"Personally, I'm appalled"

That’s one blogger’s response to this post about a priest who used one of my homilies, verbatim and without attribution, last weekend.

From Quantum Theology, here’s Michelle M. Francl-Donnay:

The deacon isn’t particularly perturbed, “As far as I’m concerned, the Holy Spirit owns the copyright to my work, not me, and I’m glad others can make use of the material that I post.” though he stops far short of endorsing the practice. Most of his commenters concur – it’s not a big deal. Personally, I’m appalled. And where I teach, that sort of behavior could get you expelled.

Could I submit as my weekly column one of Karl Rahner SJ’s columns for Die Presse, and not attribute it to the late Fr. Rahner? It’s been a busy week here, I have a sick kid, lots of grading to do and a grant deadline. The message is the same, we both write with the Holy Spirit’s inspiration (at least in my case, I hope and pray I do). What’s the big deal, after all?

To quote one of the commenters on the Deacon’s Bench: “A big cheer for your attitude. The Holy Spirit likewise holds my copyrights. If someone wants to use them and not attribute, that is fine with me. If some from a distant parish gets something out of it, even better.” It’s been a long time since Rahner’s columns appeared, and they’re in another language, and if my readers get something out of it, even better. AMDG (ad majorem Dei gloriam – to the greater glory of God) as the commenter closed. Another commenter intimates that we (I?) shouldn’t be so fussy – Matthew and Luke plagiarized Mark after all.

Would you say something to the editor or to the bishop in charge of the archdiocesan paper? I imagine so, and you would be right to do so. To pass off Rahner’s words as my own, no matter how good my intentions are, is plagiarism, pure and simple. (I think I still remember my moral theology!)

As Pope John Paul II put it the homily “commits the person who pronounces it to a dual responsibility: towards the Word and towards the assembly.” This behavior seems to me to be irresponsible to both the Word and the assembly.

Check out the rest.  She raises some excellent points.

  • http://www.gerardnadal.com Gerard Nadal

    Deacon Greg,

    I’m always receiving requests from people who wish to repost my articles. I have two simple criteria:

    1. Full and proper attribution must be given.
    2. My work may not be reprinted in any publication that charges a fee.

    About those criteria…

    Regarding full and proper attribution, it isn’t Gerry promoting himself. Without proper attribution, I don’t want people reading my blog some day and thinking that it is I who has stolen from someone else where they read the piece first. So the requirement for proper attribution is actually self-protective.

    As for not charging a fee, God is my great inspiration as well, and if I provide my blog articles for free, I don’t want people making money on them.

    What this priest did went far beyond an “oops” moment. He actually doctored the homily to make it sound like the work was HIS doing, not yours or God’s. Priests are required to hold a bachelor’s degree and study divinity for four years, leading to the M.Div. degree. Nobody gets that far without being steeped in the rules of attribution.

    What is galling here is the thought that this man knew better and lied to his congregation. He lied because, for whatever reason, he was ill-prepared and passed off your work as his.

    Perhaps the man just can’t put together a homily. I’ve known some great confessors who are wonderful in confession, truly wonderful, powerful, spirit-filled men, who couldn’t preach to save their souls. One would simply share homiletic reflections and attribute the source. He was loved doubly because he was so good in confession, and because he didn’t torture us with a meandering homily.

    There’s something to be said for a man who knows his limitations and desires to feed his flock well, doing so with the work of others. That takes humility, but it also requires honesty.

  • Rick

    Some priests and deacons are lousy homilists. I’ve always wished that at minimum they would read something that was written by someone more gifted–or, even better, put a TV by the lecturn and let us watch a homily by a talented homilist. If a homilist does read something written by another person, he should acknowledge who wrote it.

  • http://www.adeaconswife.wordpress.com Susan Kehoe

    I am with Michelle M. Francl-Donnay on this one. It is difficult to teach young people that cheating and plagiarism is wrong. It is becoming acceptable behavior.

    Priests and deacons who lift homily’s from the internet and then present them as their own contribute to the cheating is ok mind set.

    Also, I can always tell when the homily has been lifted from, usually, the internet. It never comes off as authentic.

    One Sunday I heard a homily, given by a deacon, which was lifted from three different homilies that were posted on the web. It was so bad that I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry.

  • naturgesetz

    I think it is good that you didn’t become angry with the priest who used your homily. But the fact that you don’t mind if someone uses your stuff doesn’t excuse the way the priest did it. Passing off as his own the work of another is dishonest. So I agree with everybody who says he should have acknowledged that he found this wonderful material on a deacon’s blog.

    I believe there are a number of services to which one can subscribe which give ideas for homilies, even complete homilies for the paying subscriber to use. It’s probably a good thing for priests and deacons who know their preaching leaves much to be desired, to use such services, and I suppose it is implicit when they sell these things that they don’t require attribution. But even then, it seems dishonest to read a purchased homily as if one had written it oneself. Taking ideas and using them as the basis for a homily would be a different matter, I suppose.

