Catholic church ‘on edge’ as Grindr data threatens to out Vatican officials

A Catholic news site has claimed that there are “at least 16” Grindr users within the Vatican, sparking fears that high-ranking gay priests could soon be outed.

Last month The Pillar, a blog run by former Catholic News Service reporters JD Flynn and Ed Condon, outed a top administrator for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

The publication claimed that it had tracked Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill to gay bars and a bathhouse, and discovered that he was using the queer hook-up app Grindr, using data “correlated to Burrill’s mobile device”.

Burrill resigned on 20 July, getting ahead of “impending media reports alleging possible improper behaviour”.

But soon after it outed Burrill, The Pillar published two further reports.

The first targeted the Archdiocese of Newark in New Jersey, and the publication said it used “commercially available app signal data [which] showed patterns of location-based hook-up app use at more than 10 archdiocesan rectories and clerical residences during 2018, 2019, and 2020”.

The second took aim at the Vatican itself.

According to The Pillar, the “legally obtained” data showed that “at least 16 mobile devices emitted signals from the hookup app Grindr on at least four days between March to October 2018 within the non-public areas of the Vatican City State, while 16 other devices showed use of other location-based hookup or dating apps, both heterosexual and homosexual, on four or more days in the same time period”.

It is unclear how, or if, the Catholic Church will respond to the reports of multiple Grindr users within the notoriously anti-LGBT+ upper echelons of the Vatican.

According to the New York Times, which described the church as “on edge” following the reports, Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni said that Vatican officials had held a meeting with “representatives from The Pillar” on 17 July, but refused to give further details.

Grindr has been fined millions for illegally selling user data

Responding to the reports from The Pillar, Grindr said in a statement last month that it had launched “an investigation into the incident”, but added that the bloggers had given “vague and incomplete descriptions” of how they obtained the data.

The dating app added: “What is clear is that this work involved much more than just a small blog… We do not believe Grindr to be the source of the data, nor do we think the evidence we have seen suggests this is the case. Grindr does not sell data about its users to anyone.”

However, earlier this year, Grindr was fined £8.5 million by the Norwegian Data Protection Authority for selling user data, including tracking codes and precise locations, in a serious violation of European privacy law.

The authority found that the app had shared users’ private details with at least five advertisers, including Twitter’s own advertising platform, which may in turn share data with more than 100 partners.

In its statement responding to The Pillar reports, which include data reportedly collected in 2018, Grindr said that in 2020 it “took the aggressive step to stop sharing age, gender, or location information with any of our ad partners”.

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