the report.
"The article, which I will not link to, repeatedly conflated homosexuality with pedophilia, all under the guise of a journalistic 'investigation,'" he wrote on Facebook. "Regardless of the actions of Msgr. Burrill, is there any indication that an actual 'investigation' took place? Not in the article. Or did these writers simply buy data from an unscrupulous source, and one possibly breaking the law? One has to ask the old question: 'Cui bono?'"
"These kinds of witch hunts must end for the good of the church," he continued. "After all, why not spy on everyone who works for the church? Why stop at priests? Why not spy on unmarried lay teachers at Catholic schools? Perhaps they're sexually active. We could track them from their houses to see. Why not spy on married pastoral associates in parishes? Perhaps they're using birth control. We could get their receipts from drug stores. And why stop there? Why not spy on all parishioners?
"Who, in the end, would be left in the church? As the psalmist wrote, 'If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?'"