Custodians Of The Abyss
A Catholic priest friend sent this to me:
I’m going to guess that other people have already sent this to you, but the General Secretary of the USCCB resigned today in disgrace, over allegations of sexual misconduct, “not with a minor.” This guy was on Grindr, going to gay bars, and bringing rent boys to pieds-a-terre, in multiple locations, and even whilst traveling on USCCB business. And this has demonstrably been going on for years.
This priest has been a high official of the USCCB since 2016. And the evidence says that he has been engaging in this behavior since almost the beginning. Which almost certainly means it was going on before he went there.
Rod, this is HUGE. In articles he is described as being “responsible for sex abuse cases“ and being a sort of administrator. But he was the equivalent of the CEO of the United States’ bishops’ official organization. In some respects he had more power than many bishops.
Furthermore, priest employees of the USCCB are supposedly subject to very intense vetting. I know of this both first and secondhand. Mostly what the Conference is looking for is what has been termed “French-cuffed moderates.” These are priests who have learned to be smooth, work the system, never say anything that will create controversy, etc. But they also supposedly look into a priest’s background to make sure that he is “suitable” and won’t turn into a source of scandal. Obviously that sort of vetting failed in this instance.
Or perhaps “failure“ is not the correct term. Given that this priest had been engaged in this sort of behavior for so long and so comprehensively (even whilst traveling on USCCB business, for God’s sake!) there’s no way that some of his confreres and even some bishops didn’t know about this. This guy was groomed and prepared and protected to get to his position. Make no mistake. If the church is fortunate, he or someone who know will spill the beans, and other shoes will drop. God send that that will happen!
The story was broken by The Pillar, the independent Catholic news organization helmed by J.D. Flynn (and to which I strongly urge you to subscribe). Burrill resigned in advance of the report, after the reporters contacted the USCCB to let them know what it was about to reveal, and to ask for a response. The Pillar writes:
[Monsignor Jeffrey] Burrill was elected general secretary of the U.S. bishops’ conference in November 2020. In that role, Burrill was effectively the highest-ranking American cleric who is not a bishop.
A priest of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, he began to work at the bishops’ conference as associate general secretary in February 2016. In that capacity, the priest was charged with helping to coordinate the U.S. bishops’ response to the Church’s 2018 sexual abuse and coercion scandals.
But an analysis of app data signals correlated to Burrill’s mobile device shows the priest also visited gay bars and private residences while using a location-based hookup app in numerous cities from 2018 to 2020, even while traveling on assignment for the U.S. bishops’ conference.
According to commercially available records of app signal data obtained by The Pillar, a mobile device correlated to Burrill emitted app data signals from the location-based hookup app Grindr on a near-daily basis during parts of 2018, 2019, and 2020 — at both his USCCB office and his USCCB-owned residence, as well as during USCCB meetings and events in other cities.
In 2018, the priest was a member of the USCCB’s executive staff and charged with oversight of the conference’s pastoral departments. He and several senior USCCB officials met with Pope Francis Oct. 8, 2018, to discuss how the conference was responding to ecclesiastical scandals related to sexual misconduct, duplicity, and clerical cover-ups.
Burrill, then second-in-command at the conference, is widely reported to have played a central role in coordinating conference and diocesan responses to the scandals, and coordinating between the conference and the Vatican.
Data app signals suggest he was at the same time engaged in serial and illicit sexual activity.
This is staggering news. It really is. Almost twenty years after the scandal broke nationwide out of Boston, and after years of Catholic bishops assuring the faithful that the scandal was behind them, a gay pick-up artist was in place as the top non-episcopal USCCB official, and even coordinating efforts to respond to the scandal.
What are Catholics supposed to think? Back in 2002, I got into an argument with a bishop about my writing on the scandal, which he wanted me to stop doing. I finally told him that as a Catholic, one of the reasons I did this writing and reporting was because I did not trust the bishops to clean up the mess. He said to me, “If you don’t trust the bishops, why are you still a Catholic?” Fortunately, I knew that my Catholicism did not require me to believe that particular bishops are moral or competent; I only had to believe that they were validly ordained. But that bishop’s response was truer than I realized at the time. Once I came to believe that the entire clerical institution was honeycombed with sexually active gay men who had no intention of obeying their vows, and by bishops and church officials (straight or gay) who had no intention of stopping them, I began to question the entire Catholic model.
