Synod hears calls for ‘radical revision’ of Canon Law

by Sarah Mac Donald

The Church needs a thorough revision of canon law and a commission to oversee this revision should include lay people, one of the country’s top barristers, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws has said.

Speaking as part of a panel on the theme, Insisting on Sharing Authority at this week’s Root and Branch lay-led synod, the Scottish lawyer, broadcaster and Labour member of the House of Lords said a radical revision of canon law should be a “key call” from the synod.

She said a commission to oversee reform should “systematically go through the structures of the canon law and make them appropriate to the 21st century” and it should sit in public as it heard evidence.

Describing herself as “a firm believer in reform”, she said: “I really feel that we have to persuade the current leadership [in the Church] that they must cede power in order to survive.”

Elsewhere in the discussion, Baroness Kennedy called for an end to mandatory clerical celibacy. “I feel very strongly that you have to have abandon the business of celibacy.” She told the online discussion that clerical celibacy had been “one of the root problems in so many of the issues that we are talking about” and needed to be dealt with “first and foremost”.

“People are sexual beings. Some might choose to be celibate, and so be it. But there should be a possibility to follow a vocation even if you are a married person, male or female.”

She also called on the Church to deal with its “hostility to homosexuality”.

She said: “We have to stop being so preoccupied and fetishistic about sex within the Church and start concerning ourselves with the suffering of the world.

“Our knowledge of humanity has developed, and science has helped us to understand sexuality so much better.”

Recalling the passing of the same sex marriage referendum in Ireland in 2015, Baroness Kennedy said that despite the Church having had such a dominant role in terms of power and authority, the people of Ireland by a majority voted for gay marriage. “It was because Catholic grandmothers and Catholic mothers and fathers said why should our child not have the same right to be with the person they love as our other child.”

She believed that there are “so many good things about the teachings of the church” which had given her a value system.

“The hierarchy has to be persuaded that this [reform] is about sustainability. The Catholic Church is not going to survive if it does not address these issues because the young are just not going to engage.”

Referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the need for a global template of values against which every legal system should be measured, including canon law, she asked: “Why has the Catholic Church not embraced it properly, particularly with regard to due process, the idea of access to justice – where was the access to justice for the many victims of sexual abuse within the Church?”

She said Church failures on abuse and moving people on who had committed crimes was one of the reasons so many people are now alienated from the Church.

“They do not see the Catholic Church adhering to that whole framework of human rights, rule of law, and respect for due process, access to justice, and the treatment of people as being equal before the law.”

She also hit out at the Church’s willingness to accommodate Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s desire to marry in a Catholic Church, which she had raised with Cardinal Nichols.

“People were very distressed, and I would say disappointed when they saw the ease with which the prime minister, who is not known for his sobriety when it comes to relationships with women, was able to have a marriage in the Catholic Church, despite the fact of being twice divorced.”

Recalling a conversation with a cab driver in Glasgow whose marriage had failed and who had remarried a catholic, he had told her of his pain at being unable to receive communion and feeling excommunicated.

“These are the things that are such a scar on the Church, and on all the people who still think of themselves as being Catholics, and who want to be able to take up the sacraments, to be a participant, to belong to this family. And yet, they are not able to do so.”

She had told the Cardinal: “Your communications strategy on saying everybody is equal before canon law is not working. You need to do something about that.”

The discussion on Wednesday was chaired by Virginia Saldanha, executive secretary of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Women’s Desk.

It heard contributions also from Dr Luca Badini Confalonieri, Executive Director at the Wijngaards Institute, and broadcaster, writer and public speaker, Christina Rees, a member of the general synod of the Church of England.

Complete Article HERE!

Young evangelicals are leaving church. LGBTQ bias may be driving them away.

By Yonat Shimron

For Ethan Stalker, the break unfolded in a now familiar way.

On March 18, 2019, Stalker announced on a blog post he was gay. The next day, he got invited to a coffee meeting with a pastor at the evangelical church in New York City where he was serving as a lay leader. The pastor told him he no longer qualified to be a small group leader.

