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bits and pieces of truth

By Diogenes (articles ) | Oct 18, 2005

He borrowed with antecedent permission, but without attribution. Does it count as plagiarism? An interesting point of casuistry:

The morning after classes began at the end of August, the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, president of St. Louis University, gave a homily at the school's Mass of the Holy Spirit, a Jesuit tradition that kicks off the academic year at Jesuit universities around the world. ...

An audio copy of Biondi's August homily shows that about one third was taken directly from a homily given last year by the USF president, the Rev. Stephen A. Privett, at his school's 2004 Mass of the Holy Spirit - published on the university's Web site. The similarities were first reported last month by SLU's campus newspaper, The University News. At no point during the homily did Biondi give credit to Privett as the source for large chunks of text. ...

Biondi refused to comment on the homily last week, but in September he told the News that he and Privett have an agreement in which they use each other's homilies, and that doing so is common practice among priests.

In an interview, Privett confirmed that the two university presidents have exchanged homilies for five years. He said he has similar exchanges with other priests. But Privett said this was the first time he could remember that Biondi had actually used his material as his own. Privett said he has never used parts of Biondi's homilies as his.

The article canvasses a pretty wide-ranging spectrum of opinions on the topic, pro and con. Most commentators remark on the contextual difference between authorship of a homily and a scholarly article, but even adjusting for the proprieties of the occasion it seems generally acknowledged that the pulpit is less demanding than the lecture podium. No one remarked on the irony of the parallel excerpts:

L. Biondi, S.J., August 2005: The profoundly human desire to know the truth about ourselves and our world is but another manifestation of the Holy Spirit. The bits and pieces of truth that we digest only whet our appetites for more. This intellectual restlessness is the driving force at SLU. In our Catholic tradition, any movement towards meaning and truth is a movement towards God, who is the fullness of truth.

S. Privett, S.J., August 2004: The profoundly human desire to know the truth about ourselves and our world is but another manifestation of the Holy Spirit of inquiry. The bits and pieces of truth that we digest only whet our appetites for more. This intellectual restlessness is the driving force of the university and a salient facet of our "immortal diamond." In our Catholic tradition, any movement towards meaning and truth is a movement towards God, who is the fullness of truth.

Perhaps "intellectual restlessness" is an overstatement.

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Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Oct. 19, 2005 10:48 AM ET USA

    Privett, who clearly has made a distinction b/n the truths of the Church and his own life, comes very close to whining. Yes, that's it: whining.

  • Posted by: Abraham Tolemahcs - Oct. 19, 2005 9:45 AM ET USA

    Considering the other ways by which priestly deception & a lack of integrity harmed our Church I do view this as a "big" issue; it points to a lack of intellectual & moral integrity & is deceptive. (this deception isdifferent than anon. blogging!) Copying each others homilies w/o proper attribution doesn't merit excommunication but it sends a very bad message to the students, makes one wonder in what other areas is their integrity questionable thus greatly compromising their leadership ability.

  • Posted by: Ignacio177 - Oct. 19, 2005 4:23 AM ET USA

    I have used chunks (at least good lines) of Diogenes' blogs in sermons and in retreat talks without atribution. None of the congregation would know what a blog is. Should I feel bad?

  • Posted by: - Oct. 18, 2005 8:18 PM ET USA

    There isn't anything surprising in this story. Most often Jesusits come up with something original only when it is heretical.

  • Posted by: Vincit omnia amor - Oct. 18, 2005 6:58 PM ET USA

    Di, Keep after the BIG stuff...not this little issue. Though, it'd be nice if the SJ's such as these knew there is a BIG difference between an "intellectual restlessness" that leads one to pursuit of the TRUTH versus that which leads one to accumulating so called "knowledge" apart from truth.

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