Grindr Priests Of Newark
The Archdiocese of Newark says it will investigate the possibility of clerical sexual misconduct, in response to questions from The Pillar about the use of location-based hookup apps at several parish rectories in the archdiocese.
While a spokesperson told The Pillar it is “not acceptable” to use apps “inconsistent with Church teaching,” the archdiocese has also expressed concerns about the “morally suspect” collection of app signal data.
The Pillar contacted the Newark archdiocese after a review of commercially available app signal data showed patterns of location-based hookup app use at more than 10 archdiocesan rectories and clerical residences during 2018, 2019, and 2020. There are 212 parishes in the Newark archdiocese.
The analysis of commercially available signal data obtained by The Pillar, which was legally obtained and whose authenticity The Pillar confirmed, shows evidence that both homosexual and heterosexual hookup apps were used in parish rectories or other clerical residences with a frequency suggesting, in several cases, residence in those locations.
While it does not identify the names, addresses, or telephone numbers of particular users, data collected, commodified, and sold by hookup apps with the consent of users can include the usage location of particular devices at particular times.
Without compelling public interest regarding individual priests serving in archdiocesan ministries, The Pillar did not undertake to de-anonymize data about parish rectory app usage.
According to the story, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark refused a request for a face to face, off the record meeting with The Pillar to discuss this information.
What is Grindr? According to the website VICE’s guide to using the gay hook-up app, it’s not like a gay version of the hetero dating app Tinder:
If you picture Tinder’s interface like a filtration system, imagine Grindr like wading through a swamp with no shoes on. Anyone can send you unsolicited nudes as their icebreaker. ANYONE. There’s no degree of separation for a vetting process, it’s just a bunch of thirsty dudes in geographic cesspools hunting one another.
Because it’s not like Tinder, you shouldn’t be modeling your Grindr profile like one. Tinder is where you can post vacation photos with maybe a family member or best girlfriend to make it look like you’re a fun and functional human being. Don’t do that on Grindr. Grindr is for hookups, without having to go through the boring formalities like “What’s your name?” or “What do you do when the sun is up?”
So yeah, no innocent use of Grindr.
A lot of people are still piling on The Pillar for its reporting using data. Andrew Sullivan is upset about it:
Burrill does indeed appear to have broken his vows systematically. His only defense is a plea for mercy. But the high-tech outing is still a troubling sign that the church’s attempt to both retain gay priests and not police their sex lives is unraveling. (My deep dive on gay priests is here.) The well-financed Catholic right is sending a clear signal: that if the hierarchy does not purge the church of sexually active gay priests, they will. Their tactics will not be conventional; and their violation of basic privacy will now be routine. The pressure brought to bear on perhaps half the Catholic priesthood just intensified some more.
Uglier are The Pillar’s insinuations about a typical user of Grindr: “in a 2,800-word article, over 1,300 words suggest and explore a possible connection to the sexual abuse of minors, despite admitting at the outset that ‘there is no evidence to suggest that Burrill was in contact with minors through his use of Grindr.’ The article mentions multiple examples of criminal, abusive behavior by priests alongside Monsignor Burrill’s story, as if they are related.” Rod Dreher immediately equates Burrill’s consensual adult sex with abuse: “It’s important to know if [Burrill] used his position at the NAC to groom others, or in some other way participated in, or turned a blind eye to, predation.” He calls Burrill “a gay sex freak priest” and “a sexually compulsive closet case.”
I don’t apologize for that. If Burrill had sex on these encounters tracked by Grindr, then he is exactly what I called him. It is one thing for a priest to slip up a couple of times. Burrill’s data suggest that the closeted priest used Grindr compulsively. A priest who has vowed celibacy but who regularly uses an app to facilitate sex with men is a gay sex freak priest (and a straight one who did the same with women would also be a sex freak). If you can’t live by your vows, then leave the priesthood. Stop it with your double life. Stop abusing the trust of the faithful, and living off their donations even though you are a fraud. Stop convincing people to trust you and look at you as a spiritual father, and a reliable caretaker of the institution, when in fact you just want to get your rocks off in gay bathhouses.
