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Vatican fears that more Catholic priests will be outed using Grindr data

Pope Francis greets pilgrims during his weekly general audience in St Peter's square at the Vatican on September 10, 2014.
Photo: Shutterstock

Last month, a right-wing Catholic outlet outed a leader in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), a Catholic organization made up of members of the Church’s hierarchy that opposes LGBTQ equality. The report claimed it relied on data obtained from the leader’s use of the LGBTQ dating app Grindr to out him.

Since then, the outlet has published even more reports. While they haven’t outed anyone else specific yet, in two reports they allege that they have once again obtained data from online dating apps that would implicate high-ranking Catholic officials are gay or having sex. The reports could out further Catholic leaders here in the United States, but also from the highest ranks of the global Catholic Church, including at the Vatican.

Related: The outing of a hypocritical priest is actually cause for alarm. Anyone could be next.

The Pillar, a newsletter-based publication run by former reporters working for Catholic News Service, claimed in their initial bombshell report that Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill had likely had sex with men he met on the app for years based on data they obtained. Burrill resigned as general secretary the day after Pillar informed USCCB about their report in advance of its publication.

In a subsequent report, Pillar alleges they have data that would indicate someone was using dating mobile apps in parishes located within the Archdiocese of Newark from 2018 to 2020. They did not name any people or which apps the alleged data was from. The Archdiocese announced that they are investigating the matter.

Their next and third report suggest they have information on people even closer to to home for the Catholic Church — those on property restricted to the Catholic Church within Vatican City.

“At least 16 mobile devices emitted signals from the hookup app Grindr” and “16 other devices showed use of other location-based hookup or dating apps, both heterosexual and homosexual” from “within the non-public areas of the Vatican City State” in 2018, Pillar alleges.

The New York Times reports that the Catholic Church is now “on edge” about the growing allegations and their implications. The Vatican had met with Pillar “representatives” in June, a spokesperson confirmed, but has yet to launch an investigation or officially comment further on Pillar‘s findings.

Just this week, a bishop in Brazil left the Catholic Church after a video stream of him performing a lewd sexual act while another man watched was leaked online. Tomé Ferreira de Silva resigned after he faced and survived multiple allegations that he was sending sexual messages to a minor and had undertaken improper relationships with men.

The USCCB is a Catholic organization, made up of members of the Church’s hierarchy, which actively opposes LGBTQ equality. It has worked against the development of an LGBTQ suicide hotline, tried to stop same-sex couples from adopting children, repeatedly criticized President Joe Biden for supporting LGBTQ rights, and supported anti-trans legislation this year.

Burrill was “the highest-ranking American cleric who is not a bishop,” according to Pillar. He worked for the USCCB since 2016 and was elected general secretary in 2020.

The Pillar was founded by Ed Condon and JD Flynn. They previously worked at the Catholic News Agency (CNA), a religious right news source, before creating Pillar on Substack this year.

In the report that outed Burrill, Pillar tried to suggest a link between Burrill’s sexual attraction to men and child sexual abuse, propagating hateful stereotypes of gay and bi men as rapists and child molesters. They even quoted a Catholic seminary professor who said that using Grindr is “only a step away from sexual predation” — which gave a glimpse of the anti-LGBTQ agenda Pillar was pursuing with the information.

They have maintained that they obtained the Grindr data legally, but did not share exactly what data was obtained, or how. The founders have also declined multiple media inquiries into the information.

The Times notes that many of the bishops or officials at the locations named in Pillar‘s reporting thus far are high-ranking Catholic leaders that have been accused of misconduct or child abuse in the past, making it likely that Pillar is aiming for “conflation of homosexuality and pedophilia” to use it “to blame the church sex abuse crisis on the presence of gay men in the priesthood” within the Catholic Church.

Grindr, which pledges it keeps users’ data anonymous, has already initiated an investigation and thus far maintained that they are a “safe space” for LGBTQ people. “We’re hyper-aware of the risks of our users,” Grindr CEO Jeff Bonforte told LGBTQ Nation weeks ago. “We not only have information about industry risks, but we’re also very aware of all the challenges the queer community faces around the world.”

Grindr published a blog post that considered only three possible methods that led to The Pillar getting anonymous data and reverse engineering it to out the priest. None of them involved a breach by Grindr.

Bonforte also notes that in 2018, the Catholic News Agency (CNA) was offered data sourced from ad networks for both Grindr and Tinder while the site’s founders Condon and Flynn worked there. That data is similar to what Grindr believes was likely used by Pillar.

CNA reported prior to Pillar‘s first report that such data was offered by “a person concerned with reforming the Catholic clergy.” The executive editor declined the offer and didn’t involve Condon and Flynn in the story, but also never discussed it with them.

Bonforte told LGBTQ Nation that it was clear to him that Pillar targeted Burill and only obtained data that confirm much of what they already knew. The further reports indicating data on other individuals’ use of Grindr may suggest otherwise.

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