Toronto priest plagiarized when ghostwriting for Canada's most senior Vatican figure: new book

The set of plagiarized texts 'has corrupted the production of magisterial texts and their reception,' writes Michael V. Dougherty, professor of philosophy at Ohio Dominican University

A new book outlines evidence that Cardinal Marc Ouellet, left, Canada’s most senior figure in the Vatican and a former candidate for pope, and Father Thomas Rosica (right) are entangled in accounts detailing years of serial plagiarism. GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images; Handout

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The serial plagiarism of a formerly influential Toronto priest extends to his ghostwriting for Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Canada’s most senior figure in the Vatican and a former candidate for pope, according to a new scholarly book.

Father Thomas Rosica, for many years a high profile spokesperson for the Vatican and influential figure in Catholic education in Toronto, acknowledged in an email to the National Post that he prepared the texts for three examples of Cardinal Ouellet’s published writing that a new academic investigation shows to be largely plagiarized from many sources.

Academic plagiarism is almost always serial plagiarism

The “patchwork” style of plagiarism in the work published under Cardinal Ouellet’s name, with sentences lifted from journalism, scholarship, and the published reflections of other religious thinkers, is similar to the style exposed last year in many of Rosica’s publications, according to the new research.

Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet leaves after attending the final congregation before electing a new Pope, on March 11, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

“Academic plagiarism is almost always serial plagiarism,” said Michael V. Dougherty, professor of philosophy at Ohio Dominican University, in an interview about his newly published book, Disguised Academic Plagiarism.

Ouellet could not be reached for comment at the Vatican. Ghost writing is as common and uncontroversial among Catholic leaders as it is among executives in public and private organizations. Ouellet was once Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada, and is now prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, the Vatican department that selects new bishops. He was considered a potential pope in the run-up to the election of the current Pope Francis.

In 2007, for example, Ouellet gave a talk in Windsor, Ontario titled “A Culture of the Eucharist for a Civilization of Love,” which was soon after published under his name in Origins, a Catholic journal.

One finds herein the remarkably complex phenomenon of a plagiarist plagiarizing a plagiarizing text produced by a different plagiarist.

“At least a third of the talk is unoriginal, however,” Dougherty’s book claims. “Ouellet’s plagiarizing ghostwriter misappropriated passages without attribution from a wide range of works to produce a fraudulent amalgam for the cardinal’s address.”

Curiously, those plagiarized passages include the work of a different cardinal published a few weeks previously, which is the subject of the first part of Dougherty’s analysis, and which is also largely plagiarized.

“It appears that Ouellet’s ghostwriter worked within a very narrow timeframe,” Dougherty writes. The result is that, in Ouellet’s published lecture, “one finds herein the remarkably complex phenomenon of a plagiarist plagiarizing a plagiarizing text produced by a different plagiarist.”

That is true. I did not properly cite it

Asked about the claims in the new book, Rosica declined a phone interview, preferring to answer questions by email. He acknowledged providing “background material” to Ouellet.

Father Thomas Rosica, then-Chief Executive Officer of Salt and Light Television at his Toronto offices, October 1, 2009. Peter J. Thompson/National Post

“I did assist him with these texts back in 2006-2007. After that when he moved to Rome I had not assisted him with any texts. He is the author of his own work. I have not been his ghostwriter since assisting him on three different occasions back in 2006-2007 as he prepared for the Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City (2008),” Rosica said in an email.

He initially denied ever ghost writing for the Cardinal, but later clarified after reading a chapter from Dougherty’s book on the Canadian clergy.

“I prepared the three texts for the Cardinal back in 2006-2007.  The texts were not properly cited for their sources. The Cardinal is not responsible for my errors in proper citation of sources in the original drafts of the text I prepared. They are my errors.”

Ouellet and Rosica have known each other for many years and have said so publicly, for example when Rosica once interviewed Ouellet, according to Dougherty’s work.

Rosica also acknowledged taking Ouellet’s words for his own writing without referencing where it came from.

