WASHINGTON, D.C., July 21, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – The general secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, resigned yesterday just hours before a media report was published alleging that he had “engaged in serial sexual misconduct.”
The bombshell investigation by The Pillar was based on a presumed massive trove of commercially available data from the gay hook-up app Grindr, which an analyst was then able to link to a mobile device used by Burrill, showing that he “visited gay bars and private residences while using a location-based hookup app in numerous cities from 2018 to 2020, even while traveling on assignment for the U.S. bishops’ conference.”
The alleged covert homosexual activity by Burrill is especially troubling because of his role at the USCCB directing diocesan and conference responses to clerical sexual scandals.
The Pillar’s sexual misconduct report on this one priest may well be just the tip of the iceberg based on the presumed wide scope of the data now in the possession of the online publication. So far there is no indication from The Pillar concerning plans for future revelations based on additional incriminating evidence in the data set.
“Just imagine how many priests that have used the grinder app are freaking out right about now,” Lepanto Institute founder and president Michael Hichborn said in a Facebook post.
“The revelation regarding Msgr. Burrill is a drop in the bucket on the information contained in that dataset,” he added.
“Well, friends, this is not just one more corrupt priest,” said Catholic scholar Dr. Janet E. Smith, retired professor of moral theology and a renowned worldwide as an expert on Humanae Vitae.
“I fear his proclivities and activities were well known by those who hired him,” Smith wrote on Facebook. “And it is highly likely that many bishops are using the same apps. So this is huge. There are going to be many sleepless bishops.”
“Let it sink in that Burrill from 2009 until 2013 was a professor and formation director at the Pontifical North American College in Rome,” Smith wrote in a commentary for Crisis Magazine. “In a lawsuit by a former seminarian, accusations are being made that sexual predation has been common for a very long time at the NAC. I think a new line of investigation has just opened up.”
“Bishops should want to know what immoral activity their priests are engaged in is that the whole diocese is liable for their behavior—for the abuse both of minors and the vulnerable,” asserted Smith.
“Shouldn’t the bishops welcome this data? Msgr. Burill has a bishop who is his spiritual father. Msgr. Burill’s soul is in mortal danger. His father should want to know what he is doing and help him stop and recommit himself to a chaste life,” she concluded. “For let’s not forget, this is all about souls.”
According to an archived version of Burrill’s now-deleted profile on the USCCB website, “Msgr. Burrill is a priest of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, where he served as pastor of St. Bronislava Church from 2013-2016.” The bishop of the Diocese of La Crosse recently suspended the faculties of outspoken priest Father James Altman, famous for his viral video “You Can’t be Catholic and a Democrat.”
Phone data: A new frontier for investigations
While Catholics such as Smith think this is a huge story for the Church, the ground-breaking data-based investigation has also caught the attention of the secular and tech worlds.
“This is a MASSIVE story,” tweeted Garritt De Vynck, a tech reporter for the Washington Post.
— Gerrit De Vynck (@GerritD) July 20, 2021
“Some privacy experts said that they couldn’t recall other instances of phone data being de-anonymized and reported publicly,” noted a report by the Washington Post. “It’s not illegal and will likely happen more as people come to understand what data is available about others.”
Shortly before The Pillar published its report on Burrill, Catholic News Agency (CNA) issued a preemptive article based on anonymous sources.
“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,” wrote CNA.
CNA claimed to have been offered in 2018 access to the data set used by The Pillar’s report on Burrill, but turned it down. J.D. Flynn and Ed Condon, founders and editors of The Pillar, previously worked for CNA. Flynn and Condon are canon lawyers.
Leftist Catholics, organizations freaked out by the Burrill revelations
Apparently appalled that the revelations about Burrill’s serial homosexuality were made public, far-left and pro-LGBT Catholics condemned The Pillar, attempting to ward off future reports by suggesting that both the investigation and publication of the Burrill report were unethical.
“This is a disgrace: spying on bishops and priests to see if they're being chaste and celibate,” tweeted Father James Martin, SJ, perhaps the most outspoken force for the normalization of homosexuality and transgenderism within the Roman Catholic Church. The Church teaches that bishops and priests (with the exception of those married before ordination, such as Eastern Rite priests or those in the Anglican Ordinariate) are to be celibate.
“Of course it's aimed at gay priests, and ‘gay apps,’ which shouldn't surprise anyone,” continued Martin. “It's part of the ongoing witch hunt against gay priests.”
