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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Vatican secretary of state Cdl. Pietro Parolin has refused to confirm or deny reports that the gay cruising app Grindr may have been used to blackmail the Holy See into its secret deal with China.
"At this point, also in the light of what has happened in recent days, I can say that no statement will be provided," Dr. Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Vatican's dicastery for communications, told a Catholic start-up blog Friday.
The prefect's statement follows a 90-minute confidential meeting between Parolin, Ruffini and journalists from The Pillar on July 17, with the reporters presenting data on the potential security threat posed to the Holy See by the use of Grindr within the secure sections of the Vatican.
"During a period of 26 weeks in 2018, at least 32 mobile devices emitted serially occurring hookup or dating app signals from secured areas and buildings of the Vatican ordinarily inaccessible to tourists and pilgrims," The Pillar reported Tuesday.
At least 16 mobile devices emitted signals from Grindr on at least four days between March and October 2018 in the Vatican's secured sections. Both heterosexual and homosexual sex cruising apps were used by 16 other devices on four or more days in the same period.
On Sept. 22, 2018, according to The Guardian, the Vatican signed a provisional concordat with China "allowing the faithful to have bishops who are in communion with Rome but at the same time recognized by Chinese authorities." China's Catholic Church pledged its loyalty to the Communist Party of China (CCP) the next day.
Despite international criticism and opposition from 88-year-old Cdl. Joseph Zen, Parolin renewed the deal in 2020. The Vatican said the agreement did away with "illegitimate bishops" and secured the "communion of all Chinese bishops with the pope."
"Blackmail is certainly one of the cards they have that they would have no compunction in using," noted Nina Shea, a former commissioner on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
"In terms of their engagement with the Vatican, I can understand well how they've targeted the Holy See through cyberattacks and everything else, and also the local church in Hong Kong and everything in the run-up to the new Vatican-China deal," Shea added.
China-backed hackers began infiltrating Vatican servers five months before Parolin renewed the Holy See's concordat with China. One of the attacks weaponized an electronic file with a letter containing a condolence note from Parolin.
The attack was detected by Massachusetts-based firm Recorded Future and is believed to have been carried out by "RedDelta" — a State-sponsored Chinese group.
In July 2020, Pope Francis reportedly pulled the plug on pro-Hong Kong comments to be delivered after the midday Angelus recitation — leading to accusations that he was gagged by Beijing.
Shortly before Francis appeared at the window in St. Peter's Square to pray the Angelus, journalists were told that the section of his remarks on Hong Kong were to be expunged.
RedDelta stopped targeting the Vatican network in early September, a week before Beijing announced that the concordat had been smoothly implemented over the past two years.
The Pillar also revealed that over a dozen mobile devices within the Vatican's secure areas were using sex dating apps like Badoo and Skout. While Badoo promotes LGBTQ+ dating, there have been warnings about Skout regarding the ease with which minors can use it.
Leftwing homosexualists — including Jesuit Fr. James Martin — erupted with outrage on social media last week after Msgr. Jeffrey Burrill, general secretary of the U.S. bishops' conference (the USCCB), was outed using Grindr.
Martin — whose LGBTQ+ ministry has been endorsed in a handwritten note from Pope Francis — complained about Catholic media conducting "witch hunts" and "spying on a priest, using data from an unnamed source."
Jesuit priest Sam Sawyer asked if the "data-mining exposé piece" implicating Burrill "is serious enough to justify journalistic methods that invade privacy."
In 2019, gay journalist Frédéric Martel published revelations of clergy in the Vatican using Grindr and other sex cruising apps in his controversial 550-page book titled In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy.
"My team and I have also managed to prove that Grindr does its job every evening inside the Vatican state," wrote Martel. "Often priests spot each other without meaning to, having discovered that another gay cleric is a few meters away."
According to Martel, several priests report that "Grindr has become a very widespread phenomenon in seminaries and priests' meetings." One priest told Martel that "he was trying to stay pious by not having sex with his Grindr contacts until the third date."
To evade the high level of digital surveillance used by the Vatican to screen phones and computers, "Curia prelates" bought "second private mobile phones" to "hook up on Grindr" allowing them to "get through the firewall" to erotic sites, Martel revealed.
The journalist insisted that he has conducted digital research on homosexually active priests "quite legally" using professional tools like Maltego, Brandwatch and KB Crawl, and "the result is impressive."
If a gay cleric wants to escape digital detection, he will need to live a compartmentalized life and never share the slightest personal information online — a feat "almost impossible," the French reporter noted.
Martel estimated that 80% of priests and 70% of seminarians in the Vatican are gay. His confidants include 28 self-confessed homosexual prelates from the Vatican.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has "at least" 5 of the 20 cardinals on the supervisory board living with a boyfriend, he maintained.
"Due to apps like Grindr, Tinder or Hornet, and hook-up sites like GayRomeo, Scruff (for more mature men and 'bears'), Daddyhunt (for those who like 'daddies') or Recon (for fetishists and 'extreme' sexualities), they no longer need to move or to take too many risks," he explained.
Martel says he has "never liked" the "dehumanizing and repetitive" nature of Grindr, "but I understand its logic: Using geolocation and in real time, it points you to all the nearby available gays. It's diabolical!"