One day I realized that if one of my sons, small children at the time, told me that he felt a calling to the Catholic priesthood, I would throw myself in front of him to prevent him from entering into that pit of vipers. That was a shock. I knew then that my faith was in trouble. And so it proved to be.
I know this comment is going to draw the Catholic usual suspects making intellectual arguments for why I’m wrong. Fine, have at it. I have heard them all before. They may be correct, but I experience them primarily as a coping mechanism for people who are extremely angry — and justifiably so! — over the fact that so many priests and bishops see the Church as an opportunity for them to have secret gay lives built on defrauding the laity of their trust and their money. I know this because I applied the same coping mechanism myself, until its circuits fried from intense use. What are people supposed to think when this kind of thing keeps happening — that is, when sexually active gay men are groomed to take these high positions in the Church? What are people supposed to think when things like this happen, at the hands of the same bishop?:
How blind do you have to be to think that the fix isn’t in? Do you remember who was put in charge of the USCCB’s initial 2002 response to the Catholic sex abuse scandal? Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Here is the transcript of a May 2002 interview McCarrick gave to the USA Today editorial board in advance of the bishops’ annual meeting, the first one since the scandal broke. Excerpts:
Q: We’re coming off a bad week of headlines: the ongoing Boston trial, the shooting of an accused molester in Baltimore, the suicide of another priest. What assurances can you give that the problems will be dealt with effectively at June’s meeting of the USA’s nearly 300 bishops?
A: If I were 300 people, I could give you that assurance. But I’m only one. I can give you the assurance that this one is convinced that we cannot leave Dallas unless we say to the American people, “This is over.” That we know exactly, and you know exactly, what is going to happen in every case. I think we have to do that or we’re going to Dallas for nothing. How do you prepare for Dallas? First of all, you pray a lot. Secondly, you listen to as many people as you can. Thirdly, you get ready to have something that can be accepted by the bishops, and it’s over. If a month after Dallas, some case comes up, we know how to handle it. It’s right there, everybody knows what we’re going to do, one-two-three-four, and it’s done.
He was a predator, and knew he was a predator. Evil man, that one. More:
Q: Some of your brother bishops and cardinals say they don’t think homosexuals can be trusted in the priesthood. Others say you can’t treat an entire class of people as if they’re incapable of following the church’s teachings. What is your view?
A: You want someone who can live a chaste life; that is key for me. If somebody who would like to go into the seminary says, “All my life, I’ve tried to be chaste, I’m a heterosexual, and I have tried to be celibate, and I have proven that I can be,” I think you say “Fine.” If someone says to you, “All my life I’ve tried to be chaste, I have a homosexual orientation, but I’ve always tried to be chaste,” I think you do that one case by case. Probably beginning in this next school year, the question of admission to seminaries will be discussed. It might be that the overwhelming weight of opinion will say that homosexuals should not be ever admitted to seminary. I’m not there yet. But if that’s what they tell me to do, then that’s what we’ll do. Certainly, I’m there if we say anyone who has been active in a gay life should not be admitted.
Q: But virginity has never been a requirement for the priesthood. Weren’t several saints once married?
A: That’s right, not only married, but married non-virgins.
Q: So are they considering establishing that as a criteria, both for people who are homosexual or heterosexual?
A: This is a question I can’t answer at this time, because I don’t know that. However, I know that in some dioceses in the country, they are very, very strict. The bishop would not admit someone who had been involved in either a heterosexual or homosexual relationship. Now I think, that probably would not be — that certainly is not the universal standard. It would seem to me, that if someone has proven that they can live a chaste life over a long period of time, you give that person a chance. But you’d want to look at it case by case. Because you wouldn’t want to fill a seminary with people who’ve had all kinds of sexual experiences in the past, and unless you were very, very sure that they could be chaste.
This was a lie for the press to consume, and to distract the Catholic faithful. We have learned in recent years that the Vatican knew about McCarrick’s molestation of seminarians even before 2002. Nobody in authority cared!
Nineteen years since McCarrick made these statements, we now find out that the top administrator at the USCCB is a gay sex freak priest who regularly used hook-up apps to arrange sex for himself. You think this comes as a total shock to the bishops?
The Pillar writes:
Within that discussion has been fierce disagreement about the extent to which sexually active priests and bishops in positions of authority have enabled, shielded or protected the activity of other sexually active clerics, including those whose conduct is abusive or coercive.