Of course it's aimed at gay priests, and “gay apps,” which shouldn't surprise anyone. It's part of the ongoing witch hunt against gay priests, the vast majority of whom, like their straight counterparts, are celibate and chaste, no matter what you may read online.
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) July 20, 2021
In a separate Twitter thread, Martin suggested a priest with a high-powered job for the USCCB might be considered a “vulnerable” person: “These witch hunts, usually aimed at vulnerable people working for the church, or targeting people that the authors don't agree with or simply don't like, must end.’
“They are not coming from God and they are in no way ‘Catholic,’’ he asserted.
These witch hunts, usually aimed at vulnerable people working for the church, or targeting people that the authors don't agree with or simply don't like, must end. They are not coming from God and they are in no way “Catholic.”
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) July 20, 2021
Catholic journalism, 2021: Spying on a priest (more accurately, using data from an unnamed source who spied on him) for breaking his promise of celibacy, then conflating homosexuality with pedophilia, under the guise of a journalistic “investigation…” https://t.co/oD54Z8X1uK
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) July 20, 2021
“The Pillar investigation of Monsignor Burrill is unethical, homophobic innuendo,” blared a Religion News (RNS) headline. “The hook on which this story hangs is a long-discredited link between sexual abuse and homosexuality.”
Writing for RNS, Steven P. Millies said The Pillar report “heralds a new and even uglier era in American Catholicism.”
As a canonist this thread really nails a lot of the questions raised by today’s @PillarCatholic story. As a former @USCCB staffer I’m still processing my own emotions after the shock of today’s news. It’s a truly new frontier and I’m still reeling from it all. https://t.co/J79qLp79SX
— Rebecca Ruesch (@Rebecca_Ruesch) July 21, 2021
“Ultimately today's big story won't be the priest Pillar Catholic outed, but questions about the ethics of data mining and buying mined data to reveal personal information,” tweeted Mike Lewis, editor of Where Peter Is, a liberal blog.
“There's a moral angle and a privacy angle,” continued Lewis. “There are risks and dangers here that we probably can't foresee.”
Ultimately today's big story won't be the priest @PillarCatholic outed, but questions about the ethics of data mining and buying mined data to reveal personal information.
There's a moral angle and a privacy angle. There are risks and dangers here that we probably can't foresee.
— Mike Lewis (@mfjlewis) July 21, 2021
Other Twitter users, however, pointed out that left-wing Catholics were more upset at Burrill being exposed than at what Burrill did.
Imagine a guy who cheats on his wife *habitually* via a sex app and his infidelity is revealed by a third party. Now imagine your publicly stated first reaction being horror at the violation of his sacred privacy rather than what he did to his wife.
— Jennifer A. Frey (@jennfrey) July 21, 2021
What father James Martin chooses to criticize is quite revealing. He criticizes the pillar for looking at the priest’s app data but does not criticize the priest for his homosexual behavior. https://t.co/BwAFhvZJb1
— Austin Ruse (@austinruse) July 20, 2021
Someone is very worried about the ability of the Catholic press to access public information… https://t.co/b19INU4Xz2
— Thomas Peters ��♂️ (@AmericanPapist) July 21, 2021
Questions also remain about the source of funding for The Pillar’s data acquisition and analysis.
“Such investigations don't come cheap,” said left-wing Catholic writer Dawn Eden Goldstein, who recently sued the president of the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM) for “online harassment” (the case was thrown out).
“Do the site's funders have an enemies list? Do the editors choose to reveal dirt on some folks & not others? Why should we trust their good intentions without knowing their donors?”
“One of the reasons I've been concerned about @NapaInstitute is that a number of its associates have been quietly acquiring data sets that could be combined with cellphone data of the type that The Pillar used to accuse a priest,” said Goldstein in one of two long Twitter threads.
This is an important question. One of the reasons I've been concerned about @NapaInstitute is that a number of its associates have been quietly acquiring data sets that could be combined with cellphone data of the type that The Pillar used to accuse a priest. … (1 of 6) https://t.co/1GcALbGZJZ
— Dawn Eden Goldstein: Get the Vaxx/Stop the Spread (@DawnofMercy) July 20, 2021
It remains to be seen what The Pillar will do with the remaining data at its disposal – and which other prominent priests the data may implicate.