His life choices, he was told, were not “God’s best” for him. The church allowed the 25-year-old, who works in marketing for healthcare companies, to continue to volunteer on its broadcast production team.

Three months later, Stalker quit the church.

“They loved to tell me my sexuality doesn’t define me,” Stalker said. “But they shoved a handful of verses down my throat that completely sexualize me as a gay person and put a cap on what I can do. It dismissed who I am as a complex human being. That was a huge problem for me.”

Stalker’s story is one shared by thousands of LGBTQ young people who grew up in evangelical churches that deny them full participation. LGBTQ people are typically excluded from serving on church boards and from leading worship or other church groups. They are not ordained or allowed to marry same-sex partners in the church. That’s causing many younger evangelicals — gay and straight — to question the integrity of their church’s theology and the consistency of its biblical interpretation.

Amid widespread acceptance of LGBTQ people, evangelical church attitudes toward the group have not budged, and the consequences have been dire

A study last month by the Public Religion Research Institute found the number of Americans who identify as white evangelicals has declined dramatically, from 23% in 2006 to 14.5% in 2020. Those leaving in the greatest numbers are younger evangelicals whose attitudes toward sexual minorities are starkly at odds with their elders. Take same-sex marriage: While only one-third (34%) of white evangelicals age 50 and over favor same-sex marriage, 51% of younger white evangelicals ages 18-49 now favor it — a majority, another PRRI study found.

To be sure, evangelicals, like people of all faiths, leave church for many reasons: changing politics, shifting cultural tastes, spiritual restlessness. But among younger evangelicals, the church’s attitude on sexuality is emerging as one of the big causes for the decline.

“Most people know and love someone who’s openly gay,” said Julie Rodgers, a Christian writer, activist and lesbian whose story is featured in the new documentary on Netflix, “Pray Away.” “It causes them to wrestle with the implication of teachings that say, ‘We’re bad and wrong and sinful.’ It creates a significant conflict for them in a way that (evangelical allegiance to) the Republican Party more broadly feels like an abstraction, and they don’t see the effect of that on human beings they know and love.”

In contrast with most mainline Protestant denominations where LGBTQ members are routinely ordained and their marriages solemnized in church (the United Methodist Church being the exception), white evangelical denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention, the Presbyterian Church in America, the Anglican Church in North America and dozens of others have resisted offering gay people equality. LGBTQ people are allowed to attend church, to be baptized and in most cases to take Communion — but not much else. All three denominations doubled down on their opposition to fully affirming LGBTQ people at their annual conferences this summer.

In evangelical circles, LGBTQ equality has become the litmus test. Churches that stray from those policies risk losing their evangelical bonafides.

“If you make space for marrying or ordaining queer clergy or parishioners, you’re now decidedly out of the evangelical world,” said Michael Rudzena, pastor of Good Shepherd New York, a non-denominational church that is welcoming for LGBTQ people, many of them fleeing evangelical congregations.

One of the hallmarks of evangelicalism is its high view of Scripture. Evangelicals take the Bible to be the literal or authoritative word of God. That leads them to highlight a handful of passages that condemn gay sex.

Yet many evangelicals have found a way to embrace and minister to divorced people, even though the Bible, and Jesus, specifically, frowns on it.

“There’s some selective literalism that ignores divorce and remarriage but can’t make the adjustment on this yet,” said the Rev. Fred Harrell, pastor of City Church San Francisco, a Reformed Church in America congregation that fully affirms LGBTQ people.

City Church decided in 2015 to be a fully inclusive church. Overnight it lost 300 members. Its $5.8 million annual budget shrunk to about $2.8 million today. It laid off staff, cut other people’s salaries and had to shut down one of its campuses. Yet, Harrell said he has no regrets. About 15% of the church’s 336 members (with another 360 who attend but do not belong) identify as LGBTQ. Harrell said they’re among the most active and dedicated members.

“They’re really solid people who have been an enormous blessing to the church,” Harrell said. “I tell my non-affirming friends, ‘You’re really missing out.’”

