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Opinion: Jeffrey Burrill’s rehabilitation compounds the original scandal of his sin

Burrill, who resigned in July 2021 as General Secretary of the USCCB, clearly wanted a hidden life, and now he should have one. Instead, he has been restored to public ministry.

Archbishop JosÈ H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, looks on as Msgr. Jeffrey D. Burrill, USCCB general secretary, reads a message to Pope Francis June 16, 2021, at the USCCB headquarters in Washington during the opening of the bishops' three-day virtual spring meeting. Msgr. Burrill resigned his post July 20, 2021, amid "impending media reports alleging possible improper behavior." In announcing the resignation, Archbishop Gomez said the claim "did not include allegations of misconduct with minors." (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The late Sir Roger Scruton once wrote about the “religious imposter” Tartuffe, an archetypal character from a play by the seventeenth-century French comedic playwright Molière. “Tartuffe is not simply a hypocrite,” Scruton said, “who pretends to ideals that he does not believe in. He is a fabricated person, who believes in his own ideals since he is just as illusory as they are.” The infinite avatars we can create behind the apps on our screens make our true selves easier to ignore; and among Christian leaders, these fakers prop up a culture of deceit that leads to systemic failure.

In July 2021, Catholics learned about the secret life of Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, who resigned as General Secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, after it came to light that he was a frequent user of the gay hook-up app, Gridr. At the time, there was legitimate disagreement in the Catholic world surrounding the investigation and publicizing of Burrill’s moral failures.

But whether we should know about Burrill’s misdeeds is now beside the point. We know. And less than a year after Burrill’s demise, his bishop, The Most Reverend William Patrick Callahan, announced Burrill would be returning to public ministry as Parochial Administrator of St. Teresa of Kolkata Parish in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin.

While we should all rejoice for Burrill to be reconciled to Christ and the Church, we should also be appalled to see him leading the people of God at the altar and in the pulpit again. We all understand that priests are in short supply, but we will just have to soldier on without men like Monsignor Burrill at the altar.

I have never met Jeffrey Burrill, and I doubt he is a full-blown imposter. But he was a key player among the most influential people in the Church, all while presenting a false self. And because the truth about Burrill’s character came out, we now unfortunately have a more vivid picture of a Church whose hierarchy can be a smokescreen for double-living and manipulation. Burrill’s return to priestly ministry is a clear sign that the noxious fog of clericalism is only getting thicker. And for this reason, it does not take a conspiracy theorist to wonder how many more men like Burrill have not gotten caught, or have gotten caught and no one cared, or have even been encouraged in their sins by fellow clergy who have similar secrets.

Burrill’s sins are a revelation, and his rehabilitation as a pastor compounds the scandal. Everyone sins, yes, including every priest. But not everyone leads a secret life of vice, and priests must not. Burrill’s fall should remind us that we deserve real men as priests – that is, men who embrace their God-givenness, seek accountability to live in reality, and shun the pride of ecclesiastical success. Where our clergymen fail, it is a strange blessing of our digital age that we may very well find out about it in ways we may never have before. The secrecy must end.

As a former minister myself, and as a man, I understand all too well the perils that beset men called by God to great work. But I now sit in the congregation with ordinary men and women who are desperate to find hope amid hardship, to balance aggression with kindness, desire with discipline, and courage with wisdom. We need to learn chastity, and we can’t have leaders who are hypocritical about it.

But more importantly, we cannot live with a hierarchy that is indifferent to it. We need strong leaders who empower us to bring our own phoniness to light and to bear whatever consequences may come of it so that we may learn to accept the gift of eternal life with Christ.

Burrill’s return to parish ministry compounds the original scandal of his sin. He clearly wanted a hidden life, and now he should have one. We should wish Burrill well, but it isn’t too much to ask for an ostensibly celibate man who was caught hooking-up many times with other men – or women, for that matter – to spend the rest of his life as an ordinary Christian in relative obscurity. We will have no more self-made men living double or triple lives at the altar or in the pulpit, or men who cover for each other, look the other way, or rationalize failure.

If a man wants to lay down his one integrated life for the sheep, we need him now more than ever. But if a man wants something else out of the priesthood or a life in the Church, he must find another profession.

A Tartuffe, a “fabricated person,” need no longer apply.


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About Andrew Petiprin 3 Articles
Andrew Petiprin is the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen Fellow of Popular Culture at the Word on Fire Institute

26 Comments

  1. The reinstatement is idiocy and possibly malice. A man living as an active homosexual for years doesn’t suddenly become cured- barring a miracle- in six-nine months. How could any bishop think that?! This is even moreso considering the dynamics attached w/ it, e.g., it usually involves compulsivity and other psycho-emotional factors that are lurking under the surface and will not go away without therapy. In Burrill’s case some of this was apparent, e.g., he would engage with anonymous people while visiting other places. There is also the stupidity of stating that because he did nothing illegal, it’s okay, he poses no problem. How could any bishop do this in the post-mccarrick age? Unbelievable.

