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Home/Rod Dreher/From Pillar To Post

From Pillar To Post

The Washington Post is out with a critical story on The Pillar‘s scoop about the now-former CEO of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ alleged serial use of the gay hook-up app Grindr. The piece is behind a paywall, but here are some excerpts.

Flynn and Condon’s story also punctuates how America’s religious and journalistic landscapes have changed. Institutions and hierarchies now have to contend with scrappy start-ups taking matters into their own hands.

And in the growing conservative Catholic media scene, their newsletter and its takedown of Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill represents a new power and boldness of those demanding their church be purged of leaders who they see as too permissive on issues like abortion, gender norms and sex outside of heterosexual marriage.

Note well that that is not what J.D. Flynn and Ed Condon have done here. They didn’t publish Burrill’s data because they don’t agree with his stance on various issues. They did it because they found evidence suggesting that the top leader in the US Catholic bureaucracy was a serial user of an app that facilitates gay sex hook-ups.

More:

[Flynn and Condon] also compared their Burrill piece to one done by the New York Times’ Opinion section, which explored the dangers of leaked smartphone data and used such data to identify a person who was near the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The New York Times piece quoted one man who was interviewed and agreed to his name being used.

One of the writers of the Times’ piece Friday said the whole point of the reporting was to expose the vulnerability of such data, and that they didn’t name anyone without consent.

“This was the nightmare scenario that we were talking about to some degree. . . . To see it happen is just confirmation of just how dangerous this type of information is,” said Charlie Warzel, who has since left the Times and now is also publishing on Substack, the same online newsletter platform the Pillar uses. “Despite the fact that I don’t think there are any ethical similarities with what we did and this, it obviously makes me feel terrible that our work was used as a justification in this.”

Gosh, maybe Flynn and Condon should say that they wrote their story as a warning to other gay monsignors to get off of Grindr, pull their pants back up, go to confession, and repent. If so, yay for them.

Back in June, the journalism site Pro Publica published information from an illegal leak of the IRS tax information of a number of wealthy Americans. Unlike Msgr. Burrill’s private information, these data are protected by law. Where was the outrage over this? It was muted, because apparently enough journalists and public commentators believe it is in the public interest to reveal that quite a few superrich paid no taxes some years. What’s really going on here in the Burrill case, I think, is that many liberals don’t believe that it’s a big deal for a prominent Catholic priest, one in charge of policies that affect the entire national church, to violate his vows by having anonymous gay sex. Many conservative Catholics disagree. Flynn and Condon write for them.

If these two had legally obtained data indicating that the top clerical official at the USCCB frequented white supremacist meet-ups, would these same people be just as outraged by Burrill’s privacy violation? Of course not. They would be praising it. They’re just mad because Burrill’s serious wrongdoing involved sex, and gay sex at that.

More:

Flynn was interviewed for a 2018 master’s project at the University of Missouri about ethics in Catholic journalism.

In that paper, he said he thought all journalists are the same in that they all have a “guiding set of assumptions. . . . The concept of objective journalism is a myth.”

However, the paper described Flynn as saying that Catholic journalism has a different set of ends in mind than simply to inform and educate. The difference, he argued, is that “the Catholic perception of the common good is, ultimately, the salvation of souls, and more generally the Church’s ideas, developed over the centuries, about what constitutes human flourishing.”

Yes, that’s right. If I were a Catholic, then I would say that after two decades of vile scandal emerging from the inability of the Catholic hierarchy and clergy to govern the sexual habits of priests, a story like The Pillar‘s serves the common good, ultimately the salvation of souls.

Back in 2015, the gay news site Queerty outed a conservative Lutheran pastor by revealing his Grindr screenshots in which he discussed sex with men, and tried to arrange dates. The pastor was married and a father at the time. Queerty outed him because the pastor was openly antigay in his sermons. I think this pastor was absolutely fair game for Queerty. Had he been outed by a conservative website disgusted by his betrayal of his wife, his kids, and his vocation, that would have been fine by me too. If not, why not? By what moral logic do pastors have the presumption of privacy to arrange sex on hook-up apps?

One more:

Flynn and Condon’s story also punctuates how America’s religious and journalistic landscapes have changed. Institutions and hierarchies now have to contend with scrappy start-ups taking matters into their own hands.

Yeah, and you know what institutions and hierarchies have to do this? Ones like the Washington Post, which don’t want to do the kind of reporting that spears their sacred cows. Several years ago, when The New York Times was breaking Ted McCarrick stories, I sent leads and other information to a Washington Post reporter to help the Post advance the story, and get ahead of the Times. The information was about lavender mafia stuff having to do with McCarrick and a network of DC priests. Had they panned out, these would have been great stories that would have added a lot to our understanding about how the corrupt McCarrick exercised power and facilitated sexual corruption within the Catholic institution.

I mentioned to a seasoned DC observer of religion and journalism how mystified I was that this reporter showed no interest in these leads. That source, who knows everybody in Washington journalism, said the reporter is a good person, but so bought into the liberal narrative that they would never, ever, ever report anything that cast a negative light on gays. Even if there were solid evidence to suggest that gay male Archdiocese of Washington priests collaborated with Cardinal McCarrick in a sinister network that covered up their own sexual activity, and promoted those who can be trusted to play along, that would never see the light of day in the Post, the observer told me. I don’t think the Post is alone in this at all. I think this is standard operating procedure for the mainstream media.

I’ve mentioned here in the past that back in 2002, when I was headed down to Dallas for National Review to cover the USCCB meeting — the first since the scandal broke big out of Boston — a freelance journalist who had been hired by Fox News to join their team covering the meeting reached out to ask me for a briefing. This reporter, X., was not up to speed on the issues facing the Catholic bishops. When I arrived in Dallas, I met with X. at the conference hotel to give a basic rundown of relevant history, key personalities, and themes that would be discussed at the meeting.