City Church is one of a handful of churches once considered evangelical that have offered LGBTQ full inclusion. GracePointe in Nashville and EastLake Community Church in Seattle are two others that broke from the evangelical pack at the same time. The toll was steep. In the four years that followed — years that coincided with the Trump administration — few others made the move.

That’s not to say there have been no shifts on the part of evangelicals.

Conversion therapy, the discredited practice of attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, has increasingly come under fire, as the documentary “Pray Away” reveals. At least 20 states have banned the practice among minors. Once a common approach embraced by many churches, conversion therapy has even been denounced by evangelical elites such as Russell Moore, formerly the Southern Baptist Convention’s top ethicist.

In addition, more Christian publishers — such as Convergent, HarperOne, Broadleaf and Eerdmans — are willing to publish books affirming LGBTQ Christians.

Those changes have been too little, too late for some.

Jake Dawkins, a 26-year-old software engineer from Greenville, South Carolina, who growing up attended evangelical churches, dropped out over the churches’ view on sexuality. A straight man, he lived for a while in New York City where he met lots of committed gay Christians.

“Meeting people with different viewpoints opened my mind up to what Christianity could be,” Dawkins said. “That started separating me from more traditional Christianity. That disconnect or discomfort that I felt with the church gave me the opportunity to recognize other things about the church I wasn’t a fan of.”

Jonathan Merritt, a senior columnist at Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic, who recently came out as gay, said he foresees a gradual evolution in evangelical circles.

Churches might begin treating LGBTQ people as they do divorced people, directing them to support groups and allowing them to take on service-oriented projects.

“At the end of the day, the history of evangelicalism is a history of pragmatism,” Merritt said.

Just as the churches once opposed rock music — now ubiquitous in the form of Christian rock or praise songs — so, too, evangelical resistance to LGBTQ people may soften.

The question is whether that will happen quickly enough for the people who are fed up with the homophobia still tolerated in evangelical circles.

Elliot Rossomme, a 26-year-old gay man who had been attending a nondenominational evangelical church while studying for a graduate degree in chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, made the break two years ago.

He had grown up in an evangelical church in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When he got to Berkeley he noticed the church he was attending never discussed sexuality. So he proposed leading a support group for LGBTQ members. He was told he could start the group, so long as he forswore dating, promised he wouldn’t disparage the theological position of the church or advocate for other positions. (Some evangelical churches have accepted the reality of same-sex attraction but require gays to be celibate if they are to serve in leadership positions.)

“That day, I realized I couldn’t go to that church anymore,” Rossomme said.

Two years ago, he decided to try City Church San Francisco. At the end of the first service he attended, as the Eucharist, or the bread and the wine, was about to be celebrated, he said he cried.

“There was a sense that I don’t have to fight for my place at this table here, and they want me to come forward and don’t have qualms about me participating in this meal,” he said.

Here, he no longer felt like a theological outsider and could dedicate positive energy toward building a community he believes in. He joined the church

Ethan Stalker, the New York City marketer, has also found his way to a church — Good Shepherd New York, which welcomes a number of LGBTQ refugees.

But after volunteering all his life for various church projects (he was a theology major at Anderson University in South Carolina, a Christian school) and finding all his social connections through church, he’s more tentative now.

“I’m still recovering and working through the hurt and trauma I experienced being in leadership roles at churches,” Stalker said. “I’m not sure if I will ever be ready to step back into a leadership role. I’d like to think one day I will be able to, but only time will tell.”

Complete Article HERE!

How personal is politics?

Irish Americans expose allegedly gay priest

By

How much do you really want to know about your parish priest?

Well, that depends on a number of factors. It might depend on who you voted for in the 2020 election.

It also might depend on whether or not you can get your hands on his cell phone. Or his cell phone records.

Such is the debate scorching up religious and tech circles these days. It was initiated by two Irish American lawyers-turned-crusaders (if you will), which sounds like nice work if you can get it.