    • The Disconnect between the Hierarchy and the Laity is growing every day. The Hierarchy abandoned the Laity as evidenced by the constant Silence from them to the laity. The only communication shared is when they need money. The Laity is on its own as the Bishops remain focused on Social Issues, Climate Change and ending the TLM. Catholics now depend on the Bible, the Mass & Sacraments, and their conscience. God bless our Church and bring us leaders.

  2. Just one question – how many young men – REAL men – who were seriously contemplating entering the priesthood, where they are desperately needed, will read this and decide against it?

    God only knows.

  3. The desire for clergy who live authentic Christian lives is a commendable one. Authenticity should not be confused with sinlessness. It is the presumption of sinlessness that offends, not the sin per se. If sin were the only thing that mattered, we’d have no clergy at all. It is the pretense if sinlessness that offends.

    If I were Bishop Callahan and thought that Msgr Burrill ought to be restored to ministry, it would only be after 1. He publicly admitted his sin and asked for forgiveness from God and God’s people -the Church; 2. After he secured a confessor of his choosing whom he agreed to see on a regular basis and gave that confessor’s name to the bishop; 3. He agreed to secure a spiritual director of his choosing and, again, supplied his name to the bishop.

    Again, in my mind, it is not sin per se that is the offense. It’s what makes the difference between a Bishop McCarrick who swears he’s done nothing wrong in the face of a lifelong pattern of sin and a Bishop Augustine who admitted to his profligacy and is now known as a Doctor of the Church.

    • Augustine’s “profligacy” is greatly exaggerated. He wasn’t Mick Jagger or Wilt Chamberlain. His greatest sin was abandoning his common-law wife of 13-15 years by whom he had a son. The relationship ended so he could marry someone of a higher social status. These types of relationships were tolerated by the Church at the time and the Council of Toledo allowed that people in such relationships could receive the Eucharist provided they were faithful to one another. Now he abandoned this woman whom he loved before his conversion. But I’ve always thought Augustine’s glossing over of this incident to be disingenuous and a weak point in the “Confessions”.

    • It’s one thing if somebody sins, it’s another if the sin is scandalous.

      I learned about scandal when I was a young man who had just met the woman who would one day become my wife. I had several friends getting married and their bachelor parties all included trips to the “gentlemen’s club”. I of course went along.

      Then an unchurched, nominally Christian woman, she protested to me that these excursions were inconsistent with my stated values. I had innumerable excuses but not one good reason. When we broke up and had no contact for years prior to reacquainting in another place by accident, I often had to wonder what sort of witness I provided, not only to her, but my collaborators-and even the women “dancing”. It took a while, but her astonished reactions finally penetrated my thick skull.

  4. I might lean to agreement here, but there are a few concerns:

    First, Fr Burrill has been named parochial administrator, not pastor. This is a temporary assignment, according to canon law. It might involve helping a parish who has lost a pastor in some kind of emergency situation. It might also be a stage in Fr Burrill’s rehabilitation.

    That rehabilitation might be tested as people in this parish work with him, accept him, or otherwise. I really don’t mind a cleric getting a healthy helping of mercy. I might wish bishops and pastors served the same to teachers and lay ministers.

    • You have obviously given serious thought to the teachings of our Lord and Savior and their application in the real world.

    • Flowerday writes that the parochial administrator ‘is a temporary assignment, according to canon law.’ What specific canon describes the position as temporary? Canon law does specify a pastor’s term as ‘indefinite.’ Thanks for the info, TODD.

      Orthodox parishioners of St. Theresa of Kolkata may have justifiable concern about Fr. Jefferry’s assignment to their parish. They may well wonder whether their Bishop has attended to Section 2 of Canon 521:

      “The pastor or one appointed in his stead, is ‘to be outstanding in sound doctrine and integrity of morals….’

  5. The prophecies about the Church being reduced to a remnant are coming true before our eyes.

    What is unexpected is how often Church leaders are the ones leading the faithful astray.

    Thank you, Mr. Petiprin, for shining a light on this truly repugnant scandal and placing it in its proper context.

    Jesus died to save us from our sins.

    Doesn’t he at least deserve to have the leaders of His Church believe in Him?

  6. Burrill should spend the remaining years of his life in prayer and penance, well out of the public eye. He certainly should not be put in any place where he would have ready access to young males or be able to influence impressionable minds with ideas distorted by his own perversions. Needless to say, Fr. Altman should not expect to have his priestly faculties restored by the same bishop. Serial sodomy is no big deal, but condemning heresy in the Church and warning people that voting for Democrats imperils their souls merit severe punishment.

    Some dainty critics of Altman criticized him for referring to the bishop by his first name. I can think of much worse things he deserves to be called. Callahan, far from being a shepherd protecting the flock, is deliberately throwing the sheep to wolves.

