The director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, a news agency affiliated with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has reportedly been pushed out of his position after an outcry over tweets endorsing LGBT rights.
Two prominent Catholic news outlets have reported that Tony Spence resigned this week at the request of an official in the bishops conference.
Spence, who has headed the CNS since 2004, was active on Twitter — tweeting mostly about news within the Catholic Church, but occasionally sharing stories on the journalism industry, world news and pop culture. He tweeted about sainthood dates, the pope and refugees, Flannery O'Connor's faith and the infuriating failures of the D.C. metro.
But it was tweets about the gender identity legislation in North Carolina and what supporters call the "religious liberties" measure in Mississippi, and related issues of LGBT rights, that reportedly led to his dismissal.
The National Catholic Reporter writes:
"In recent days Spence had been attacked by conservative Catholic blogs for tweets he had posted about controversial religious freedom bills in North Carolina and Georgia. These sites accused Spence of 'promoting the LGBT agenda.'
" 'The far right blogsphere and their troops started coming after me again and it was too much for the USCCB,' Spence told NCR in an interview Thursday. ...
"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."
One conservative Catholic site that wrote about Spence this week said he "promotes LGBT 'rights' " and "openly sided with the homosexual agenda." In addition to his tweets stating a position on the state laws, they cited several other tweets related to LGBT issues.
In one case, the Lepanto Institute wrote that Spence "warned that homosexual adoptions in Italy were at risk, calling them 'rights.' " That language came from the headline of the Reuters piece he was sharing; Spence had added, "Opposition from church cited."
Spence spoke to America: The National Catholic Review on Thursday:
"Spence said he did not believe his Twitter comments would provoke such a backlash — 'obviously' — but that he had been to his mind merely commenting on developing news on a subject frequently covered by CNS staff.
"Spence said that he had anticipated ending his career at CNS. 'Sixty-three and unemployed; not the brightest prospects,' he said with a grim laugh. 'My plan now is to go home to Tennessee and start over,' he said.
"He added, 'My 12 years at CNS have been the best 12 years of my professional life; my staff is just amazing and I'll miss it.' "
An NPR inquiry to CNS was directed to the bishops conference, which declined to comment, saying it was a personnel matter.