Msgr. Jeffrey Burrill, the general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, resigned from his post on Tuesday ahead of a media report alleging that he frequented gay bars and private residences while using a popular “hookup” app on his mobile device.
The report, published Tuesday afternoon by The Pillar, a Catholic news site, is based on what it described as an analysis of commercially available app data correlated to Burrill’s mobile device. The analysis shows that Burrill used the app Grindr on a near-daily basis during parts of 2018, 2019 and 2020, according to the report.
CNA reported Monday that church officials were bracing for information derived from this type of digital technology to become public.
Grindr is an app that describes itself as “the largest app for gay, bi, trans, and queer people.” Grindr users download the app, create a profile where they can post pictures, partner preferences, and other personal information. Grindr users are then notified when another user of Grindr is nearby.
CNS adds that he resigned after the USCCB “became aware of impending media reports alleging possible improper behavior by Msgr. Burrill,” said Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB president:
In a July 20 memo to bishops, Archbishop Gomez said he had accepted Msgr. Burrill’s resignation, effective immediately.
“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,” the archbishop said.
“The conference takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and will pursue all appropriate steps to address them,” he said.
N.B.: CNA yesterday had this report, which helps put all this in context and raises questions about just how all this information was gathered:
The prospect of private parties using national security-style surveillance technology to track the movements and activities of bishops, priests, and other Church personnel is raising concerns about civil liberties, privacy rights and what means are ethical to use in Church reform efforts.
The issue was first raised in 2018, when a person concerned with reforming the Catholic clergy approached some Church individuals and organizations, including Catholic News Agency.
This party claimed to have access to technology capable of identifying clergy and others who download popular “hook-up” apps, such as Grindr and Tinder, and to pinpoint their locations using the internet addresses of their computers or mobile devices.
The proposal was to provide this information privately to Church officials in the hopes that they would discipline or remove those found to be using these technologies to violate their clerical vows and possibly bring scandal to the Church.
CNA and others at the time declined this party’s offer, but there are reports this week that information targeting allegedly active homosexual priests may become public.
… CNA spoke to a moral theologian familiar with the moral challenges posed by emerging technologies. He acknowledged that giving the data to faithful concerned Catholics might enable them to urge bishops to “do something about the gravely sinful and potentially scandalous behavior of some of their priests or seminarians.”
But, he added, “what happens if those bishops don’t do anything, or even worse, what if they let the individuals in question know they are being tracked and just simply let them take digital counter-measures,” such as using disposable mobile devices that are harder to track.
He and others who spoke to CNA raised the concern that this technology could be “weaponized” against bishops and priests, with the tactics justified in the name of reforming the Church.