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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.

Richard Cross holds a doctorate in psychology, who has taught at the university level, including at Franciscan University. He is currently an educational researcher and consultant in the field of psychology and related disciplines.
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