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