CNS Director Tony Spence Forced Out

Tony Spence has stepped down from his position as Director and Editor in Chief of Catholic News Service, a position he has held since 2004, after a series of comments on Twitter drew the critical attention of web-based fidelity watchdogs at the Lepanto Institute, LifeSite news and other sites.

An emotional Spence said this afternoon that critics went after him "full-court on the blogoshere” over the past few days. Spence was told yesterday during a meeting with  Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, the general secretary of the bishops' conference, that he had “lost the confidence of the conference” and was asked to submit a letter of resignation.

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The web-based publications, which in the past have frequently targeted Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, began a drumbeat for Spence’s removal after he posted a series of tweets commenting on impending laws related to bathroom access and other rights for lesbian, gay and transgender people. The Lepanto Institute accused Spence of issuing "public statements decrying proposed legislation in several states that would protect religious freedom and deny men pretending to be women the 'right' to enter women’s bathrooms."

Spence said that the web campaign provoked hate mail to his e-mail account, with messages urging his excommunication and calling him a traitor to the faith. 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.”

In 2010 Spence was the winner of the Catholic Press Association's St. Francis de Sales Award.

He said then that when Msgr. Owen Campion gave him his first Catholic press job at The Tennessee Register, diocesan newspaper in Nashville, Tenn., more than 30 years ago, "I thought I would give it a year."

"It hardly took that long to realize it was much more than a job," he added. "It was a vocation. And one I truly love."

Spence thanked his colleagues in the Catholic press for sharing his "love of this vocation."

Among other experiences Spence had been executive director for advancement communication at Vanderbilt University. He was editor-in-chief and general manager of the Tennessee Register Inc., publisher of the Tennessee Register, from 1989 to 1998. He also served as the diocese's communications director in 1992-98.

He served as CPA president from 1994 to 1996 and oversaw the establishment of the Catholic Advertising Network and the Catholic Press Foundation. He also was a co-founder of the Appalachian Press Project of Kentucky and Tennessee.

