Rosica was the individual who in a lengthy interview of Bp. Fellay referred mockingly to Bp. Williamson as a "loose cannon." The interview was linked on to the sspx.org website for quite a long time.'It's wrong': Vatican media advisor admits to 'cut and paste' plagiarism for over a decade
Rosica said he lost track of attributions, and relied on material prepared by interns. He failed to check his sources, or to acknowledge them
Father Thomas Rosica, Chief Executive Officer of Salt and Light Television at his Toronto offices Thursday October 1.Peter J. Thompson/National Post
It was after midnight at the Vatican when Father Thomas Rosica called back. He had a lot going on.
As the Vatican’s long serving senior English-language spokesperson, he was at the landmark papal summit on youth protection, working 18-hour days conveying the church’s message to the world, through the media. This feverish pace is typical of the high-powered circles in which Rosica operates as a major figure in Catholic education and public life in Canada, as former head of Toronto’s 2002 World Youth Day, board member at the University of Toronto’s Catholic college, and chief executive of the television channel Salt and Light. Most recently, he guided communications for St. Michael’s College School in its locker room hazing abuse scandal.
But now Father Rosica had a problem of his own.
For years, he has been plagiarizing in his columns and essays, using words previously published by other authors without credit. Now it was coming out, and although he had quietly told his superior at the Basilian order he had an explanation, it had not quieted the storm.
“What I’ve done is wrong, and I am sorry about that. I don’t know how else to say it,” he said in a phone interview from Rome.
The plagiarized material comes from sources as diverse as Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times’ former book critic; Wikipedia; veteran Vatican correspondent John L. Allen, Jr.; Associated Press news stories; and religious blogs. Rosica even once had a column in the Windsor Star that included a sentence from Pope Francis presented as Rosica’s own words, in a passage copied from the National Catholic Reporter, but lacking the original quotation marks.
What I’ve done is wrong, and I am sorry about that. I don’t know how else to say it
Rosica said he lost track of attributions, and relied on material prepared by interns. He failed to check his sources, or to acknowledge them. People send him quotes and articles all the time, he said, and under the pressure of urgent media deadlines for op-eds on religious affairs, they get mixed up in his notes.
“I realize I relied too much on compiled notes,” he said.
He added that he often has many articles open on his computer at one time, and makes notes by copying work between files, but he said he has not maliciously stolen others’ work as his own.
“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 future.”
Other people’s words have appeared as Father Rosica’s own on the Salt and Light website, in The Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Toronto Sun and the Windsor Star, among others. This was first revealed in investigations by Dorothy Cummings McLean of LifeSiteNews, and Mathew Block, editor of The Canadian Lutheran magazine. The National Post found additional examples, simply by searching distinctive phrases.
So now, at a moment of crisis in Catholic reconciliation over child sexual abuse, the Vatican’s message guy was spiraling into a public moral crisis of his own.
A request for comment from the office of Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications, was not answered by press time.
An interactive showing examples of Rosica’s plagiarized work and where it originally came from. Postmedia Network
Examples of unattributed copy appear in both Catholic and lay media, and in many cases would have been professionally edited. Many are descriptions of basic facts or background context, sometimes several sentences long. In a 2011 article on the National Post website about Pope John Paul II, a basic description of canon law on beatification, the process leading to sainthood, is the same as in an article that appeared a couple of weeks earlier in the Catholic News Service.
John Thavis, former Rome bureau chief for the Catholic News Service, contacted the National Post to say that his articles are among those that had been partly copied, and that Rosica and Salt and Light were subscribers and therefore “free to use the material we provided.”
In The Globe and Mail in 2016, a paragraph that summarizes Pope Francis’s thoughts on mercy is identical to a passage from two months earlier in a review of a book by the pope by Kakutani, one of America’s best-known literary critics.
A 2008 column in the Toronto Sun about martyrdom takes two full paragraphs on Islamic history from an Associated Press report by Brian Murphy, a longtime foreign correspondent, now with The Washington Post, who did not immediate reply to a request for comment. The column also reworks a comment about martyrdom by Andrea Riccardi, an Italian church leader and now cabinet minister, into Rosica’s own observation.
It’s ironic that someone who stands accused of this is part of the pope’s media team
Rosica said he instructed staff to remove his essay The Ignatian Qualities of the Petrine Ministry of Pope Francis, from the Salt and Light website when he learned of the complaints this week. That essay includes an entire paragraph from Wikipedia about Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order of which Pope Francis is a member. It also takes a sentence from David Gibson, then of the National Catholic Reporter, now director of Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture, who did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Several other examples of identical text remain freely available online.
“Plagiarism is a very serious concern to us, and Postmedia will be reviewing all of the pieces that Fr. Rosica has contributed to various papers in our chain,” says Lucinda Chodan, Vice-President Editorial, Postmedia.
Editor-in-chief David Walmsley said The Globe and Mail will also review everything Rosica has ever written for them.
“It is wrong what happened,” Rosica said. I take full responsibility for this happening. I regret it. I’m glad someone brought it to my attention. I will be much more vigilant in anything that goes out under my name, or that goes out from me. It’s wrong.”
He acknowledged that for a journalist, academic or professional to do this is dishonest.
We don’t have a precedent for this.As an academic order, we would obviously take that very seriously
“I’m going to apologize, first of all to the collegium (the governing body of the University of St. Michael’s College). I will apologize that this came to light, and it’s wrong, and it’s not going to happen again.”
Rev. Donald McLeod, chair of the collegium, issued a statement: “Over the course of his career, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, has served the Collegium and the general community of the University of St. Michael’s College with distinction. We acknowledge the gravity of the developing situation, and intend to address the matter internally going forward.”
CSB refers to the Basilian order of priests, which is a major force in Catholic education in Toronto, at both the high school and university level.
Father Kevin Storey, CSB Superior General, said he did not immediately know what the official response ought to be. He suggested the price Rosica could end up paying is in credibility and invitations to participate as much as he has in public life.
“We don’t have a precedent for this,” Storey said. “As an academic order, we would obviously take that very seriously.”
Neil MacCarthy, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Toronto, said plagiarism in general is a serious allegation and he expected to hear more from Rosica.
“The variety and the volume is serious,” said David Mulroney, the former ambassador and former president of the University of St. Michael’s College. He volunteered that he had bureaucratic conflicts with Rosica while he was there, but acknowledged Rosica is “brilliant” and a “giant” in Canadian Catholicism. He also said longstanding confusion about board governance and the role of Basilians in particular has been an issue for the school that he raised when he was president.
“It’s ironic that someone who stands accused of this is part of the pope’s media team,” Mulroney said. “He owes it to his various constituencies — journalist, educator, pastor — to come forward and explain what has happened.”
The whole episode is “mystifying,” Mulroney said. “He could write these things on his own.”