Unless that work prompts one of the most respected voices in Catholic American circles to say, “What comes next? Spying on Catholic school teachers? Spying on parishioners? And where does it end — when we have a church where no one has ever sinned? The church will be empty.”

That’s James Martin, the best-selling Irish American author and commentator, and regular guest on Stephen Colbert’s show.

Martin, quoted in The Washington Post, was responding to the work of Ed Condon and JD Flynn, the ex-lawyers who now run The Pillar, which is billed as a Catholic “newsletter.”

Well, boys, you wanted attention. You got attention!

This all began earlier this month with a special “Pillar Investigation.” For the sake of fairness — or decency, or karma — we’re going to explain this story but leave out the name of the priest at its center, even though it is very much out there.

“According to commercially available records of app signal data obtained by The Pillar, a mobile device correlated to (the priest) emitted app data signals from the location-based hookup app Grindr on a near-daily basis during parts of 2018, 2019, and 2020,” the investigation notes.

It adds: “An analysis of app data signals correlated to (the priest’s) mobile device shows the priest also visited gay bars and private residences while using (the) location-based hookup app in numerous cities from 2018 to 2020, even while traveling on assignment…”

Where to begin?

As you can imagine, this has elicited a broad range of angry responses, and not only because of the personal behavior of this priest who is not a mere parish priest, but also a rather big big-wig.

There is also the issue of these two Irish Catholics, who both attended very respectable schools and have held lucrative jobs, essentially crawling through the 21st century equivalent of a stinky trash can to dig up secrets about a prominent American religion official.

Who, by the way, resigned his various positions in recent days.

“The case of the high-ranking Catholic cleric who resigned after allegedly being tracked on the gay dating app Grindr quickly became a Rorschach test Wednesday for Catholics already mired in tension over politics, theology and culture,” The Washington Post noted.

Since Flynn and Condon are loud and proud church “traditionalists,” their cheering section has pointed to these findings and declared that gay priests and other post-1960s dogma-ignorers are ruining the U.S. Catholic Church.

But those on another side see little more than “a witch hunt aimed at gay Catholic priests,” in the words of America Magazine national correspondent Michael O’Loughlin.

If it smells like and looks like a burning-stake, well, that’s probably what it is.

It seems appropriate, though, that I confess something else here.

It took me a few minutes to make heads or tails of this story. For a moment I thought perhaps that the priest was actually being pressured, in the name of social justice, to proudly proclaim and embrace the private details of his romantic life.

There have, after all, been many times so-called progressives felt it was entirely appropriate to expose the private lives of culture-war opponents. Or divulge personal details to turn enemies into “allies.”

We are approaching the end game of the oft-chanted belief that the “personal is political.” That what you wear and drink, share and think, either saves or ruins the planet.

What you do when you take off your clothes is the inevitable next skirmish.

Complete Article HERE!

The outing of a hypocritical priest is actually cause for alarm. Anyone could be next.

A right-wing outlet weaponized Grindr data it obtained to target a prominent, hypocritical priest. It’s a disturbing extension of the religious right’s attack on any LGBTQ people in the Church.

by

When the news broke that Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill had been caught trawling for hookups on Grindr, the immediate reaction for many was one of disgust at his hypocrisy. Burrill, who had served as secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) before resigning, was right in the thick of all the Church’s attacks on LGBTQ rights. At the same time that he was promoting anti-LGBTQ attacks, he was also having apparently sex with other men.

But the story is a lot more complicated than just outing a hypocrite. It’s also a lot more frightening.

Related: Anti-gay priest on trial for allegedly having sex with men to help “heal” their homosexual desires

Burrill was outed by The Pillar, a right-wing Catholic outlet that says it obtained anonymous Grindr data legally, and then reconstructed it to identify signals coming from Burrill’s phone.

Grindr denies that this is possible, but the app has been criticized for years for its security practices, and they were fined $11 million by a Norwegian agency last January for privacy violations.

For its part, The Pillar was vague about how it got the data, other than to say it was “commercially available,” suggesting that they paid for it. It also didn’t say who conducted the analysis of the data.

