Top Catholic Church official resigns after phone data shows him using Grindr and visiting gay bars

·3 min read
Jeffrey Burrill, who resigned as the conference’s general secretary on Tuesday (YouTube/United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)
Jeffrey Burrill, who resigned as the conference’s general secretary on Tuesday (YouTube/United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)

A top official in the Catholic Church has resigned after his phone data reportedly revealed visits to gay bars and activity on the gay dating app, Grindr, in a case that will alarm privacy campaigners.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said Jeffrey Burrill resigned on Tuesday as head of the conference following an investigation by a Catholic newsletter, The Pillar.

A spokesperson, Chieko Noguchi, said it would stop the revelations “becoming a distraction to the operations and ongoing work of the Conference”, after allegations of “improper behaviour” by the Catholic official, who had his phone data reported by The Pillar.

The newsletter wrote on Tuesday that Mr Burrill had been on Grindr almost on a “daily basis during parts of 2018, 2019, and 2020”, despite taking a vow of celibacy. The Catholic Church also opposes sex outside of heterosexual marriage, and homosexuality.

Mr Burrill was accused of being on Grindr “both [at] his USCCB office and his USCCB-owned residence, as well as during USCCB meetings and events in other cities”.

Although there was no proof that he “was in contact with minors through his use of Grindr”, the website went on to accuse the Catholic official of being in “conflict with his role in developing and overseeing national child protection policies”, despite no link between the two.

It added that it “obtained and analysed” data from his phone though “a data vendor and [was] authenticated by an independent data consulting firm”, which was able to connect the location data from Grindr to a device owned by Mr Burrill.

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It was not clear whether or not The Pillar paid for the data, or who the data vendor was, although apps frequently sell the information to aggregators and marketing firms, as The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

While there are some laws at state level prohibiting the selling of users’ data, there are no US federal laws forbidding it — which in theory, puts all phone users at risk of being targeted for tracking.

According to The Post, Mr Burrill’s resignation came a day after another religious news website, The Catholic News Agency, warned of concerns of clergy members being linked to Grindr and use of other “hook up” apps through the tracking of phone data.

The issue was reportedly brought by “a person concerned with reforming the Catholic clergy“.

In a statement, Grindr told The Independent it was “aligned with” The Washington Post’s description of the story on Tuesday, “which describes the original blog post from The Pillar as homophobic and full of unsubstantiated innuendo.”

“The alleged activities listed in that unattributed blog post are infeasible from a technical standpoint and incredibly unlikely to occur,” the company added.

“There is absolutely no evidence supporting the allegations of improper data collection or usage related to the Grindr app as purported.”

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