“The Zenit piece (one of several of Rosica’s articles cited by Dougherty) contains material from the Cardinal’s address. That is true. I did not properly cite it,” Rosica wrote. “As for many other texts of the Cardinal, he prepared his own work and often reviewed suggested notes presented to him regarding venue, event, etc. I was not the ghostwriter of his writing. In several instances, I provided background material of his audience. I often referred to his writings in things I wrote for reflections, etc.”

Father Thomas Rosica and John Paul ll during Toronto’s World Youth Day, 2002. Sun Media Archive

Rosica was a senior figure connected to the Holy See Press Office when his plagiarism was exposed last year first by Dorothy Cummings McLean of LifeSiteNews and Mathew Block, editor of The Canadian Lutheran magazine. At the time, he was in Rome helping with communications for a papal summit on protecting children in the church against sexual abuse.

I realize I relied too much on compiled notes

He gave a similar explanation then, attributing his plagiarism to organizational carelessness rather than intellectual theft.

“I realize I relied too much on compiled notes,” he said at the time, acknowledging that it was wrong and publiclyapologizing.

The episode led to his resignation as chief executive officer of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, the Catholic television network he created, and from the governing body of the University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto.

Dougherty reveals another likely example: A 2008 keynote talk by Ouellet at a convention in Toronto on The New Evangelization and the Mass Media, also published online and in Origins. Dougherty describes it as a “plagiarizing compilation that exhibits the same patchwork-style plagiarism whereby passages from the writings of others are fashioned to produce the illusion of a unified text of new content.”

Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet leads a mass at his Vatican parish church of Santa Maria in Traspontina on March 10, 2013 in Rome, Italy. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

It includes some sources in quotes, to give the appearance that sources are being customarily credited. One unacknowledged source is an address by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI. Another is an “uncredited brief issued by the Vatican Information Service of the Holy See Press Office.”

Dougherty writes that readers at the time were almost certainly unaware that Ouellet’s seemingly original insight on a threat facing modern media “is really a pastiche composed of the words of an archbishop, the current pope, and an unnamed writer at the VIS.”

A third example from the book is a plagiarized homily Ouellet gave at a mass in 2008 at St. Paul’s Basilica in Toronto, “a sloppy amalgam” of various sources, including remarks by Pope John Paul II, an essay by a Lutheran pastor, and a homily given in New York by Pope Benedict XVI, all of which is presented as “an exercise of the cardinal’s magisterial teaching authority.”

Either (Rosica) is Ouellet’s ghostwriter, or Ouellet’s ghostwriter is plagiarizing (Rosica)

The “pernicious” effects of this kind of dishonesty is of particular concern to Catholics, for whom writings of this sort by leaders like Ouellet carry the weight of church authority, Dougherty writes. This set of plagiarized texts “has corrupted the production of magisterial texts and their reception.”

Dougherty thoroughly examines the subject of Cardinal Marc Ouellet’s ghostwriter. Passages that have appeared under both Rosica’s and Ouellet’s names are plagiarized both ways, the book claims, sometimes Ouellet predating Rosica, sometimes vice versa.

One particularly lavish sentence appears by Ouellet in 2007, and by Rosica in 2010. Another long passage in 2006 about John Paul II’s 2002 visit to World Youth Day in Toronto also appears the next year under Ouellet’s name.

One 2007 Ouellet text, itself plagiarized, is later plagiarized by Rosica in 2011.

“Either (Rosica) is Ouellet’s ghostwriter, or Ouellet’s ghostwriter is plagiarizing (Rosica),” Dougherty writes.

This is the kind of sleuthing that characterizes Dougherty’s book, which gives case studies of academic plagiarism more broadly. His book does not identify Rosica by name, but merely as “R,” in keeping with the book’s detached scholarly tone.

To assume the ghostwriter and Rosica are different people “entails that there are two contemporaneous serial plagiarists in Catholic theology who have an inexplicable devotion to the same very narrow subset of source texts for their plagiarism, covering both magisterial sources and non-magisterial ones, some of which are quite obscure.”

To assume they are one and the same, that the ghostwriter is Rosica, “simply entails that the defective plagiarizing works are the productions of one active serial plagiarist in Catholic theology who uses a consistent style of patchwork plagiarism.”