I reject Andrew’s claim that I “equate Burrill’s consensual gay sex with abuse.” Read what I actually wrote. Here it is:
If Burrill is guilty of what the data indicate, then it’s important to know if he used his position at the NAC to groom others, or in some other way participated in, or turned a blind eye to, predation. It cannot be said enough: these things happen in networks! The late Richard Sipe, a sociologist who knew more about the sociology of sexually active priests that anybody, repeatedly said that the culture of sexual abuse depends on a broader culture of sexual misconduct, which is itself sustained by networks of sympathetic corrupt priests.
That’s not “equating”; that is pointing out that there is a valid and well-established association between a culture of sexual disorder and vice that does not involve abusing minors, and the tolerance of the abuse of minors. Back in 2002, when I was writing a lot about the Catholic scandal, I read testimony in one court case in which one priest was sexually abusing a minor in a bed, and another priest walked in and out of the bedroom while it was happening, and neither moved to stop it nor report it. Why not? Because that priest was gay and involved in sex with grown-ups at that beach house too. To pretend that there is no possible connection here is completely untenable.
A Catholic reader and friend whose job involves tech security writes:
As someone with a healthy awareness of surveillance capabilities and their capacity for abuse I would obviously prefer that cyber vigilantism not occur. That said, it is abundantly clear in 2021 that the Catholic hierarchy can’t or won’t take meaningful action because of the extent of the corruption, the pervasive nature of either corrupted or compromised figures at the highest levels, and the unwillingness to absorb the pain that meaningful action would require. In the absence of another Julius II to crush these modern Borgias, that leaves the faithful with either accepting the corruption of their faith, supporting select actors that they have vetted, or taking vigilante actions.
Any meaningful action against the rot is going to uncover a massive amount of corrupt and overlapping networks of both homosexuals and pedophiles as well as their enablers and enough conspiracy and cover-up to satisfy any QAnon adherent. No doubt doing so would involve no small amount of damage to the credibility and integrity of the Church, though that would have to start by acknowledging homosexual networks and undercurrents that are currently considered unspeakable due to modern political correctness.
So when a modern Julius II arises to crush this group I am definitely behind him, but until then why should I get exercised about vigilantism? Again, vigilantism is something that occurs when there is a loss of legitimacy and credibility within formal structures that leaves angry and desperate people inclined towards alternative measures. It is a very ugly and very punitive and brutal thing, which is why you associate such actions with things like posses, lynch mobs, and communal violence seen in the uglier parts of the Third World. But if you don’t want to see it happen then you develop actual and formal structures rather than polite window dressing to act on it.
For whatever it is worth, I would probably favor a temporary homosexual ban for at least a decade as the networks were being uprooted. For anyone who is seeking a celibate life while experiencing homosexual inclinations the current priesthood would seem to be the least likely place for them to avoid temptation and stay faithful. Every single revelation indicates that there are pervasive and entrenched grooming rings operating throughout seminaries irrespective of whether or not they are pedophiles with the net result being to produce priests who treat their own vows loosely. You don’t have to be a genius to understand the kind of culture that attitude creates or the implications of it.
You can listen to the latest Pillar podcast in which J.D. Flynn and Ed Condon talk about their reporting, and defend it. J.D. quotes a priest commenting on the abuse scandals: “Deception breeds deception breeds deception.” Ed explains that the General Secretary of the USCCB — until this week, Monsignor Burrill — is the figure who actually runs the organization. Thanks to The Pillar’s reporting, Catholics now know that the priest who ran the entire USCCB was a frequent user of an app whose purpose is to arrange sexual hook-ups. As Ed Condon points out on the podcast, Burrill was intimately involved in shaping the USCCB’s response to the McCarrick scandal. I would point out that back in 2002, when I first started making calls about McCarrick, based on information I had received from a priest, a prominent closeted gay lawyer phoned my editor to say that he was calling on behalf of his friend Cardinal Ted McCarrick. He said that the cardinal knows that Rod Dreher is working on a story that would report “something true but not criminal” about the cardinal, and that the cardinal requests that the story be spiked. The story was not spiked, but I never could report it anyway, because nobody who knew about McCarrick would go on the record or provide documents. I bring that up here because it was interesting to me that there are people — this gay lawyer is one of them — who believe that a priest having sex with adults is not news. In McCarrick’s case, this was possibly criminal, in fact, as he was forcing himself on seminarians. Anyway, this mentality that it is not newsworthy, in an era of clerical sex scandal, that a cardinal was having sex with men is not newsworthy is just blind.