When I got to the gay part, and told X. that X. needed to seek out the Catholic journalist Phil Lawler, the Catholic writer Michael S. Rose, and the Catholic activist Stephen Brady, all of whom were there, and all of whom had done excellent work writing about the culture of promiscuous homosexuality among the Catholic priesthood, X. stopped me cold. “Orders from the top of the network: don’t go there,” X. said.

“What do you mean, ‘don’t go there’?” I said, shocked. “The lavender mafia is not the whole story at all, but you can’t understand this story if you don’t understand that part of it!”

“Sorry,” X. said. “Those are my orders.”

This was 2002, when the late Roger Ailes was running the network. If even Fox News had declared a moratorium on this aspect of the story, how likely do you think The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the networks were to look at it?

Again, my theory is that liberal Catholics and mainstream media journalists are more scandalized by what Flynn and Condon reported about Msgr. Burrill than they are by the fact that the top organizational official of the USCCB was apparently a serial user of an app whose users were described by one of their own as “a bunch of thirsty dudes in geographic cesspools hunting one another.”

Catholics in America need to understand that this crisis will never end in their church without cleaning the sexually active priests out of the Augean stables. The abuse of children and minors happened within the context of a decadent clerical system. There is no way to rely on secretly debauched priests (homo or hetero) to govern the Church in a morally sound way. Catholics have waited for decades for the hierarchy to clean up the Church they lead. They can’t, or won’t. Flynn and Condon write for those Catholics who are fed up with the lies and deceit, and not willing to surrender their church to canoodling careerists in Roman collars, and who know that they can’t count on the mainstream media to tell the whole truth when it threatens their own ideological favorites.

The Pillar is what reform looks like. If this blog has become a Pillar stan account these past few days, it’s because I know personally the pressure that Flynn and Condon are under right now. If I were Catholic, you’d better believe I would be subscribing to that Substack, and donating money besides. 

What needs to be known now is how Msgr Burrill got to that high position of authority without what appears to be a hidden gay sex life being revealed by vetting. You know who is not going to do that reporting, despite having the resources to do it — and you know who is going to do it, if they have the financial support of subscribers.

UPDATE: A Catholic reader writes:

I think a major reason for the official invocation of anathema sit against the Pillar is the serious fear by other wealthy, powerful, and influential people that similar measures might be employed against them,. and that they might well expose an undercurrent of gay male subculture in the US that is very, very different from the sanitized image of the committed and long-standing couples that have been aggressively promoted to the general public since the 1990s.

Particularly among middle and upper class types my understanding is that there is ample grist for the mill and I would keep in mind that this is the exact same elite that was completely fine with Epstein and his activities for literally decades.

I think you can deplore the fact that vigilantism has emerged while still recognizing that if this kind of behavior isn’t what you want, then it is vital to establish an actual mechanism for policing and curtailing this behavior — as opposed to the current assumption that the faithful should just shut up and suck it up. You can deplore that the circumstances have arisen that require such individuals while still acknowledging that they are unfortunately needed in the current context until official mechanisms emerge. I would submit that it is even possible to justify this through the Thomistic principle of double effect since the goal is to identify and eliminate these corrupt and predatory networks rather than a voyeuristic interest in the sex lives of the clergy.

If they will not protect our children, then our problems have now become theirs in a way that they cannot simply ignore.

UPDATE.2: A helpful short comment from a secular reader:

There’s definitely a disconnect in world views around sex and sexuality that prevents the more secular from understanding how this is viewed by a devout Catholic. But since I have been reading you for a long time I will attempt a secular analogy.

It’s similar to a professional with a fiduciary duty acting against the best interests of their clients, and in a manner that benefits the professional. It might go unnoticed but will slowly erode the moral character of someone doing it.

UPDATE.3: From a column addressing the situation by leading Catholic moral theologian Janet Smith. Emphases in the original:

Companies use programs to determine if their employees are looking at porn or even shopping on company time; they often will fire employees who do so, since they are effectively “stealing” from the company.

Surely such data collection is a necessary form of accountability or “due diligence”. Is abuse of funds a more serious offense that the abuse of people? Does one’s sexual life come with a zone of privacy? Well, yes in some times and places. But for those who have pledged a life of chastity and help form others in chastity?

The Church itself, in fact, uses data collection and surveillance methods to police the sexual lives of priests and seminarians.

Seminaries have filters on computers to catch students, faculty (lay and priests), and staff who view pornography. The consequences can be very serious, including dismissal from the seminary or losing one’s job. Dioceses seize the computers and phones of priests accused of wrongdoing, especially sexual, to find evidence for their wrongdoing, such as the use of pornography. Dioceses even use the services of local law enforcement agencies when they investigate priests for wrongdoing.

There are surveillance cameras in many places these days—some think they should be in sacristies to see if priests are having sex with altar boys or penitents. Would that be wrong? If a surveillance camera in a Church or Church building recorded a priest having sexual intercourse, should that not be reported to the bishop?

But, the counterargument goes, shouldn’t a priest’s private life be his private life?

Really? Again, priests are to be models and guardians of chastity. What does it do to a priest’s sexual partner to know he is having sex with a priest? This is not effective evangelization, to say the least. The phenomenon of priests who like to have sex with males telling young men struggling with same-sex attraction in the confessional that God made them that way and that they should seek a stable loving relationship appears to be quite common. It is not unknown that a priest will follow such a young man out of the confessional and groom him for future favors.

Let it sink in that Burrill from 2009 until 2013 was a professor and formation director at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. In a lawsuit by a former seminarian, accusations are being made that sexual predation has been common for a very long time at the NAC. I think a new line of investigation has just opened up.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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