Psychotherapist Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk and advocate for the victims of clerical sexual abuse, wrote to San Diego’s Bishop Robert McElroy in 2016, warning him about networks of protection and tolerance among sexually active clerics, especially those in positions of authority and influence.
“Sooner or later it will become broadly obvious that there is a systemic connection between the sexual activity by, among and between clerics in positions of authority and control, and the abuse of children,” Sipe wrote to McElroy.
“When men in authority—cardinals, bishops, rectors, abbots, confessors, professors—are having or have had an unacknowledged-secret-active-sex- life under the guise of celibacy an atmosphere of tolerance of behaviors within the system is made operative.”
Sipe’s letter also included a warning about McCarrick, which went seemingly unheeded.
Sipe, who is now dead, told me in an interview back in 2002 that gay men should not be admitted to seminary, for their own protection. Sipe was an old church liberal. I don’t know what his views were on the suitability of gay men for ordination in theory. His argument was that they were in danger of sexual predation if they entered the seminary. Why? Because, said Sipe, the Catholic seminaries (at the time) were often hothouses of gay sex, and were run by priests who kept them that way on purpose. Sipe told me that a young man with same-sex desires would be constantly hit on in seminary. If he succumbed even once, he would have compromised himself within the lavender mafia, and even if he never fell again, he would be known throughout the national network as tamed. This also explains, said Sipe, why so many gay priests who did not molest children or minors didn’t report it: because they knew that because they were sexually active gay men, and known to be so, they were vulnerable to blackmail by sexual abusers.
And so, in the Year of Our Lord 2021, nineteen years after Boston, and three years after the Church moved against Theodore McCarrick, it fell to faithful Catholic journalists to reveal that the top administrative official at the USCCB, the man in charge of leading the US bishops’ response to sex abuse, is in fact a sexually compulsive closet case.
Shocking, but at this point, not surprising. How are people supposed to trust this organization? I don’t know.
I read The Pillar‘s report on the same day that I read this deep reflection by Catholic theologian Larry Chapp on the Pope’s recent motu proprioall but banning the Traditional Latin Mass. Chapp says that this is a much deeper controversy than whether or not the Latin mass is worthy. Chapp says he thinks the Pope’s act was wrong, but … well, read on:
What is lacking is a piercing pastoral analysis of what has brought us to this point in the first place. Why is it that so many Catholics of deep faith have grown weary of the “business as usual” Catholicism of our parishes and have felt the need to flee to an older iteration of the faith, in both liturgy and in theology, and who do so, not out of nostalgia for a past they never knew, but because they have found something there that rips open their souls with the passion of a lover? We can prattle-on with spittle flecked outrage about the audacity of those who dare reject Vatican II or who dare criticize the Novus Ordo, but it will come to nothing unless we own up to the fact that the Church has failed to recognize that the anomic and nihilistic cosmos of post-modernity has laid waste to all of our standard structures of meaning, all of the traditions that embodied and made “real” that meaning, and all of the moral and spiritual weight of everything that came before five minutes ago. The Church has failed to even notice and, therefore, to acknowledge, that modern Catholics in the West are drowning with a slow gurgling death in the chaotic waters of modernity’s hegemonic enchantments. That we live in a collective of concupiscence that enslaves us to the morbid regime of death and the allure of immortality through pleasure. The Church has failed to recognize that all “ultimates” have been killed as effective realities by the Mammon and Moloch of modernity and have been replaced with an endless panoply of penultimate counterfeits. The Church has failed to recognize the “abyss” that Ratzinger outlines which has now opened up below us and into which we all feel inexorably drawn as we flail our arms about desperately trying to grasp hold of something (anything!) solid.
The abyss of the “unreality of God” has seized our culture and also our Church causing millions of Catholics to walk away from its insouciant drivel and its pretentious posturing as just so many empty lies designed to shore-up the last pathetic vestiges of its Constantinian trappings which have all been (surely now clearly!) exposed. We wait in vain for a clarion call from the Church for a revolution of the soul, for a great night of collective repentance, for a great divestment of privilege, for a radical living of the Sermon on the Mount, or for the lifeboats to be dispatched forthwith to collect those adrift and drowning in the abyss. There is none of that. Instead, we get a motu proprio that simply scolds those who have apparently grabbed for the wrong lifeboat and which says “silence!” to the cri de coeur coming from its desperate sheep.
