Former Vatican Spokesman Caught in Serial Plagiarism

Rev. Thomas Rosica meet the journalists during a press conference at the Vatican, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013.
Gregorio Borgia/AP Photo
THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, PH.D.

A Canadian priest who served for years as Vatican spokesman has apologized for serial plagiarism after being outed by an attentive journalist at LifeSiteNews.

Dorothy Cummings McLean revealed on February 15 that Fr. Thomas Rosica had plagiarized large sections of a February 8 Von Hügel Institute lecture at Cambridge University, which turned out to be a cut-and-paste hodgepodge of unattributed texts from Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, Gregory K. Hillis, Fr. Thomas Reese, Cardinal Walter Kasper, and Fr. James Martin.

Soon after, First Things editor Matthew Schmitz and others discovered a long trail of plagiarized texts dating back some 15 years. Schmitz tweeted out passages of Rosica’s writings and speeches side-by-side with the original texts, highlighting the extensive blocks of directly copied material.

Among others, Rosica published blocks of text without attribution from reporters John Allen Jr., Nicole Winfield, Cindy Wooden, Michiko Kakutani, John Thavis, and E.J. Dionne Jr., as well as lifting texts from a Der Spiegel interview with Rüdiger Safranski and from Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros, Bishop Robert McElroy, Fr. Thomas Reese, Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, historian Andrea Riccardi, and art historian Elizabeth Lev.

Rosica, a Basilian priest who still serves as a Vatican media consultant and is the executive director of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, apologized after the news became public.

“What I’ve done is wrong, and I am sorry about that. I don’t know how else to say it,” Rosica told the National Post Friday in a phone call from Rome.

“It could have been cut and paste,” he said. “I realize the seriousness of this, and I regret this very much … I will be very vigilant in [the] future.”

Rosica holds honorary doctorates from Gannon University, Niagara University, St. Mark’s College at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and Toronto’s Regis College. He is also on the Collegium, a governing body of the University of St. Michael’s College, a Catholic college in Toronto.

A university spokesman said he was “troubled” to hear of the allegations against Rosica, adding that St. Michael’s “holds its students and its academic community to the highest standards of accountability and academic integrity.”

David Mulroney, the former president of St. Michael’s, said that the priest’s extensive plagiarism is a serious offense and must be dealt with accordingly.

“Failure to investigate suggests that major Catholic universities in Canada value ideological compatibility over academic rigor,” Mulroney said.

In 2018, the Vatican’s communications office was accused of propagating “fake news” after digitally manipulating a photo of the first page of a letter by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, intentionally blurring the final two lines so they would be illegible.

The Vatican had sought to use a selection of the letter as an endorsement of an 11-volume series of books exploring the theology of Pope Francis; however, when read in its entirety, the letter basically said the opposite.

The Vatican’s “Lettergate” scandal, which led to the firing of the head of the communications office, arose just two months after Francis railed against disinformation and “fake news” in his annual message for World Communications Day.

In that message, Francis said that he wished to contribute to “stemming the spread of fake news and to rediscovering the dignity of journalism and the personal responsibility of journalists to communicate the truth.”

Even prior to the release of his message, Francis had denounced the spread of fake news on several occasions, comparing it to excrement and condemning it as a “very grave sin.”

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