The top editor at Catholic News Service has been forced to resign, reportedly because of pro-LGBT positions he had taken on Twitter.
Tony Spence, who had been editor in chief at the news service since 2004, was asked to resign last Wednesday, according to the National Catholic Reporter. The news service, based in Washington, D.C., is run by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The action came after conservative Catholic bloggers had objected to Spence's tweets denouncing anti-LGBT legislation in North Carolina, Mississippi, and elsewhere. "The far right blogosphere and their troops started coming after me again, and it was too much for the USCCB," Spence told the Reporter in an interview Thursday.
Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, the general secretary of the bishops' conference, requested Spence's resignation "because the conference had lost confidence in my ability to lead CNS," Spence said in the interview. He was escorted from the news service's office and given no chance to speak to his staff, he added. A spokesman for the bishops' group told the Reporter only that Spence was "stepping down."
While the news service is run by the bishops' group and therefore is an official agency of the Roman Catholic Church, it "is financially self-supporting by 'providing news stories, features and reviews to paying clients that are both secular and religious news outlets,' according to a notice on the conference website," the Reporter notes.
Some of Spence's tweets led to criticism on conservative Catholic sites. For instance, Michael Hichborn, president of the Lepanto Institute, a far-right Catholic group, had denounced Spence on the institute's site and in an interview with LifeSite News. "Spence's comments place him directly at odds with the Catholic Church he was hired to serve," Hichborn told LifeSite News. "While the bishops of the United States are taking a public stance against the forced imposition of same-sex marriage and transgender ideologies and while these same bishops are trying to stand up for religious freedom, the head of their communications firm is crying out against them. As long as Spence is at the helm, these bishops may as well be spitting in the wind."
A sample of the tweets that aroused conservatives' ire:
Spence told another Catholic publication, America, that he didn't expect his tweets to produce such backlash and "that he had been to his mind merely commenting on developing news on a subject frequently covered by CNS staff."
Before joining the news service, Spence had a long career working on Catholic newspapers and had also held a communications post at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. His work in the Catholic press, he told America, "was much more than a job. It was a vocation. And one I truly love." In 2010 he won a high honor, the Catholic Press Association's St. Francis de Sales Award.
Regarding his future, Spence told America, "Sixty-three and unemployed; not the brightest prospects. My plan now is to go home to Tennessee and start over."