The top administrator of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, has resigned his post after a Catholic media site advised the USCCB that it had obtained data from the priest’s cell phone and it showed him frequenting gay bars and using Grindr, the queer hook-up app.
According to the Washington Post, The Pillar, an online newsletter that reports on the Catholic Church, got the data on Burrill’s phone from an undisclosed “data vendor.” The site obtained data about Burrill’s use of Grindr, including location data, and had an independent firm verify the authenticity and accuracy of the data.
“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,” the Pillar reported Tuesday in a story about Burrill’s resignation.
Burrill was a parish priest in the La Crosse, Wis., diocese before joining USCCB as an administrator in 2016. He has not been implicated in any issues regarding the ongoing child sex abuse investigations in the Catholic church.
The resignation is the first known instance of phone data being de-anonymized and reported publicly, leading to the resignation of an organizational leader in the public or private sector. Obtaining the data is not illegal; many data warehouses sell the data accumulated through computer browsers and cell phones. Some states limit the amount and specificity of data that is able to be collected, but that is more in relation to stalking laws rather than retroactive probes at usage.
Curiously, the Catholic News Agency–the Catholic media outlet that previously employed the people who now run The Pillar–published an unsourced piece questioning the Church’s use of cell phone data to track the use of apps like Grindr by people in clergy. he story said “a person concerned with reforming the Catholic clergy approached some Church individuals and organizations” including CNA starting in 2018.