Moreover, as I have mentioned here before, I was aware back in 2012 that a freelance reporter was working on a long piece for The New York Times Magazine about McCarrick. He called me because someone he ran across in his reporting told him that Dreher had worked on the story, and might have information for him. The man called me about it, but it turned out that not only did he know everything I did, he knew far more, and even had court documents he had unearthed, and at least one on-the-record interview with a McCarrick victim. I congratulated him on nailing the story, and told him I was eager to read it. He said it would be out in a few weeks.
A couple of months went by, and no story. I phoned him back to find out what the deal was. He said he had no idea. The editor who commissioned the story had left to take another job, he said, but the new editor kept throwing roadblocks in front of the story. The journalist had no idea why. I asked him, “Is your new editor a gay man?” Yes, said the writer; his gay wedding announcement was in the Times last week. But why is that important? he asked.
I told him that my guess is that the gay editor believed that sex between adult men was their own business — even if there was evidence that the sex was coerced. Six years later, a different Times reporter and editor believed otherwise, and McCarrick was exposed. But as far as I know, the Times had this story in 2012, but a gay editor buried it.
On the podcast, Ed Condon explains that the reason they chose to report this is that the evidence of frequent use of Grindr by Msgr Burrill was overwhelming. Plus, given the responsibility Burrill had over the USCCB, particularly over the sex abuse scandal response, the men decided this was a story in the public interest. The USCCB’s response to the scandal also involves developing policies over the use of sex apps. Does the fact that the head of the USCCB uses these apps matter?
The men say on the podcast that there’s a third factor behind their decision to report that story: that they found seven priests in the past few years have been arrested for having sexual contact with minors through these apps. Andrew Sullivan calls it an “ugly insinuation” that Burrill might have been involved sexually with minors through Grindr. That is not at all what they reported! WGBH, the public television station in Boston, reported earlier this month that Grindr has been connected to the sexual abuse of minors.
Something else from the podcast: J.D. Flynn talks about how The New York Times used commercially available data to track the moves on January 6 of people accused of having invaded the Capitol. Why is that ethically okay, but what The Pillar did not? Does it depend on whose ox is being gored?
One more thing: Flynn and Condon say that they went to Burrill directly asking him about the data before publishing, asking him if it was accurate. They never heard from him. Had he said it wasn’t true, and shown them it was wrong, they wouldn’t have had a story. Same from the USCCB. They did go to the Church ahead of time, and even to Burrill — but there was no denial.
Andrew writes: “The well-financed Catholic right is sending a clear signal: that if the hierarchy does not purge the church of sexually active gay priests, they will.” Yes, that’s correct, and I think that’s overdue. These men live a religious life without integrity. Again, if you cannot or will not live a life of sexual integrity as a priest, then get out of the priesthood. Catholics have a right to expect this from their priests, especially after the devastating abuse scandals. Is the Church supposed to be holy, or not? Is it holy for priests to have sex? Yes or no. One has the impression that the Catholic hierarchy and institutional leaders really doesn’t care about sexual integrity among their priests. One had the impression that the Catholic hierarchy and institutional leaders want to give the impression that they care. But do they really? Do they really?
Andrew says the Pillar’s reporting is an expression of “the Catholic right.” It’s very strange that the Catholic left would be indifferent to Catholic priest atop the US hierarchy using Grindr. Maybe they would, I dunno. But surely at least some liberal Catholics object to this disgusting behavior?