  7. “While we should all rejoice for Burrill to be reconciled to Christ and the Church, we should also be appalled to see him leading the people of God at the altar and in the pulpit again. We all understand that priests are in short supply, but we will just have to soldier on without men like Monsignor Burrill at the altar” Andrew Petiprin).
    Thank you Andrew. I wasn’t aware that Archbishop Gomez agreed to retain Burrill in priestly ministry. Yes, the scandal is enormous. A devastating indictment of a compromised hierarchy abiding to our Pontiff’s “Who am I to judge” policy of retaining active homosexuals, defending them despite civil indictments [Fr Mauro Inzoli, accused of abusing dozens of children over a 10-year period, was dismissed under Benedict XVI in 2012, but Francis reinstated him. Mgr Battista Ricca caught and charged with homosexual acts in public appointed by Francis as Casa Santa Marta guardian, the list goes on] tells us that the Synod on Synodality with the appointment of Cardinal Hollerich SJ who believes the Church should favorably recognize adult homosexual relations as relator is slated to further this abomination upon the Church.
    If Archbishops such as Gomez are either caving in, or are themselves advocates of homosexuality that as Petiprin says about a corrupt hierarchy is both terrible and true. There are the good faithful ones who remain. Their fortitude and our support of them are our hope.

  8. What indicates the absolute deceitfulness of the USCCB was that “Excellency” Burrill, prior to his outing by The Pillar, was assigned by USCCB to manage sex abuse “messaging” etc, for the USCCB.

    No young man called to serve Jesus Christ as a priest could ever trust, or be entrusted to, such an underhanded subculture in evidence at the USCCB.

    After a full 20 years of non-stop contemptuous coverup and deceitfulness, all set by the USCCB’s very own Cult-Hero-for-Sodomy-and-Subversion McCarrick, this “organization” is self-exposed for what it amounts to: a polluted racketeering organization deserving to be shut down and silenced…forever.

  9. Whatever opinions any of us might have, according to canon law, this is a matter for a priest and his bishop. In the age of scandal-seekers, we get to know about the business of persons such as Fr Burrill. But canon law hasn’t been changed to accommodate our ability to gather knowledge.

    Ultimately, the parishioners of St Teresa of Kolkata will or won’t accept their new priest. Perhaps people bothered by his past will want to influence people in the parish. Maybe it would be better not to do this. The virtue of prudence is in play.

  10. Excellent article. This case has been treated as a judgement on The Pillar for its investigating tactics, so as to deflect the fact that this man was the most powerful non-bishop in the US Catholic Church. His very quick restoration, as opposed to the same Bishop’s continued suspension of Fr. Altman, cannot help but arouse suspicion that Burrill knows a lot about the proclivities and “hobbies” of our Church leaders. And the assignment to a parish named in honor of our Mother Teresa, is beyond galling.

  11. I am sure that Bishop Callahan discussed this assignment with the Parish Council of St. Teresa of Kolkata Parish before the announcement was made. That would satisfy Pope Francis’ “smell of the sheep” criteria, eh what?

    If the good bishop did not do this simple action, should he be allowed to remain a bishop? Perhaps there is another needy parish who could use a former bishop as a parish administrator…..somewhere.

  12. Having listened few times the testimonials of exorcist priest Rev.Fr.Jim Blount hoping that there are miracles in enough lives .. wish no less in this situation even as much the concerns too not easy to discount .
    ‘Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ , save us and the whole world ‘-
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQIHEIGtro8

  13. “…how many more men like Burrill have not gotten caught, or have gotten caught and no one cared, or have even been encouraged in their sins by fellow clergy who have similar secrets.” Andrew, the answer to this observation can be found at churchmilitant.com

  14. My diocese uses parishioner contributions to the Annual Catholic Appeal (ACA) to support USCCB. The parish assessment to the ACA MUST be met by the parish. If it is not met from funds specifically donated to the ACA, money is taken from the parish’s general account.

    Consider the coercion. Consider sending a charitable yet firm and clear protest letter. The USCCB has far surpassed its usefulness. One of its prime purposes is to lobby the government. FOR WHAT PURPOSE?

    Just this morning, FOX issued this headline: “Catholic bishops urge politicians to address ‘alarming rate’ of vandalism against churches, pregnancy centers
    Attacks have become almost daily since the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion, the bishops observed.”

    Are the bishops truly and hopelessly SO BENUMBED AND SO DENSE that they have not seen this coming? Where are the prophets, where the one prophet, where the COMMON SENSE among them?

    To the Catacombs, My Good Friends!

    • Today Pelosi exemplifies the ‘success’ of USCCB lobbying efforts. CNA (via CWR) has her screech and squawk: ‘I’m very Catholic and I support abortion.’

      Yep. Nancy’s words sum well the battle cry of corrupt and pharisaical, rigidly hypocritical, fossilized, ossified, petrified rulers within the USCCB Church under One Francis. Their tricks are older than the Incarnation and have not evolved much. Why wouldn’t wise men be onto them?

      My Good Friends reply: “To the Catacombs!”

  15. Given the recent further defilement of the College of Cardinals caused by the appointment of rainbow warrior McElroy, I’m am not at all surprised. I would surely love to know if the Pope intervened here.

    Hayek was right. The worst always rise to the top.

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