Presumably, it wasn’t done by the site’s founders, JD Flynn and Ed Condon, but both of them previously worked at the Catholic News Agency, a conservative outlet, where they developed a reputation for taking aim at the hierarchy.

“Both regularly sprinkle their tweets with references to church law and confidently — some say cockily — tout their own interpretations as the most pure and accurate,” the Washington Post reported.

That sense of moral superiority permeates the reporting on Burrill. The Pillar didn’t target Burrill just for being a hypocrite. They targeted him for (presumably) being gay.

The column outing Burrill — which carries no bylines — is riddled with the language of high moral dudgeon. Burrill engaged in “serial and illicit sexual activity” and “serial sexual misconduct,” it reads.

The column even goes so far as to link Burrill hooking up with men with pedophilia.

“There is no evidence to suggest that Burrill was in contact with minors through his use of Grindr,” the article stated, “but any use of the app by the priest could be seen to present a conflict with his role in developing and overseeing national child protection policies, as Church leaders have called in recent months for a greater emphasis on technology accountability in Church policies.”

The article then went on to cite instances of other priests using hookup sites to solicit sex with minors.

Fr. James Martin, the Jesuit priest who has been advocating for the Church to adopt a more compassionate approach to LGBTQ people, noted the article “repeatedly conflated homosexuality with pedophilia, all under the guise of a journalistic ‘investigation.’”

The Pillar article raises two important issues in its fallout. The first is the weaponization of data to target individuals on ideological grounds. Fr. Martin has been the focus of conservative ire for his pastoral work, for which he was recently commended for by Pope Francis. It’s virtually a sure thing that The Pillar writers are working feverishly to find data that they can tie to Martin and others.

The second is the ongoing attempt by the Catholic right to rid the Church of even celibate gay priests, and thus try to pin the blame for the Church’s ongoing pedophilia scandal — enabled by many of the figures that the right admires —on gay priests.

The Church says celibate gay people are fine. It’s gay sex that’s the sin. The right doesn’t care about such distinctions. They want all LGBTQ people, priests or laity, gone. They’d also like to oust any of their allies or supporters, including Pope Francis, whom they view as a fellow traveler.

Fr. Martin rightly points out that data mining could be used to target virtually anyone the right disagrees with.

“Why stop at priests?” he asks. “Why not spy on unmarried lay teachers at Catholic schools? Perhaps they’re sexually active.”

But the right has shown no inclination to go after anyone other than LGBTQ people. The dozens of teachers and choir directors fired has no parallel among any other group.

Flynn and Condon are promising that more revelations will come from the mining data they obtained. They have turned it over to the Archdiocese of Newark citing “patterns of location-based hookup app use at more than 10 archdiocesan rectories and clerical residences.”

The witch hunt is already well underway.

Complete Article HERE!

A Catholic newsletter promised investigative journalism. Then it outed a priest using Grindr data.

By Michelle Boorstein, Marisa Iati & Elahe Izadi

In January, when Ed Condon and JD Flynn broke off from their jobs at a long-standing Catholic news agency, they promised readers of their new newsletter that they would deliver reporting without an agenda, or a foregone conclusion. “We aim to do serious, responsible, sober journalism about the Church, from the Church and for the Church. . . . We want The Pillar to be a different kind of journalism.”

Six months later the Pillar broke the kind of story mainstream news organizations would be unlikely to touch: They said they had obtained commercially available data that included location history from the hookup app Grindr, and used it to track a high-ranking priest from his offices and family lake house to gay nightclubs.

Now Condon and Flynn, two 38-year-old canon lawyers-turned-muckrakers, are at the center of both a global surveillance-ethics story as well as a mud fight among their fellow Catholics over whether last week they served or disgraced the church. One Catholic writer described it as “a witch hunt aimed at gay Catholic priests.”

In some ways the Pillar story and reaction to it feels almost like a throwback: Conservative Catholics who point to the 1960s and liberalizing sexual mores for society’s troubles and focus on gay priests. But in 2021 the availability of personal digital data and the use of smartphones for surveillance are far bigger fears for the vast majority of Americans than is news about a member of the clergy possibly using a hookup app.