What Flynn and Condon are doing is the hard work of cleaning up their own Church. If you listen to the podcast, you can plainly hear how much it bothers them to have had to write about this. I believe those men are doing a hell of a job — a job that lots of Catholics say that somebody should do, but don’t seem to like it when somebody actually does it. If you are not a paid subscriber to The Pillar, the guys could use your help — click here to subscribe.
UPDATE: I’ve thought about this overnight, and I want to make a few more statements in defense of The Pillar. Most of these are recapitulations of what is above, but not all.
First, I want to emphasize that Condon and Flynn went to Monsignor Burrill first to ask him if what the data showed is true. Had it not been true, Burrill had the opportunity to show that. Burrill refused to answer their inquiry. The two also went to the USCCB with it before publishing. The USCCB was apparently stalling, trying to figure out what to do about it, when Burrill’s resignation happened. The idea that they ambushed Burrill is absolutely untrue.
Second, they used a reporting technique that other journalists, including from the NYT, used: acquiring commercially available — legally available — mobile phone data, and mining it for information. If you don’t think this should be legal, well, that’s great! Let’s pass a law guarding our privacy. I would be all for that. Most people have no idea how compromised our privacy is in the digital world. Read Shoshanna Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism to learn more. But in the absence of privacy laws shielding digitally harvested data — or better yet, laws forbidding companies from gathering the data in the first place — you really can’t expect journalists not to use this information if it helps them uncover serious wrongdoing. If you didn’t object to the Times using the same kind of data to track where protesters were on January 6, then you can’t object to this in principle.
Third: however, you can object by saying that Burrill’s sex life does not constitute wrongdoing serious enough to merit violating his privacy like this. You would be wrong here. I don’t think there is a compelling reason for any of us to know if a businessman, a doctor, a lawyer, a college professor, a barista, etc., is using Grindr. I don’t think there is a compelling reason to know if most journalists are, but if I was using Grindr, then given the public position I have taken on LGBT matters, I think it would be fair game to publish my Grindr information, because it would reveal me to be a hypocrite; I would have brought the scrutiny onto myself.
I think it is 100 percent legitimate to publish the Grindr information about the CEO of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. First, he is a Catholic priest who vowed celibacy, and who presents himself to the public with the presumption that he lives a life obedient to his vows. Second, he is the highest-ranking non-bishop cleric in the US Catholic Church. He has tremendous influence on the institutional life of the US Catholic Church — including how it responds to sexual misconduct by its priests. If he is not living a life of sexual integrity, that impacts his job directly. And third, it has been well established that the abuse scandal was made possible in large part by a culture of sexual libertinism, secrecy, and cover-up within the institutional Church. If you go through the literature of the scandal — especially if you read the work of the late sociologist A.W. Richard Sipe — you will discover that the criminal sexual abuse of children and minors happened within a clerical culture that was sexually corrupt. It is reasonable to presume that most sexually active gay priests did not have sexual contact with minors. But it is also reasonable to assume that there was an immense amount of tolerance for those who did, because so many of these priests lived double lives of sexual compromise.
True story: back in 2002, I did an interview with a man who had been a priest, but who left to marry back in the late 1980s or early 1990s, I can’t remember exactly. He had been ordained for a major East Coast archdiocese. He told me that all five of the straight men in his ordination class eventually left the priesthood to marry. Living celibacy was hard, but what made it harder was the fact that so many of the gay priests in that archdiocese — which was led during those years by a sexually corrupt archbishop — openly flaunted their sex lives, knowing that the archbishop didn’t care, and that there would be no penalty for doing so. (In fact, the sexual corruption within that archdiocese was later documented publicly, and extensively.) The man told me that the sense of demoralization and defeat that he and his straight priests felt was overwhelming. They felt isolated and alone in their archdiocese, as if the licentious contact of their brother priests (the gay ones) was taunting them. Five vocations to the priesthood were lost there. This stuff matters, even if minors aren’t involved.