Ratzinger’s “abyss” (as I am calling it) is the deep existential reality of our time and the strength of its rip tide requires an equally strong response from the Church. A parish priest who is a dear and close friend of mine said to me once: “the crisis we face is the crisis of a laity and of a Church that does not even seem to know which questions to ask and, therefore, which answers to offer.” Ours is a Church that has failed to ask the right questions and has therefore failed to flip the script of our culture’s lies and deceptions. We asked for bread. We got stones. And thus did some in the sheepfold seek bread elsewhere in the alternative Catholic communities made possible by Summorum Pontificum. And if some have fled to such havens with a goodly amount of undifferentiated bitterness it should be understood not as the bitterness of hatred, but rather as the bitterness of the desperate.
What all of this points to is that the debates and controversies that we see now all around us are not going to go away until we start taking seriously the deep spiritual crisis that is at the core of every single one of them. And we are not going to get anywhere so long as we persist in seeking bureaucratic or “structural” solutions to what are at root deeply spiritual problems. You can legislate away the widespread use of the Tridentine liturgy, but you cannot legislate away the conditions of possibility that led to its rise in the first place. You cannot legislate away the boring and banal mediocrity of so many suburban Catholic parishes. I am a cradle Catholic, a former seminarian and a trained theologian. And I attend an Ordinariate parish rather than my territorial parish. And no motu proprio can legislate away the reasons why I do. The Church can remove the Ordinariates tomorrow and ban every Latin Mass and every altar rail and every veil and every extruded tongue at communion time, and mandate that all Catholics must worship with the “Gather” hymnal in heart shaped churches, with bare concrete walls, holding sweaty hands, while watching maladroit octogenarians do liturgical dance in the sanctuary with streamers, sparklers, and sock puppets, and it will do nothing to ameliorate the spiritual dread that gnaws at us all. All that such legislating will ever do is to deepen the abyss below us as it hollows out the heavens above us.
You should read the whole thing. Chapp is not a Traditionalist, and goes on to say that this crisis is not going to be solved by mechanical means. It is not the case that simply restoring the Traditional mass is going to act like a magical incantation that makes the crisis go away. Believing that everything went wrong at Vatican II, and if we can just find a way to ignore that Council, all will be well — Chapp says that is simply a coping mechanism that allows Trads to avoid the real crisis.
I think he’s right, and even more, Chapp’s analysis applies to all Christians. As much as I love and affirm Orthodoxy, I am confident that too many Orthodox priests and laity are unwilling to ask the right questions, and live the right answers. Same with Protestants.
What does this have to do with the gay sex maniac who just resigned as USCCB General Secretary? The answer is in the opening to Chapp’s reflection:
Joseph Ratzinger, in his marvelous book, “Introduction to Christianity,” speaks about Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and her temptations to atheism and despair. And all of these temptations came despite the fact that her entire life was framed by, and formed within, the matrix of a nurturing Catholic culture and family. Ratzinger states, in a quote worthy of full citation, the following:
“In other words, in what is apparently a flawlessly interlocking world someone here suddenly catches a glimpse of the abyss lurking – – even for her – – under the firm structure of the supporting conventions. In a situation like this, what is in question is not the sort of thing that one perhaps quarrels about otherwise – – the dogma of the Assumption, the proper use of confession – – all this becomes secondary. What is at stake is the whole structure; it is a question of all or nothing. That is the only remaining alternative; nowhere does there seem anything to cling to in this sudden fall. Wherever one looks, only the bottomless abyss of nothingness can be seen.”
Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill and the clerical bureaucrats who groomed him for that position, and saw to it that this sexually corrupt priest was in place to oversee the response to sexual corruption among the priesthood, are Custodians Of The Abyss. They are forcing Catholics to look into the abyss beneath the whole structure. Benedict XVI is right: It is a question of all or nothing. When I looked into that abyss, the abyss looked back into me, and I lost my Catholic faith. By the grace of God, I found Orthodoxy — but as I’ve said a million times, it was as a permanently wounded Christian that I climbed aboard the rescue boat of Orthodoxy. No church is without sinners in its clergy and hierarchy, that’s for sure. What we have to hope and pray for is that at least holiness has a chance to outweigh sinfulness, to the extent that when one looks into the abyss, one can affirm the structure all the same.
Popes, patriarchs, bishops, priests, pastors — Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, whatever — shouldn’t make it harder for the faithful to hold on, is all I’m saying. And the Catholic Church should once and for all look hard at the problem of sexually active gay men in the priesthood. The media won’t do it (except for tough, faithfully Catholic journalists like J.D. Flynn and Ed Condon at The Pillar) — but until and unless it is done, nothing will change.