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.

On Friday, the pair answered the question of whether there would be more sex-data stories following the Tuesday announcement of Burrill’s resignation as chief administrator of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Pillar reported it had brought some of its findings from the data to the Archdiocese of Newark to say there were “patterns of location-based hookup apps” at various clerical residences there. In a statement to The Post, the archdiocese said the Pillar provided no actual data or evidence of misconduct and that the matter is being reviewed.

Flynn and Condon initially said they were not interested in participating in an interview for this article, then agreed to consider questions by email, and later said they didn’t have sufficient time and declined. But in comments they’ve tweeted since Tuesday and a podcast they posted Friday, they explained a bit of their thinking.

“There’s nothing to recommend the indiscriminate naming and shaming of people for moral failures just because you can. That is unethical. And that is not something I believe we’ve done,” Condon said on the podcast.

“People are entitled to moral failures and repentance and reconciliation and to a legitimate good reputation. There’s a difference between that and serial and consistent, immoral behavior on the part of a public figure charged with addressing public morality, isn’t there?” Flynn said.

Catholicism opposes sexual relations outside heterosexual marriage and teaches that homosexuality is disordered. Priests may be gay — and many are — but must be celibate, according to Catholic teaching.

They 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.”

Condon and Flynn were willing to go where Catholic media in the past apparently have not.

Specifically, in 2018, when an anonymous tipster offered an explosive scoop to Alejandro Bermudez, executive editor of the Catholic News Agency, the Colorado-based outlet owned by EWTN, a multimillion dollar nonprofit Catholic media company.

The data hawker, who, Bermudez said, agreed to meet at a Denver coffee shop, claimed to have a trove of information showing priests using dating apps. The person came from a technology background but was interested in “reforming” the church and wanted the material that allegedly could expose priests’ double lives to be in Catholic hands, he told The Post.

Bermudez said he doesn’t recall the tipster’s name but that he was dubious about the data’s credibility and its news value, and he passed for those reasons.

Flynn and Condon were at CNA when Bermudez got that tip, but neither knew about it, Bermudez said. He also doesn’t know whether the data in the Pillar story is the same information once presented to him but said there are parallels.

Bermudez said CNA gets a few pitches each year from people who allege they can reveal priests’ indiscretions. But he said he would not have published the story about Burrill and was concerned about the other ways similar data could be weaponized within the church.

“Once this cat is out of the bag, what is the limit?” Bermudez said. “If we say, ‘Listen, that was completely legitimate, that was completely moral,’ then any kind of tracking by any authority in the Catholic Church is fair game.”

Now it appears similar information did end up in Catholic hands — just not those of a legacy Catholic media organization, instead in those of two men running an upstart newsletter who say their journalism is in the service of Jesus Christ. Some Catholics agree; others, even fellow conservative Catholic journalists, worry the pair also see themselves as a kind of prophet, judge, jury and executioner.

Flynn grew up in a Protestant family in New Jersey and converted to Catholicism. He worked for the Archdiocese of Denver from 2007 to 2013 under leading conservative Archbishop Charles Chaput. Flynn was chancellor there for the last two of those years. He was also spokesman for the diocese of Lincoln, Neb., the lone holdout in the American Catholic Church where girls may not be altar servers. He is a canon lawyer, an expert on church laws, such as those guiding Catholic annulments or disputes.

Condon, nephew of Catholic University President John Garvey, grew up in New Jersey and England, and worked in British politics for years before serving as a canon lawyer in U.S. dioceses.

At the Catholic News Agency, the pair quickly stood out for being the rare right-leaning Catholic journalists aimed squarely at the hierarchy and holding it accountable. Both regularly sprinkle their tweets with references to church law and confidently — some say cockily — tout their own interpretations as the most pure and accurate.

They also draw readers with their personal tweets, more casual than Vatican-stuffy, with Flynn as the wholesome dad of three sharing photos of his family and preaching about traditional values, while Condon plays the cynical grump who pines for the old days when men wore suits and elegant watches.

