Head of Catholic News Service Resigns After Right-Wingers Complain


Tony Spence

The head of Catholic News Service (CNS), a news organization owned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,  has resigned, after being asked to do so by U.S. church leaders.

Tony Spence resigned on Wednesday as director and editor-in-chief of CNS, having served twelve years in that position. The National Catholic Reporter explained:

“Spence attended a regularly scheduled staff story meeting at 2 p.m. on Wednesday. Sometime later, after meeting with Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, the general secretary of the bishops’ conference, Spence was escorted from the conference office building without being allowed to speak to his newsroom staff.”

A memo sent the same day from Chief Communications Officer James Rogers to CNS staff said Spence was “stepping down,” but the reasons behind his departure are more problematic. Spence, who colleagues describe as “shattered” by his resignation, faced criticism from right wing organizations for LGBT-related tweets he sent out during February, March, and April. Spence told NCR:

“The far right blogsphere and their troops started coming after me again and it was too much for the USCCB. . .The secretary general [of the U.S. bishops’ conference] asked for my resignation, because the conference had lost confidence in my ability to lead CNS.”

The tweets in question include Spence’s comments on state religious liberty laws targeting LGBT people, Catholic efforts to welcome trans people, and Italy’s debate over civil unions. A sampling of the tweets includes, as available from National Public Radio :

get flushed as NC governor signs bill over

“Stupid evidently contagious. Tennessee tries to join MS, NC, IN in passing pro-discrimination laws.”

“Italy postpones voting, at risk. Opposition from church cited.”

“Fascinating story from #LACongress: #TransgenderCatholics hope to build bridges in church”

Spence told America magazine he never expected that commenting on developing news stories would provoke the backlash it did. The right wing campaign included emails “urging his excommunication and calling him a traitor to the faith.”

Spence has been in Catholic journalism for three decades, serving the church at diocesan and national levels, as well as being a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Calling his time at CNS “the best 12 years of my professional life,” Spence will return to his home state of Tennessee and “start over.”

Tony Spence joins more than 60 church workers who have lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes since 2008. His forced resignation is particularly troubling because it is another incident where right-wing Catholics were able to force a church worker out based upon trivial claims.

Last May, Rick Estridge resigned as a vice president at Catholic Relief Services (CRS) after a right-wing organization publicly released the gay church worker’s marriage license. Estridge resigned as an alternative to being fired after 16 years of celebrated service to CRS whose leadership refused to stand beside their longtime employee against the right-wing attacks.

Responding to right-wing trivial claims only encourages such operatives to continue their tactics. Tony Spence’s forced resignation is a concession to those who wish to harm LGBT people and any Catholics who stand with them.

My prayer now as Tony Spence resigns, as it was when Rick Estridge was forced out, is that as our church confronts attacks on its faithful workers, we may we all listen to Scripture’s most repeated theme: “Be not afraid!”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry





0 replies
  1. Brian Kneeland
    Brian Kneeland says:

    Now it isn’t even safe in the Church to oppose laws that allow discrimination and attacks against LGBT people – not to mention all the church workers who lost their positions (even volunteers) for being LGBT and/.or married. So much for the lesson of Jesus to “love one another as I have loved you”!

  2. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    With Francis kicking LGBT Church members to the curb in his recent exhortation, this sort of drip, drip of hunted down and kicking out individuals who lead honorable true lives will likely increase. There is no nuance to hide behind at this point. At least with Benedict there was no attempt to soften the blow. I pray for better times.

  3. Don Siegal
    Don Siegal says:

    Be Not Afraid
    “My prayer now as Tony Spence resigns, as it was when Rick Estridge was forced out, is that as our church confronts attacks on its faithful workers, we may we all listen to Scripture’s most repeated theme: ‘Be not afraid!’”

    I participate in a volunteer lay ministry. It is a huge responsibility of Director of RCIA. I have been given gifts that help me enable this important ministry. But because I’m openly gay, I live in constant fear of being asked to resign. May I add that I am sexually appropriate for my single status. I do not flaunt my sexual orientation; however, I never deny that I am gay. And if situations arise that I believe a person has a need to know, I willingly admit who I am.

    Now that LGBT people have made huge gains in civil rights (although there remains much work to be completed), I feel very free to live my life and be openly true as to who I am. Yet the one place where I should feel safe and comfortable—The Church—I am afraid.
    I do however find comfort in the final beatitudes:

    Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    Those who suffer because they seek God’s righteousness are already blessed. Those who steadfastly obey God despite the taunts and hurts inflected by others, will now increase in number.

    Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.
    This additional beatitude is spoken to those who are directly in front of Jesus, the disciples, they will experience what the prophets before them had undergone.
    Regardless, the fear does not go away.

