The unexpected resignation of the head of the Catholic News Service suggests it may become harder for liberals, even the moderate type, to survive on the Church’s payroll in the Pope Francis era, writes John Allen.
Some Catholics cheered last week, while others were either depressed or outraged, when news broke that Tony Spence, the head of the Catholic News Service since 2004, had resigned.
The move followed a controversy over three tweets he posted about religious freedom bills, which critics saw as promoting a pro-LGBT agenda.
CNS is the official news agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Mr Spence told media outlets he was informed on Wednesday, April 13, by general secretary Mgr Brian Bransfield, that he had “lost the confidence” of the Conference.
The ouster came after several Catholic blogs and news outlets seen as sharply conservative took Mr Spence to task. Mr Spence, 63, had served in the Bishops Conference for 25 years in a variety of roles, and now says he’s returning to his native Tennessee to ponder other options.
Those inclined to a political reading of things may see Mr Spence’s situation in tandem with other notable departures at the Bishops Conference, including the resignation of the late Sr Mary Ann Walsh as the Bishops' spokeswoman in 2014, and the more recent exit of Helen Osman as the Conference’s Secretary for Communications.
All three had reputations as moderates, perhaps leaning a bit to the left. Some will style these transitions as a long-overdue opportunity for clarity at the Conference, while critics will see them as an ideological putsch, but in any event a change in direction seems fairly evident.
Of course, there are conclusions to be drawn here about how careful journalists have to be about social media. Plenty of people have dispatched tweets they later regretted, but journalists tend to have bad luck living those lapses down.
One might also question the wisdom, whether on the part of the bishops or anyone else, of seeming to reward personal criticism in the blogosphere, no matter how substantive the underlying issues are. It’s always more difficult to persuade people to be charitable when appearances, anyway, suggest that finger-pointing works.
However, I have a more specifically Catholic perspective to float about the changes at the US Bishops Conference.