Last point, and I mean this emphatically. I’m angry thinking about it. Back when I was doing the kind of work Flynn and Condon are doing (2001-2005), I often heard from priests and laymen working for the Church, who told me about clerical sexual corruption and cover-up. For example, I heard from two priests who separately informed me about Cardinal McCarrick’s dirty deeds. None of these people would ever go on the record with their allegations, but all of them would say things like, “You have to do something about this!” They wanted someone else — me — to do the difficult work of exposing the evil in the Church, but did not want to risk anything personally for that to happen. Make no mistake, it would have been a big risk for them to take, as priests and/or church workers. But absent on-the-record, credible accusations, or documentation, nobody can touch the wrongdoers. Lots of Catholics want the Church cleaned up, so the bleeding will stop, but they don’t want to do a thing about it if it stands to draw criticism to themselves. Unlike so many fearful, and maybe even cowardly, Catholics, Flynn and Condon had the courage to use legally available documentation to expose serious corruption at the highest level of the American church. And now they’re getting dogpiled for it by many fellow Catholics.
It infuriates me. I know why liberal Catholics have an interest in these stories not being told, but why are conservative Catholics so angry at them? Do these people not understand that the institutional Church by and large has little interest in cleaning itself up, and rooting out sexual disorder among its clerics, and within its institutions? It’s only going to happen when the bishops and priests, who apparently don’t fear God, learn to fear a laity that has had quite enough of this filthy behavior. Straight or gay, if you can’t keep your pants up, you don’t belong in the Catholic priesthood. One could be forgiven for thinking that there is a certain kind of conservative Catholic who cares more about protecting the image of the institutional Church, and guarding his own peace of mind about the institution in which he places his faith, than about moral reckoning, repentance, and serious reform.
Catholics ought to be grateful for Catholic journalists like J.D. Flynn and Ed Condon. As someone who used to be Catholic, and who lost my Catholic faith covering the scandal, I know how much reporting this stuff must hurt them personally, as faithful sons of the Church. If you listen to their most recent podcast, you can hear in their voices how agonizing this stuff is for them. But sometimes, a person gets to the point where they are so damn sick and tired of the corruption, and the lies about the corruption, and the moral gutlessness within the institution, that he willingly takes on the spite of clerics and lay Catholics to tell the truth. That is admirable. They are doing the Catholic Church a great service. Subscribe to The Pillar.
UPDATE.2: A reader directs me to this piece by Chris Damian, a Catholic who is critical of the Pillar’s work on Burrill. I want to address a couple of Damian’s points. Excerpts:
Though the editors at The Pillar may have thought carefully about how and why to use this kind of data, it’s possible that they will be remembered in journalistic history as the individuals who opened up a new world of tabloid targeting. They didn’t create the monsters in the box, but they may be remembered as the journalists who opened the lid.
“Tabloid targeting”? That term implies that The Pillar did this for the sake of sharing titillating gossip. It did not. This involved a very senior Catholic clerical official, one with authority over policies and practices of the national church — including the response to sexual abuse and misconduct. It is a smear to accuse Flynn and Condon of “tabloid targeting” here.
Many are criticizing the piece, by asking: What was the point of it? This is the focus of Simcha Fischer, in asking about whether it was necessary to make the details of the priest’s misconduct public. There could be a number of reasons to publish a piece on clergy misconduct:
- To uncover institutional corruption and the failure to adequately respond to such misconduct.
- To protect persons who are vulnerable, and to encourage others to come forward.
- To shed light on an issue that the public is unaware of or is trying to ignore.
It appears that soon after the USCCB was made aware of the misconduct in this instance, the priest resigned (perhaps after pressure or encouragement from his employer). As Fischer puts it:
“I know very well that the Church will often not act unless it’s forced into it, and public exposure is an effective tool. Apparently, The Pillar approached the USCCB and let them know the story was in the works. The USCCB agreed to meet, got rid of the guy, and then told the Pillar, ‘You know what, we’ll talk some other time.’ The Pillar then published the story. So in effect, this is a story about someone making a report of wrongdoing, and the USCCB responding appropriately.”