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.”

Flynn and Condon resigned from CNA late last year to launch the Pillar, mirroring a broader media narrative in which journalists have left established media companies to strike out on their own. The publishing platform allows them editorial freedom, but not always a guaranteed paycheck: Writers can collect subscription money from newsletters, with Substack taking a 10 percent cut. Some writers get an advance.

As of last week, the Pillar ranked as the third-highest-grossing Substack in the “faith” category, and it has thousands of subscribers.

“The trends in Catholic media are not that different from secular media,” said the Rev. Matt Malone, editor in chief of America, a Jesuit magazine. Some writers are going independent with Substacks while legacy outlets, he said, are trying to “amass this sizable digital audience and to navigate editorially in a polarized world.”

But while competition among secular media for eyeballs and clicks is about financial survival, for Catholic media, there’s another underlying struggle: for the right to say who is on the side of God and the true church.

There are left-leaning sites that focus on social justice aspects of church teachings such as the rights and needs of the poor and immigrants, while others focus heavily on teachings around abortion and sexual orientation.

Kathryn Jean Lopez, a Catholic writer who works for the conservative National Review, said last week she was torn about the ethics of the Pillar’s methods. However, she said she understood the men’s motivation.

Lopez said the Pillar is a product of “this frustration that men aren’t living the lives they stepped up to live” — namely priests who violate their promises to be chaste, and concerns that teachings about things like contraception and homosexuality are being ignored.

“They’re concerned about the rot in the church. There’s clearly been a nodding and winking and looking away. The church is not immune from the fallout of the sexual revolution — that’s gotten as extreme as putting children on puberty blockers,” she said. “Someone has to clean up the church for the sake of the world. . . . I think this is why the Pillar exists.”

>Condon and Flynn were vague about why they left CNA.

In their podcast episode Friday, they said a source approached them a few months ago with a broad data set that supposedly let them link dating-app use to priests’ phones. The data did not contain names and phone numbers but did have the phones’ unique identifying numbers and information about their locations. Using additional information, like the priest’s known locations and travel, it was possible to identify who some of the data belonged to, the writers said.

Flynn and Condon said they verified the data’s legitimacy but did not say how or with whom. They said the data had been bought legally but didn’t say whether they paid for it.

They argued that Burrill was a legitimate target because he was a CEO-like figure at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which develops policies such as those protecting children from sexual abuse. Getting pushback for linking being gay and child abuse, the men said they were calling out Grindr itself as dangerous for children, not gay people. In its original story on Burrill, the Pillar wrote, “There is no evidence to suggest that Burrill was in contact with minors through his use of Grindr.”

Michael Brendan Dougherty, a senior writer at the National Review, said he has been impressed by the outlet’s reporting on Vatican finances.

“(The church) doesn’t need more volunteer interpreters of the pope’s ‘true intentions’ or whatever it is other outlets speculate about. It needs journalism about corruption, management and policy. That’s what the Pillar does,” Dougherty said.

But media ethics watchers were unnerved by their tactics, even if the data was legally obtained.

“I worry very much about creating — through some of these precedents — a permissibility of journalists to basically publish whatever they can get their hands on,” said Edward Wasserman, media ethics professor and dean emeritus of University of California at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Many other prominent Catholics were similarly disturbed by the Pillar’s methods

Michael O’Loughlin, a national correspondent for America magazine, called it “a witch hunt aimed at gay Catholic priests” on Twitter.

Monsignor Richard Antall, a pastor in Cleveland and author, wrote in a Catholic digital magazine focused on the L.A. area that the Pillar’s story took an “inquisitorial approach.” David Scott, the spokesman for the USCCB President Archbishop Jose Gomez, shared Antall’s essay in a tweet:

“Serious ethical questions about this ‘investigation.’ Must reading,” Scott tweeted.

Toward the end of Friday’s podcast, Flynn and Condon bemoaned the public debate about their recent work.

“I hate being the center of attention like this,” Flynn said

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