There are many Catholics with stronger faith than I had when I stared into the Abyss, and had my faith fried right out of me. They might make it. Many others don’t have faith as strong as I did, and they have averted their eyes from the Abyss. I used to view those people with disdain, but not anymore. The Abyss is terrifying! But if it keeps presenting itself, it will not be possible to avert one’s gaze. Then what? If the Church — Catholic, and other churches — can’t offer a powerful, authoritative response to rebuke the Abyss, souls will be lost. They already are being lost, for the sake of disgraced clerics like Jeffrey Burrill, Ted McCarrick, Michael Bransfield, and other sexually disordered and compromised senior clerics to continue exploiting Christ and the church to pay the bills while satisfying their own desires for pleasure and comfort.
UPDATE: Reader Jonah R.:
Just saw this from (Father) James Martin on Twitter: “This is a disgrace: spying on bishops and priests to see if they’re being chaste and celibate. Why not spy on lay teachers at Catholic schools? Why not spy on all parishioners?”
He thinks there’s only one answer to this question, his answer, but it’s not the one I would give, which is: Because the bishops take heavier vows than any of us in the laity do, and if their own hierarchy isn’t going to hold them accountable, we the church will. I’ve been reminded by these hypocritical a-holes all my life that the church is not a democracy. Well, that also holds for Monsignor Burrill too, and we can’t be aghast that he doesn’t enjoy some sort of Catholic equivalent of constitutional search and privacy protections.
And how does Martin, as a priest, have time to spend all day on Twitter, like some sort of slacker millennial? Does no one need extreme unction? Are there no soup kitchens that could use another set of hands? The guy has three Master’s degrees, writes books and edits a magazine, sure loves mugging for the TV cameras, is involved in a theater group, acted in a Martin Scorcese movie, and has plenty of time to collect honorary doctorates and give commencement addresses. Between my full-time job and the unglamorous work I struggle to find time to do through my local church, I have only a few small windows of opportunity each day to read the Internet and comment on one blog, this one. How does a man who took vows of poverty and service have more time to fart around on the Internet than I do?
More importantly, how did Monsignor Burrill have time for an extracurricular sex life? He clearly didn’t have enough duties in the service of the church to occupy his time.
I’m so lapsed at this point that even though I jokingly call myself an “Orthodox Cafeterian,” I’m achingly close to done. I live near enough to Washington DC that when I look at my two local priests, all I see are hypocrites who may have been part of McCarrick’s shag gang. The priest who ran the private Catholic school in my hometown, and who took a little too much visible pleasure in debasing boys for minor infractions in the 1970s, we learned after his death was a pedophile. When the bishop shows up at midnight mass on Christmas Eve where my family lives and–true story–the only citation in his homily is Bette fricking Midler…come on.
I don’t expect my priests and bishops to be perfect. I expect many of them to slip up from time to time, especially with regard to sex. They’re human. But when it’s a lifestyle, and when it’s institutionalized…no. To hell with these sociopaths.
UPDATE.2: There’s a fierce debate going on about whether or not it was ethical for The Pillar to use this commercially available data to out this priest. There’s no question that they obtained the data legally. The question is: is this ethical? Or did The Pillar cross a line?
It’s important to point out that we have no evidence that this priest, Msgr Burrill, actually broke his vow of chastity. All we know is that there is a mountain of data indicating that he was using apps designed to make anonymous gay sex hook-ups possible, and going to locations using that app. If he were an ordinary parish priest, as awful as that is, it would be hard to justify making that public, in my view. But Msgr Burrill is not only the most senior non-bishop priest in the country, he is also the top official in charge of coordinating the sex abuse response. And the data indicate that he was probably completely compromised.
My guess is that this is the context that The Pillar used to justify its story. I think it is justified, in fact. But let’s understand that we are going to start seeing a lot more of this kind of thing, and not just in Church reporting. Bottom line: if you have a smartphone, your privacy is seriously compromised. You’d better get rid of your smartphone if you are up to no good. Or better yet, repent.
UPDATE.3: A Catholic reader writes:
In the absence of law, you find vigilantism setting in. If you want to deter it, then act against these networks, otherwise in due time vigilantes will. This is governance 101 stuff.
I find it to be no bad thing that priests who have been using Grindr for gay assignations now have to worry that they might be caught out.