We are almost twenty years away from the Geoghan trial in Boston, which kicked off the national sex abuse scandal. There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then. Catholics have learned more about their Church, and its inner workings, than they possibly could have wanted. Yet it still has not sunk in to many of them that the institutional Church cannot be trusted to police itself. If Burrill was so reckless as to use Grindr for anonymous gay hook-ups while he was the top non-episcopal Catholic official within the US Church bureaucracy, what was his clerical life like before then? How did he behave when he had the responsibility for character formation of seminarians in the North American College in Rome, where the US Church sends its most promising seminarians? It is possible that Burrill had self-control until he got to Washington, but is it likely? What does it mean for a sexually incontinent gay priest — one whose sexual desires are so reckless that they drive him to use an app to arrange anonymous hook-ups — to rise through the ranks to positions of real authority? Who facilitated his rise? What role did he play as a gatekeeper at the NAC? Twenty years ago, the Catholic writer Michael S. Rose penned a book called Goodbye, Good Men, about how gay and pro-gay gatekeepers within Catholic seminaries kept men who opposed normalizing homosexual behavior out of the priesthood. We knew this was going on at least twenty years ago! A.W. Richard Sipe, the well-known Catholic sociologist, said repeatedly that the Catholic priesthood was honeycombed with networks of gay priests, including bishops, who used their power within the institution to favor each other for appointments, and to sideline those priests and seminarians they saw as a threat.
Here’s the point: If you think that a man like Msgr Burrill rising to the very top of the USCCB is merely a story about a priest who has a moral lapse, you are deluded. It is possible that nobody else in the Church knew about Burrill’s dark secret. I have seen and read way too much over the past twenty years to believe that, though. What needs to be known now is who promoted Burrill’s rise through the ranks, and what did they know about his sexual proclivities? I hope that seminarians who were at the NAC when Burrill was an official there are reaching out to Flynn and Condon if they have relevant information. You might not be aware that there is an official Church investigation underway of allegations of gay sexual predation at the NAC. Again, you have to be willfully naive to believe that the Burrill story is contained, and that now that he’s been removed from power, there is nothing else to be learned here.
More from Damian:
Sam Sawyer, SJ argues in America that, while the priest in question here has damaged trust in the Church, this type of reporting also damages trust and communion:
[I]t is also a breach of trust in the life of the church to know that unnamed parties are approaching Catholic journalists offering to assist them in the technological surveillance of the clergy. It also weakens trust in the life of the church to learn that any and all users of smartphones have effectively already been tailed for years by the world’s most thorough private investigator, at least if someone has the funds and expertise to find an individual through data mining. It also injures trust in the life of the church to have leaders cast down—and widely vilified on social media—without knowing why or how their secret sin was targeted for revelation, how broad a net was cast or how widespread their pattern of sin was.
As I noted earlier this week, once the hunt for hypocrites has begun, no one is safe. And trust is a death-sentence. The only way to escape the hunt is to throw yourself on the fire by preemptively posting your deepest darkest secrets on social media. It’s a scary place to be in.
Wait … what?! A significant number of Catholic priests are living lives of sexual corruption, in violation of their vows and the bond they have with the laity, and Father Sawyer is blaming those who would expose them for breaching the “trust”?! You know what “weakens trust in the life of the church”? Priests who go to gay bathhouses, who seek out blow jobs from anonymous men via hook-up apps, and who otherwise betray their vows in the dark, while presenting themselves as something else in public. As to Damian’s point, we are all hypocrites to some extent, but priests, like teachers and cops, are rightly held to a higher standard because their roles — their chosen roles! — in society give them special responsibilities. If a cop is crooked, it matters to us all more than if a bread baker is crooked. If a teacher sexually exploits minors, that matters more than if a sales clerk does. And if a Catholic priest is chronically unwilling to live by his vows of celibacy, especially (given what we know about the abuse scandal) if he is participating in an underground culture of homosexual licentiousness, that matters a lot more than if a bus driver uses Grindr.
