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Priest resigns from top post amid Catholic newsletter linking his cellphone data to Grindr

A Catholic newsletter reported Tuesday that it obtained cellphone data allegedly showing a top American Catholic priest used Grindr and frequented gay bars, and he has resigned from a national post amid the release of the report.

The Pillar said it reviewed material gleaned from the mobile device of Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the newsletter concluded it showed he used the gay dating app and went to gay bars between 2018 and 2020.

The Pillar said it obtained data from a vendor and claimed it matched the numerical identifier of Burrill’s mobile device, which the newsletter alleges had been consistently used from his office and home.

While app signal data does not identify user names, it does correlate to unique numerical identifiers of a mobile device, then that data is aggregated and sold, according to The Pillar.

Representatives for Grindr did not return several telephone and email messages seeking the company’s comment on Wednesday. In a statement to The Washington Post on Tuesday, a Grindr spokeswoman described the report in The Pillar as “homophobic” and disputed the newsletter’s description of how it obtained the data.

“The alleged activities listed in that unattributed blog post are infeasible from a technical standpoint and incredibly unlikely to occur,” the statement said. “There is absolutely no evidence supporting the allegations of improper data collection or usage related to the Grindr app as purported.”

Ashkan Soltani, former chief technologist for the Federal Trade Commission, said he hopes Burrill’s case — even though there is no evidence his data was obtained from Grindr — will help consumers understand how their private data is so easily accessible in this vast tech “ecosystem” that has virtually no regulation.

“It’s a shadow industry that’s existed for quite some time,” Soltani told NBC News on Wednesday. “It’s a multibillion-dollar industry that feeds off this data and profits from the sale of it.”

Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy, and church teachings oppose any sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage.

Burrill “has resigned, effective immediately” after officials “became aware of impending media reports alleging possible improper behavior” by the priest, the conference said in a statement Tuesday.

The allegations against Burrill only involved adults, but he wanted “to avoid becoming a distraction to the operations and ongoing work” of the conference, leading to his resignation, the statement continued.

The group said it “takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and will pursue all appropriate steps to address them.”

Burrill, who makes his home in La Crosse, Wisconsin, could not be immediately reached for comment. His publicly listed cellphone number, landline and email address were all not working on Wednesday.