Basilians must search for a ‘priestly’ response


Catholic Register, 15 March 2019

In the few weeks since the revelations of Fr. Thomas Rosica’s long history of plagiarism, it has been a prime topic of conversation in Canadian Catholic circles, and not a few of my Catholic Register readers have asked for my view.

I addressed it in my National Post column, as my colleagues there ran an extensive story on the matter after it had appeared online at LifeSite. I made no excuses for a long history of what — in both education and media circles — is usually a disqualifying offence. Yet I did not overlook the many fine contributions that Fr. Rosica has made for many years.

I expressed the hope that Fr. Rosica’s many gifts might find new ways to be of service. That column has met with a very positive response in Catholic circles, likely because so many people were reached by Fr. Rosica’s many projects.

That seems to have captured the general response to Fr. Rosica’s plagiarism. The Congregation of St. Basil (the Basilians), to which Fr. Rosica belongs, issued a statement on the matter: “Plagiarism of any kind is wrong. When it is committed knowingly it rises to the level of a moral offence. As a community of Catholic educators we condemn it, without qualification. At the same time, we embrace our brother despite this failing for which he has taken full responsibility.”

What’s next for Fr. Rosica? That’s largely a question for the Basilian order to decide and thus far there has been no public statement about that. The challenge for the Basilians is to ensure a proper priestly response, a response that is suitable from a community of priests toward a brother priest.

First, as we have learned so painfully over recent years, a proper priestly response is to be distinguished from clericalism, or priestly privilege.

There is no doubt that students, professors and journalists with a far less extensive record of plagiarism would face maximum penalties. The student may well be expelled and a professor dismissed. Likewise, a journalist with such a record would certainly be fired.

So it would be wrong to say that Fr. Rosica, because he is a priest, should be given privileges that a lay student, professor or journalist would not be given.

Fr. Rosica himself has acknowledged that, insofar as he has resigned from the three university boards of which he was a member. He has also suspended the daily e-mail he sent to hundreds of journalists, a compendium of Vatican news, writing that, “I will be concluding this service for some rest and personal renewal.”

That would seem to indicate that he will no longer have a role with the Holy See Press Office, as he has had in recent years. The Basilians would have to take the lead on that though, as Vatican standards for journalistic integrity are sadly lacking.

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