Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, a top official at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, stepped down this week over alleged misconduct—but the manner of his downfall has split Catholics. Burrill resigned after the Pillar, a Catholic news site, reported that app data showed Burrill had "visited gay bars and private residences" while using the hookup app Grindr, "even while traveling on assignment for the US bishops’ conference." Catholic commentators said Burrill, a priest who had taken a vow of celibacy, had to step down, but many were uncomfortable with the use of digital surveillance to expose him, the Washington Post reports. The Pillar said it had obtained the cellphone data from a "data vendor" and it was authenticated by "an independent data consulting firm."
Former Catholic Media Association president Tony Spence tells the Post that the use of anonymously gathered data to expose Burrilll is a "new and frightening development" and a sign of a "new McCarthyism in the church." The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit who has pushed for greater LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church, criticized the Pillar for using "immoral means to spy on priests," the AP reports. "What comes next? Spying on Catholic school teachers? Spying on parishioners? " he asked. "And where does it end—when we have a church where no one has ever sinned. The church will be empty." Burrill had been the conference's top administrative official since last fall. Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, president of the USCCB, said earlier this week that Burrill had resigned "effective immediately" and the conference " will pursue all appropriate steps" to investigate misconduct allegations. (Read more Catholic Church stories.)