    Something as simple as my membership in New Ways Ministry or my support of the American Military Partner Association—an advocacy group same sex military partners and spouses would suffice for demanding my resignation.

    I find myself relying on dissonant bishops, priest and religious to speak in my behalf of the goodness of LGBT persons and the importance their interpersonal relationships however formed for the common good.

    It is interesting that Amoris Laetitia address this point in No. 139: “Keep an open mind. Don’t get bogged down in your own limited ideas and opinions, but be prepared to change or expand them. The combination of two different ways of thinking can lead to a synthesis that enriches both. The unity that we seek is not uniformity, but a “unity in diversity”, or “reconciled diversity”. Fraternal communion is enriched by respect and appreciation for differences within an overall perspective that advances the common good.”

  4. Friends
    Friends says:

    It’s part of a pattern of so-called “Christian” organizations and their leaders attacking the influence of Christians who are not hard-core right-wingers. CBS News this week reported that Matthew Staver, the principal attorney responsible for inventing Kim Davis’ sham “interview” with Pope Francis, is heading the team of attorneys who are now drafting hateful anti-GLBT legislation, and then pushing it wherever they can exert influence over a state governor and/or legislature. That’s precisely what was done in North Carolina. Here’s the direct story link:


    The fact that the CNS firing was apparently instigated by right-wing leadership WITHIN the Catholic Church itself, rather than by outside agitators, simply shows how deeply the hatred and fear of social progress has penetrated into so-called “religious” institutions. What would Jesus say? What would Jesus DO? And whom did He favor — the wealthy and well-off, or the marginalized and dispossessed people of His own time?

  5. Thomas
    Thomas says:

    The Pope aid : “Who am I to judge ?” Obviously, the USCCB has no problem there. One only has to look at other denominations and their ability to construct dialog with gay persons to see that the Church , and especially the USCCB, has painted itself into a corner. The Papal Exhortation on the Synod was a disappointment for gay persons everywhere. This begs the question: when do we stop hoping for and expecting change and just abandon the Church to the self destructive path it has chosen?

    • Brian Kneeland
      Brian Kneeland says:

      “Who am I to judge?” was about a gay priest – not about us in the trenches! You are right about the exhortation – it says be nice to gay people – as the bishops here fire those who even show support!

  6. Larry
    Larry says:

    The Conference of Catholic Bishops said NOTHING when Donald Trump got international news coverage for bashing Pope Francis over his comments about the wall in Mexico but they react swiftly to anonymous bloggers and unceremoniously fire this gentleman for his personal tweets. Of course, he was pro-LGBT.

  7. Paula Mattras
    Paula Mattras says:

    “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Primacy of conscience………listen to your conscience and do not be afraid. One day the blinders will come off and the beauty of all God’s creation will be revealed to all. As long as the blinders are on, revelations remain invisible. Praying for you.

  8. Milton Marini
    Milton Marini says:

    At the root of this is a hierarchy which is under the control of bishops who suffer from the disease of clericalism. As Pope Francis points out, their focus is power, position and privilege. As have some members of government who share their goals, they have sold out to forces which can give them what they seek. As corruption in government places personal goal before the good of the people of the United States, so corruption in the hierarchy places cultural ethics before evangelical truth.
    They run off to other countries to be merciful but when they return it is clear they have left merciful, compassionate feelings behind. They are obsessed with sins which, because of their sex or station in life, they could never commit: abortion, birth control and same-sex marriage. But we hear very little from these members of the hierarchy – deacons, priests, monsignori, bishops, archbishops and cardinals – in support of social justice as preached by the Holy Father.
    It would be foolish to to expect leadership from the USCCB in these matters if we do not encourage those among the hierarchy whom we know to be of a different stripe to speak out in the name not only of members of the Church but in the name of humanity. The Church was founded to offer a vision at odds with the values of power, position and privilege that are found in the church as well as in the government of our country.
    As ever, the answer begins with a change in ourselves. We need to be willing to search out within ourselves the obstacles to making our voices heard by those in the hierarchy who are dragging their heels when it comes to facing all the evil in our time with the values of the gospel. Only when that happens will the Church in the United States be the force it can be to facilitate the changes we need to bring our church and our nation together.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] every level of the U.S. church, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops which fired a top official last spring for simply tweeting about LGBT issues. More than 60 church workers have lost their […]

  2. […] Institute and LifeSiteNews are the organizations behind the forced resignations of Tony Spence, editor of Catholic News Service, and Rick Estridge, vice president of Catholic Relief […]

  3. […] sixty church workers have lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes since 2008, but the recent news of Tony Spence’s departure from Catholic News Service(CNS) gained wider attention in Catholic media because of his […]

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