I know so many Catholic laity who have lost all trust in the clergy and in the institution, and who are hanging on by their fingertips. The bad guys here are not J.D. Flynn and Ed Condon. The bad guys are the priests and bishops and church bureaucrats who flout the vows they took, and/or who don’t think it’s such a big deal, and use the trust that laity place in them by virtue of their office as a shield to protect them from exposure.
One more from Damian:
Goldstein opines on the founding of The Pillar:
“Two men with families don’t quit their jobs to start a Substack without substantial seed money. There’s a donor behind this.”
Others might be wondering whether the donor/funder of the dataset provided a full data set, or if they may have reviewed the data and removed individuals they did not want targeted. Many want to know about the motives and ideological dispositions of the donor. Of course, it’s standard practice for journalists to keep their “sources” confidential. But one must wonder about the extent to which a donor or commercial enterprise providing data is a “source.” To the extent that the provider of the data is a “source,” journalistic ethics may require keeping their/its identity confidential. In any event, many believe that an important part of the story is where the money for it (and for The Pillar) came from. But as someone who gets his paycheck from a large corporation, I’m not sure I’m in the best position to criticize how they get paid.
I don’t know how to break it to Goldstein, but most journalism requires funding. This is not illegal or immoral. National Public Radio depends on donors. So what?
This is a classic move to discredit reporting that disturbs others. Back when the Boston Globe was breaking stories about church sex abuse — before the 2002 tsunami, I mean — a lot of conservative Catholics, including Cardinal Bernard Law, blamed the Globe for being anti-Catholic. Nobody can deny that the Boston Globe does not share the moral views of priorities of Roman Catholicism, but come on: either the information they report is true, or it isn’t. The motive, or suspected motive, behind the reporting doesn’t matter. Or rather, it shouldn’t matter, though as a psychological fact, it does. My first cover story for National Review in 2002 was about the Boston scandal. I was told later by a prominent conservative Catholic that that story, appearing in a respected conservative magazine, gave psychological permission to Catholic conservatives to drop their defensiveness, and to admit that the Church really did have a problem — that it wasn’t just scuttlebutt ginned up by the liberal media to hurt the Church. The floodgates of information opened upon me after that. I was inundated by e-mails from conservative Catholics who had stories to tell about their own abuse, or abuse within their family; they felt that telling it to a conservative Catholic journalist (me) was somehow okay.
Furthermore, it’s a juvenile concept that information reporters receive has to be immaculately conceived in the minds of those providing the information. All that matters is whether or not the information is true, is credible, and is relevant. Sources often have mixed motives for revealing this stuff to journalists. Washington is full of people who leak true and important information on their political rivals to journalists in order to settle scores. It is up to the journalist to discern whether he is being unfairly used (yes, he’s being used, but that doesn’t discredit the story). A few years back, here at TAC, someone approached me with a set of lurid tales about a Catholic institution — nothing sexual, or remotely criminal, but stories of a culture of political and theological extremism that would make the institution look really bad if it were made public. I struggled over what to do with it, until my then-editor, who knew the source, urged me not to allow myself to be used by that guy to fight his own battles with the institution. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was an interesting story, but that it was probably more a case of this source trying to get me to seek revenge on an institution he believed had unfairly dismissed him. Even though I believe that source was probably telling the truth, I never wrote the story, because it didn’t seem right, all things considered. That was a case of me believing that the information was probably truthful, and knowing that the source was using me to get back at the institution. I could have lived with that — we’re not kids here in the journalism business — if the stakes had been high enough. It just didn’t seem worth it, as there was no criminal or moral wrongdoing at stake.
My point is that the information Flynn and Condon got on Burrill might have come from a donor who has disreputable motives (or one who has reputable ones). The only serious questions here are 1) is the data credible, and 2) are the stakes here worth it? I think they answered both questions in the affirmative. If the data were paid for by Cardinal Burke, or by the Freemasons, or Uncle Chuckie, who cares?