The general secretary to the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops resigned on Tuesday after conservative Catholic news site, The Pillar, informed it of data they had acquired revealing that the high-ranking priest was a frequent user of Grindr and visited gay bars.

According to The Pillar, Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill reportedly frequented gay bars and bathhouses between 2018 and 2020. The report, that many called unethical,  has highlighted the lack of stringent data privacy laws in the United States

The Pillar claims to have accessed the data legally through a vendor selling anonymized data that Grindr sold in accordance with its terms of service. Grindr assigns a unique number to each phone and tracks the time-stamped location data based on GPS signals. The data is then collected and sold. 

The Catholic newsletter said it recognised that a phone within the USCCB staff residence was using Grindr between 2018 to 2020. The phone was then tracked to multiple locations including the Burrill Family lake house, family member’s home and apartment in Burrills hometown. GPS signals from the same phone were sent from inside a Las Vegas gay bathhouse as well as other bathhouses in cities Burrill traveled to while working.

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A spokesperson from Grindr dubbed The Pillars findings as ‘homophobic’ and denied all allegations of improper data collection from the app reported The Washington Post. Grindr also claimed to have stopped selling location data in April 2020.

Breach Of Data Privacy

In a memo to U.S bishops on Monday, Archbishop José Gomez announced Burrill’s resignation.

“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,” said Gomez. 

The priest was in charge of coordinating the U.S. bishops’ response to the Church’s 2018 sexual abuse and coercion scandals. The Pillar cited this as their reason to report of Burrill’s private life. Despite the allegations levelled against the priest, all cases were of consensual adult sex. Burrill has not publicly come out as gay.

The report and forcible outing has been called out as being unethical. Jesuit priest Fr James Martin termed The Pillar article a “witch hunt”.

In a Facebook post, Fr. Martin said: “(The Pillar) spied on Msgr. Burrill (more accurately, it using “mined data” from an unnamed source who spied on him) to reveal that, apparently, he had broken his promise of celibacy. The article, which I will not link to, repeatedly conflated homosexuality with pedophilia, all under the guise of a journalistic “investigation.”

As a Catholic priest, Burrill has taken a vow of celibacy. Catholic Church teachings also oppose sex outside of heterosexual marriage and same-sex relationships are not condoned.

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In an interview with The Guardian in 2018, Pope Francis said of gay priests hoping to enter the vocation that: “in consecrated and priestly life, there’s no room for that kind of affection… The Church recommends that people with that kind of ingrained tendency should not be accepted into the ministry or consecrated life.”

Support For Anti-LGBTQI Policies

There were many on social media who pointed to pointed to Burrill’s support for anti-LGBTQI+ policies and his role in the move to deny US President Joe Biden, a practising Catholic, communion for supporting abortion rights. 

Burrill’s resignation came days after he oversaw a USCCB proposal to prevent Catholic politicians from receiving the Eucharist. A number of Bishops indicated that the document was aimed at US President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both Catholics, due to their position on abortion rights. 

Burrill joined the USCCB administration team in 2016 and supported many anti-LGBTIQ+ policies during his time there.

The USCCB lobbied against the creation of a National Suicide Hotline in 2019 because it contained special funding support for LGBTIQ+ people. It also supported anti-trans legislation that would threaten federal funds if it allowed “a person whose sex is male to participate in an athletic program or activity that is designated for women or girls.”

In 2018, a non-for-profit organisation associated with USCCB denied a same-sex couple the right to adopt because they did not “mirror the Holy Family”.

 

If you feel distressed reading the story, you can reach out to support services.

For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14

For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.

 

 

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