A top U.S. Catholic church official has resigned after de-anonymized phone data claims to have tracked him using Grindr and visiting gay bars.
Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, a priest from Wisconsin, unexpectedly resigned his post this week with the USCCB citing “impending media reports alleging possible improper behaviour”.
The USCCB (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) said the priest resigned to “avoid becoming a distraction to the operations and ongoing work” of the group, and a spokeswoman told The Washington Post that it was Burrill’s decision to resign.
Shortly after, Catholic news site The Pillar published an article where they clamed to have “found evidence the priest engaged in serial sexual misconduct” after “an analysis of app data signals correlated to Burrill’s mobile device”
The “commercially available” data (that Grindr collects from its users) allegedly showed that the priest “visited gay bars and private residences while using a location-based hookup app in numerous cities from 2018 to 2020, even while traveling on assignment for the U.S. bishops’ conference”.
What makes this tea particularly potent is that in 2018 Burrill was a member of the USCCB’s executive staff who, along with several senior USCCB officials, met with Pope Francis in 2018 to discuss responses to church scandals relating to sexual misconduct, duplicity, and clerical cover-ups.
Burrill – who according to The Pillar was “the highest-ranking American cleric who is not a bishop” – will obviously have been required to take a faith-based vow of celibacy for his role with the Church, however on June 22 the mobile device correlated to Burrill emitted signals from Entourage, which bills itself as a Las Vegas gay bathhouse “where the hot guys go” (from their website).
Commercially available app signal data, which Grindr can sell on as part of their terms of service, does not identify the names or images of app users, but instead assigns a unique number to each mobile device using particular apps. Signal data, collected by apps when you 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 identified a phone was using Grindr from the USCCB staff residence in Wisconsin from 2018 to 2020 and then tracked that phone to Burrill’s family lake house, to the homes of his family members, and to an apartment in his hometown where he’s listed as a resident. It said the data was then “authenticated by an independent data consulting firm”.
This whole debacle raises
an absolute fu*k load numerous questions: mainly regarding the conduct and authenticity of members of the church (which we know you’ll already have a bunch of thoughts on), but also with this “commercially available” data that a Catholic news site was viably able to brag about getting hold of without breaking any laws… how much of an ‘LGBT safe space’ is Grindr?
Reverend James Martin, an advocate for LGBT+ inclusion in the Catholic Church, criticised the report obtained by The Pillar, telling the Associated Press that priests should “obviously keep their promises of celibacy”, but Catholic journalists “should not use immoral means to spy on priests”.
What a complete sh*t show.