Head of Bishops’ News Outfit Resigns Amid Controversy

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by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  April 14, 2016   

Bishops ask Tony Spence to step down after reports of pro-gay activism

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WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - The director of the media arm for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is stepping down after reports that he publicly promotes the gay agenda.

Tony Spence, who has served as editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service (CNS) since 2004, resigned from his position Wednesday after the U.S. bishops requested that he leave.

"The secretary general asked for my resignation," Spence told the National Catholic Reporter Thursday, "because the conference had lost confidence in my ability to lead CNS." 

Michael Hichborn of the Lepanto Institute first broke the story Monday that Spence aggressively pushes LGBT "rights" on social media. Showcasing multiple tweets, Hichborn showed that Spence has, among other things, criticized the North Carolina governor for passing a law insisting biological men use men's bathrooms and biological women use women's bathrooms.

"#LGBT protections get flushed as NC governor signs bill over #bathroomwars," Spence tweeted March 24.

Spence has also attacked Republicans for failing to promote gay marriage, tweeting on March 10: "Religious liberty has replaced gay marriage in GOP talking points, fooling no one."

Michael Hichborn spoke with ChurchMilitant.com on his reaction to Spence's resignation.

"The mission of the Lepanto Institute is to serve Holy Mother Church by informing Her ministers, the bishops," he said. "Given the current crisis of confusion and ambiguity among the faithful, we are thankful for our shepherds sending a clear message that they will defend us against egregious offenses to the Faith."

Asked whether he was surprised by the bishops' swift action, Hichborn remarked, "I was surprised when I heard that the USCCB had asked for Spence's resignation. When we revealed the fact that a vice president at Catholic Relief Services was in a same-sex 'marriage,' it took over six weeks for the bishops to resolve the matter."

Hichborn is referring to Rick Estridge, former vice president of overseas finance at Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the international charitable arm of the USCCB. When Hichborn and ChurchMilitant.com reported that Estridge was in a same-sex marriage, CRS responded by accusing us of unwarranted "attacks." The bishops eventually acted by asking Estridge to resign after reportedly offering him a generous pay-off.

Spence is blaming what he calls the "far-right blogsphere and their troops" for going after him. "[It] was too much for the USCCB," he complained.

Hichborn responds, "I think Spence gives way too much credit to the exposure he received as the reason for his departure. The fact of the matter is that he would still be employed today had he not decided to publicly undermine the efforts of the bishops and the Faith he was supposed to be serving."

According to Spence, he attended a staff meeting at 2 p.m. Wednesday, after which he met privately with Secretary General Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield. Spence was later escorted from the building without being permitted to talk with staff.

Staff were informed of Spence's departure after 4 p.m., with an email memo circulated by the USCCB's chief communications officer, James L. Rogers, "to share news of Tony stepping down as editor-in-chief, effective today."

The memo made clear Rogers would take over as interim editor-in-chief until the bishops find a replacement.

 

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