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just the facts, ma'am

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jan 19, 2006

Our friends at the Cardinal Newman Society have asked academic officials at Notre Dame to investigate the possibility that the well known theology professor (and general nuisance) Richard McBrien committed plagiarism in a recent column which, as Uncle Di already observed, bore a distinct resemblance to an earlier column by the Boston Globe's Eileen McNamara.

With the Boston Herald now looking into the plagiarism charge, Father McBrien provided calm assurance that there was nothing to it. You see:

“Plagiarism is when you steal someone’s ideas,” said the 69-year-old priest, who taught at Boston College in the 1970s and whose column once ran in the Boston Pilot. “I was using the (Globe’s) facts (because) I’m not a reporter; I wasn’t at Menino’s talk.”

OK, let's review. Here's a snippet from the original McNamara column:

They are a tiny band of antiabortion zealots... These folks do not just miss the Latin Mass; they miss Cardinal Bernard Law.... There's Bill Cotter, pining for the good old days when Law would allow Operation Rescue to use Catholic churches as staging areas for illegal blockades of abortion clinics.

Now from Father McBrien's column, which wasn't quite so original:

These ultra-conservative activists, for whom abortion is the only moral and political issue that counts, not only miss the Latin Mass but also the former archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law, who allowed Operation Rescue, a militant anti-abortion organization, to use Catholic churches as staging areas of illegal blockades of abortion clinics.

Father McBrien concedes that he drew some "facts" from the Globe column. Which are the "facts" that give rise to the remarkable similarity here?

  • The "fact" that Cardinal Law authorized Operation Rescue to use Boston parish churches as staging areas? That isn't a fact; it's a falsehood. Maybe poor Father McBrien was led into error here because of his regrettable reliance on the Globe.
  • The "fact" that the demonstrators long for the Latin Mass? Possibly that's true; I don't know, and I seriously doubt that Eileen McNamara knows. In any case it's completely irrelevant to the question at hand, which is the suitability of Boston Mayor Tom Menino for archdiocesan honors.

Funny, isn't it, that although his ideas are his own, Father McBrien finds room in his column for the same irrelevant "fact" that Eileen McNamara used.

If the roles were reversed-- if the McBrien column had appeared in print first, and McNamara followed with such strikingly similar observations-- you can be absolutely certain that her editors would immediately call her on the carpet, and her tenure as a Globe columnist would be in grave danger. So now we get to find out whether the University of Notre Dame has as much intellectual integrity as (gulp!) the Boston Globe.

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Show 7 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: benedictusoblatus - Jan. 20, 2006 1:40 PM ET USA

    I honestly doubt Father Sorin had the likes of Richard McBrien in mind when he was considering what kind of priests and teachers he hoped to bring to Notre Dame du Lac when it was first founded. When "Vagina Monologues" is banned and Fr. McBrien is retired the University may encourage it's faculty and students along other lines - perhaps the importance of "the last things" and reparation, salvation and sanctification.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 20, 2006 8:52 AM ET USA

    If Notre Dame had any intellectual integrity or honesty, McBrien would have been booted long ago.

  • Posted by: Pseudodionysius - Jan. 19, 2006 10:47 PM ET USA

    If I'm an undergraduate submitting a paper to Fr McLyin don't I get expelled from Notre Dame for a stunt like that?

  • Posted by: hUMPTY dUMPTY - Jan. 19, 2006 8:01 PM ET USA

    Plagarism is when you present someelse's WORDs as one's own, with or without attribution. The same is true for IDEAS. The essence is claiming as one's own invention, that which originated with another. However, in most instances one does not OWN one's words or ideas. As a professor, when one student had the same wrong answers as another, I established cheating and graded accordingly, e.g. lack of quotation marks was prima facie. AMDG

  • Posted by: Vincit omnia amor - Jan. 19, 2006 6:32 PM ET USA

    Fr. McBrien PROTESTs more then a Protestant. He sounds like an immature child who doesn't get his way.

  • Posted by: Catholicity - Jan. 19, 2006 3:29 PM ET USA

    Plaigarism is when you present someone else's thoughts as your own, without attribution. This is exactly what McBrien did. But lets not accuse the good Father of something unseemly. Perhaps he's losing mental acuity, in which case, its time for him to go anyhow. To keep him from embarassing himself or the university again, you know. Nothing personal, just TCB.

  • Posted by: principle not pragmatism - Jan. 19, 2006 2:30 PM ET USA

    As one who was involved with Bill Cotter, Cardinal Law stopped the few Parish Pastors that were sympathetic, to O.R. from meeting at the Church where we had Mass celebrated before going on the abortion entance blockades. When O.R. ceased because of the injunctions, Law stopped buses leaving from church grounds to pray the rosary at the clinics. The Cardinal was very opposed to the activities of O.R. and the several priests that attended O.R. blockades were blackballed.

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