Catholic News Service is an office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Spence was a member of the conference senior staff. Though part of the bishops' conference, the news service 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.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Fran Rossi Szpylczyn
1 year 8 months ago
What a very sad day for our church, when we turn our backs on those who serve because of the bullying of fringe groups. Not that there is not room for dissent and discussion among all who gather at the table, but if this indeed is what happened and for the reasons stated, then the darkness has overtaken the light. God have mercy. Jesus must weep.
Anne Chapman
1 year 8 months ago
The fringe groups bullied, and the bishops "obeyed".. That is what is so sad. The church is not being irreparably harmed by the fringe groups, it's being harmed by the bishops who reflect the beliefs of the fringe groups.
ed gleason
1 year 8 months ago
These fringe groups, obsessed by pelvic issues, are a national joke that has already slopped over to the reputation of many of the hierarchy .... except for Francis.. Many hierarchs are so surrounded by syncophants that they are oblivious to the culture they live in. The one virtue lacking in to many of the hierarchy is courage, and cowardness is such an awkward and demeaning vice.This lack of courage is the main reason that the sex abuse cover-up flourished in the Roman Catholic Church, .
Rosemary McHugh
1 year 8 months ago
As a cradle Catholic, I believe that it is misguided to be blaming pressure from conservative groups of Catholics for the unjust removal of Tony Spence from his job, without also blaming the cardinals, archbishops, and bishops of the American Catholic Church. As a graduate of a Jesuit university, and as a strong fan of Ignatian Spirituality, I have noticed that Jesuit formation is focused on having a personal relationship with the Jesus of the gospels. Whereas, the formation in diocesan seminaries is focused more on the doctrines of the Church, on Mary, and on the saints, in my view. I believe that this lack of knowing Jesus personally has created a hierarchy dependent on rigid rules and man-made doctrines, which exclude the humanity of each individual, and stifle the freedom of the Holy Spirit's work in each of our lives. I feel sure that many in the American hierarchy are still trying to suppress acceptance of the LGBT life styles, since that is what they were taught. I think it is sad they they are still promoting that kind of teaching, even when some of them are gay and are reinforcing a self-hatred that the Church has been guilty of propagating, in my view, for too many years. Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, MD, MSpir
Dave Rosanova
1 year 8 months ago
Totally agree with you. Well said. PEACE
Jennifer Hartline
1 year 8 months ago
Dr. McHugh, pardon me, but are you serious? "...still trying to suppress acceptance of the LGBT life styles"? Are you seriously saying that the Catholic Church is wrong to oppose sexually immoral life styles? Is the Church supposed to declare such sins no longer sins because it's now politically and socially correct? "That kind of teaching" is called the Truth as it has been infallibly handed down since Christ. It has nothing to do with self-hatred; rather, it has everything to do with the natural and moral law, and the human person as male and female, made for each other and in that union of man and woman realizing the gift of marriage. This is what the Church teaches. Are you suggesting that it's time to throw this teaching out the window because our modern society deems homosexual activity perfectly licit? That would not be the work of the Holy Spirit, but the work of the father of lies.
James Haraldson
1 year 7 months ago
If you know anything at all about Christianity and about the meaning of the words of Christ, you would know that good and evil in motivation and action are not sociologically contingent. We often create our belief systems to convince ourselves how wonderfully caring we are no matter how much evil in our lives we have to deny. The truths of Church doctrine is inseparable from knowing Christ, which would clearly include not blinding ourselves to the commonality of sin. If a Catholic condemns Catholics who oppose being compelled to support abortion and rapists in women's rooms, that Catholic has abandoned Catholicism, not to mention human decency.
ROBERT STEWART
1 year 8 months ago
This story makes the case why workers need the protection of a labor union and a collectively bargained labor agreement, regardless of their employer. Workers trusting that church employers and clergy that supervise employees will treat them fairly and embrace the practice of justice articulated in Catholic social teaching are irredeemably naive. Of course, considering Mr. Spence's position, had workers at CNS been covered by a collectively bargained labor agreement, he would have likely been considered as part of management and ineligible for representation by a union, unfortunately. This one does not pass the smell test. No one should be out on the street and starting over at age 63 without a generous severance package that includes a continuation of health and welfare benefits and no reduction of an accrued pension benefit because of leaving employment prior to normal retirement age. Did any of that happen for Mr.Spence?.
Jason Songe
1 year 8 months ago
This article fails to mention the invectives used by Spence on his Twitter account. The article would have gained by linking to or showing the tweets. Kudos to the watchdogs for bringing to light the criticism of Catholic teaching by someone like Spence, who is in Catholic leadership.
Richard Hug
1 year 8 months ago
Not knowing what he tweeted, it's tough to comment on the replacement of a Catholic leader that has served the community so well. However, open discussion of our different values done in a civil way, must not be punished! Some of us in the USA were taught that women had a very specific place in the Church...and were not permitted to be readers or servers. Through discussion, that changed. I'm not saying that the LGBT position of the Church will (or should) ever change, but polite discussion of it should be welcome.
Lisa Weber
1 year 8 months ago
It would be helpful to know what was said on Twitter. Without that, there is no way to evaluate the situation.
L J
1 year 8 months ago
here is the "sin" in question with regard to Mr. Spence's "offensive" Tweet. Brace yourself because upon reading it, chances are very good you are going to immediately self-combust just by looking at his Tweet: ==== Tony Spence ‏@TonySpence Mar 24 #LGBTprotections get flushed as NC governor signs bill over #bathroomwars http://bit.ly/22w1DYU via @newsobserver.com ==== Millions of Catholics have read some incredibly hateful, prideful, envious, scandalous lengthy pages (not just tweets) on those nefarious "c"atholic websites. The Bishops in dioceses where those scandalous self-righteous rock throwing websites are hosted should shut them under Canon Law: they cause scandal.
James Haraldson
1 year 7 months ago
One can read hateful, prideful, envious, and sanctimonious comments in reading yours.
William Rydberg
1 year 8 months ago
It's a testament to the USCCB's tolerance that this fellow served for so long. If this fellow's convictions are as strong as he Tweets, one would have thought that he would have had the integrity to resign long before this Incident in my opinion... There's no doubt that he is looking at a big payday courtesy of the USCCB. Right or wrong these high profile Lay Executive Positions in the Church Bureaucracy pay big money. His severance payout in my opinion will likely be very generous indeed. Let's hope that the amount of the Settlement and its terms makes it to the public record. After all, ordinary working Parishioners are the ones footing the bill in the end. He is a Public Person, so disclosure in my opinion would be in the Public interest. People need to know just how even handed the USCCB really is in this case. I fully support the USCCB. in Christ,
Kevin McDermott
1 year 7 months ago
Hey, William Rydberg. My sister has given her whole career to a variety of senior positions at Catholic Charities. Trust me, she's not making big money. If what's happened to Tony Spence happened to her, she'd lose every material thing she ever had.
James Haraldson
1 year 7 months ago
If your sister publicly scandalized the Church by using her position to aid and abet the mass murder of the preborn, your sister would deserve worse than losing everything she had.
James Haraldson
1 year 7 months ago
Back when Catholics were Catholics and knew about such things as the sin of pride, they knew that there is no limit to the stupidity and cold-blooded evil of those trying to prove their superior intelligence and compassion. Support for capricious gender identification is a profound evil. Support for allowing rapists into women's rooms can not be adequately described as evil.
L J
1 year 7 months ago
"Back when Catholics were Catholics and knew about such things as the sin of pride..." . Interesting you would wrrite such fanciful things. Those "Catholics" gave us 50% divorce rates in America, abortion, dismal attendance at Mass, dysfunctional adult children, deadbeat fathers and mothers, the disappearance of the nuclear family and the utter contempt for the Scraments we see today. The demise of our culture isnt the "sins of others". Your sins are just as culpable and all of us as well , Get your head out of the sand and stop throwing stones, acting prideful and blaming "others" for the deterioration of society. Those "catholics" you reference allowed all these to happen and most probably on your watch as well. . Stop with the grandstanding. It is an eyesore to the sins of pride, selfrighteous anger and the other cardinal sins you referenced. These are you as well as all of us . Practice what you preach
James Haraldson
1 year 7 months ago
How do you reach those conclusions? I think you would benefit from a course in reading comprehension. When did I “blame others” for the deterioration of society? When did I say anything that implied a position that warrants my being lectured about my sins, something I never denied in my life. The ills to which you allude were hardly due to the consequential effects from Catholics who lamented the very things that you lament. Man, are you incoherent. How can modernist “Catholics,” who deny the existence of sin, necessarily be innocent of sin? How can orthodox Catholics, who acknowledge their sins, necessarily be the only ones denying their sins? How did Catholics with a less than one percent divorce rate give America a fifty percent divorce rate? How did Catholics who were loyal to the Church empty the Church? My comments were directed to the voices expressing the very moral relativism that allows for shallow bishops to hire “spokespeople” that present a false Catholic position that idolizes government and supports the slaughter of the unborn.

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