A high ranking official for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) resigned his position after the conference was approached by a Catholic media outlet purporting to have cellphone data indicating he regularly used Grindr, the gay dating app.
The Pillar, an online newsletter that reports on the Catholic Church, published its claims about Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill and the alleged Grindr use on Tuesday. The post also contends that Burrill “engaged in serial sexual misconduct” as well as frequented “gay bars and private residences.”
Burrill, a priest from the La Crosse, Wisconsin, diocese resigned from his position as general secretary from USCCB on the same day. As general secretary of the USCCB, Burrill was responsible for coordinating administrative work and planning for the conference, which is the country’s network for Catholic bishops.
USCCB spokeswoman Chieko Noguchi told the Washington Post it was Burrill’s decision to resign after being notified of The Pillar’s allegations of “improper behavior.”
— Christopher White (@cwwhite212) July 20, 2021
The Pillar says an independent firm had authenticated “commercially available records” based on data Grindr collects from its users.
“A mobile device correlated to Burrill emitted app data signals from the location-based hookup app Grindr on a near-daily basis during parts of 2018, 2019, and 2020 — at both his USCCB office and his USCCB-owned residence, as well as during USCCB meetings and events in other cities,” reported The Pillar.
The “commercially available” signal data doesn’t include users’ names but instead correlates a specific numerical identifier assigned to each mobile device. Privacy experts say it’s possible to identify a specific cellphone by checking locations an individual may frequent like their home or workplace.
So, it would appear, someone searched through the “obtained and analyzed data” looking at Burrill’s residence and office space and noted the identifier.
The report went on to conflate homosexuality with pedophilia in an extremely heavy-handed manner even though there doesn’t appear to be any evidence Burrill was in contact with minors through his use of Grindr.
The Washington Post reports experts “have long raised concerns about ‘anonymized’ data collected by apps (like Grindr) and sold to or shared with aggregators and marketing companies.”
A spokesperson for Grindr described the report by The Pillar as “homophobic” and told the Post the data described in the story couldn’t be publicly accessed.
“The alleged activities listed in that unattributed blog post are infeasible from a technical standpoint and incredibly unlikely to occur,” said the representative in a statement. “There is absolutely no evidence supporting the allegations of improper data collection or usage related to the Grindr app as purported.”
Adding more for those who didn't read through:
Right-wing Catholic zealots obtained tracking data from Burrill's cell phone, Grindr location data, etc., & then used it to force him to resign — then wrote it up, & grotesquely connected gay to child predation. Nasty stuff.
— Michelangelo Signorile (@MSignorile) July 21, 2021
Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor-at-large of America magazine, clapped back at The Pillar’s “investigation” on Facebook. He also wondered aloud if “everyone who works for the church” might find themselves the target of such “witch hunts.”