A Catholic bulletin on Tuesday reported obtaining cell phone data showing that an American Catholic high priest was using Grindr and frequenting gay bars, and he resigned from a national post amid the publication of the report.
The Pillar said it reviewed the material gleaned from the mobile device of Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, secretary general of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the bulletin concluded that it showed that he had used the application of gay dating and had visited gay bars between 2018 and 2020.
The Pillar said it obtained data from a vendor and claimed it matched the digital identifier of Burrill’s mobile device, which the bulletin said had been routinely used from both his office and home.
While app signal data doesn’t identify usernames, it correlates to unique digital identifiers of a mobile device, and then that data is aggregated and sold, according to The Pillar.
Grindr representatives did not return several phone messages and emails seeking the company’s comment on Wednesday. In a statement to the Washington Post on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Grindr called The Pillar’s report “homophobic” and took issue with the newsletter’s description of how he got the data.
“The alleged activities listed in this unattributed blog post are technically infeasible and incredibly unlikely to occur,” the statement said. “There is absolutely no evidence to support the claims of collection or improper use of data related to the Grindr app as claimed.”
Ashkan Soltani, a former Federal Trade Commission chief technologist, said he hopes Burrill’s case – even though there is no evidence his data was obtained from Grindr – will help consumers understand how their private data is so easily accessible in this vast technological “ecosystem”. which has virtually no regulations.
“It’s a shadow industry that’s been around for a while,” Soltani told NBC News Wednesday. “It’s a multi-billion dollar industry that feeds on this data and profits from its sale.”
Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy, and Church teachings oppose all sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage.
Burrill “resigned with immediate effect” after officials “learned of imminent media reports alleging possible inappropriate behavior” by the priest, the conference said in a statement Tuesday.
The allegations against Burrill concerned only adults, but he wanted to “avoid becoming a distraction to the conference’s operations and work in progress”, leading to his resignation, the statement continued.
The group said it “takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and will take all appropriate steps to address them.”
Burrill, who lives in La Crosse, Wisconsin, could not immediately be reached for comment. His cell phone number, landline, and email address weren’t all working on Wednesday.