The Vatican is concerned that The Pillar, a newsletter-based publication run by anti-LGBTQ+ members of the Church’s hierarchy who outed a priest using Grindr data last month, is just getting started.
In its initial report, the newsletter claimed that Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, the highest-ranking American cleric who is not a bishop, was likely having sex with men he met through Grindr and had been doing so for years. Burrill resigned as general secretary shortly after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was informed of the coming report.
In subsequent reports, the newsletter alleged that it has obtained further online dating app data that implicates high-ranking officials in the Catholic church as engaging in gay sex. Although it has stopped short of outing anyone specific, the concern is that the reports go beyond leaders here in the U.S. (a second report claimed the publication had data showing dating app use within the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J.) but potentially to the highest ranks of the Vatican.
According to a third report, “at least 16 mobile devices emitted signals from the hookup app Grindr” and “16 other devices showed the 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, The Pillar alleges.
The series of allegations has left the church “on edge” according to The New York Times. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni confirmed that officials met with The Pillar in June, but elected not to respond to the report. He did not indicate if the Vatican planned to investigate the claims.
The Pillar reports also highlight the culture war within the church between supporters of Pope Francis and his conservative critics, according to the Times. Church officials are in the awkward position of being stuck between an inflexible vow of celibacy and the use of private cell phones to publicly shame and police priests' behavior.
“If someone who has made a promise of celibacy or a vow of chastity has a dating app on his or her phone, that is asking for trouble,” Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark said during a Zoom panel, the Times reported. “I would also say that I think there are very questionable ethics around the collection of this data of people who allegedly may have broken their promises,” he added, referring to The Pillar’s practices.
Catholic liberals are also criticizing The Pillar’s report for attempting to conflate homosexuality and pedophilia. The use of this harmful stereotype is part of an ongoing effort by Catholic conservatives — like those behind the publication — to blame the church’s sexual abuse scandal on gay men within the priesthood.
While the church isn’t currently investigating the claims, Grindr has initiated an inquiry into how its data was obtained. “We’re hyper-aware of the risks of our users,” Grindr CEO Jeff Bonforte told LGBTQ Nation. “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.”
In a blog post titled “In Response To A Small Blog’s Homophobic Witch Hunt To Out A Gay Priest,” the hookup app outlined the possible methods in which The Pillar may have obtained the anonymous data, none of which involve a breach of Grindr itself.