  • Tom

    I do admire the humility of our humble blogger, but on the other hand ( . . . and forgive the snarkiness ;-)) the effect is two-fold, meaning that if the Deacon ever has an offnight, upon driving home from Church he may find the Holy Spirit waiting as his doorstep with a “slapstick”.

  • oldestof9

    Just a question………..

    So before you start into the “meat” of the homily, deacons and priests are supposed to come up with a sentence or two that sounds something like this, right?
    “I sat and prayed for a week on todays readings and frankly I couldn’t come up with anything that made sense to me. so today I am giving a homily from the internet by (insert name or web site) and oh by the way, the last (4) homilies I lifted from the web and will continue to do so.”

    Do you think the people in the pews would take that for very long and not think he was a “bozo”? There are many many priests who couldn’t give a homily on their own to save their own skin. In fact one monsignor I knew (God rest his soul) used to pick a homily out of a book that he carried with him EVERYWHERE. I pulled it off the ambo for him after mass one day and he almost had a fit. He thanked me but I was told not to ever touch it again.
    Again, just a question…..
    What’s the difference if you pull it off the web and use it or read it out of a book?

    Peace to all

  • http://quantumtheology.blogspot.com Michelle

    The book might have an imprimatur and a nihil obstat – which I don’t think any blogs have been granted despite the Vatican’s push to get the Good News out on the web. And these days, the 50-something mother in the 4th pew on the right might also be reading John Chrysostom, so you aren’t going to fool her anyway. Frankly, I don’t think it’s right to do that either – you’re just less likely to get flak from the author (who is probably dead).

    You’re right, no one is going to sit still for that happening too often – if they know and that is an argument for them knowing. If you have to hide it, do you think it’s right? That’s a question I ask my teenagers….

    Not every priest is a riveting homilist, but every priest can and should be a generally prepared homilist and a competent one.

  • Cindy

    Deacons and Priests are supposed to be on the altar in place of Christ.

    Humbly, reverently, thoughtfully and authentically.

    If they can’t preach a sermon, or if they can’t give credit to the person who wrote the sermon they are preaching, then there is something far more seriously wrong than plagiarism.

    If one’s preaching is a sham, then what else is a sham? Absolution? Consecration? One’s understanding of the catechism?

    A few weeks ago it was painfully apparent that our Deacon swiped his homily from the Internet, as his Scripture Quotations were from the St. James version. So it wasn’t even a Catholic site. And yet, he referred to it as if he had thought it up himself.

    Sad. On many, many levels.

  • deacon marv robertson

    For some years, I have been a staff writer for “Homilies: Sunday and Weekday Masses,” Pub by FAITH Catholic Publishing and Communications. The two dozen of us write homilies, commentary, and general intercessions for each day of the liturgical year. None of us writers have a “by-line.” These publications go out to nearly 1/2 of U.S parishes. I am not at all perturbed that a preacher uses my submissions as “homily helps” or even quotes my homilies verbatim.

    I am reminded that the great composer J.S. Bach, upon the completion of a musical masterpiece, would sign three initials at the bottom—SDG. He later informed inquirers that this stood for “Soli Deo Gloria”—”For the glory of God alone.”

  • Deacon Norb

    To Michelle #7:

    I do hope you know what that combination of “Nihil Obstat” and “Imprimatur” really means. You might want to check Canon Law.

    It is not a “positive” assertion that this work represents the best of Roman Catholic teaching. What it is, is an assertion that it does not teach anything which contradicts Sacred Dogma/Doctrine. It is a NEGATIVE assertion.

    Can two books which take totally different and opposite perspectives on specific pastoral/theological issues BOTH receive the magic approval words? Yes!

    The best example I can remember is this: Once upon a time I saw an ad for a book in a popular Roman Catholic newspaper with a strongly conservative editorial policy. This book someone was selling was a book violently condemning the Cursillo movement. The ad mentioned that the book had a “Nihil Obstat” and “Imprimatur.”

    Now I am a Cursillista (in fact I am working a team in a few short months) and I have a number of the leaders’ manuals in my library — all of which have the “Nihil Obstat” and “Imprimatur” on them.

    The question you certainly must ask is why two sets of books — both taking a directly opposite pastoral stance — would both have that approval.

    The answer is simple: neither the “pro-Cursillo” source nor the “con-Cursillo” source advocated any heretical position.

    Besides, the 1984 Code of Canon Law severely narrowed the categories of books which did need that ecclesiastical approbation. Bottom line: over 90% of the books published by RC authors for RC audiences do not need that approval anymore.

  • IKE

    Somewhere along the line these things were taught to us:

    You shall not steal.
    You shall not bear false witness

    Priests and deacons ought not steal (plagiarize) nor bear false witness (lie by impling it is thier own work). Attribution to the author is required ethically and morally. I am in a Master’s program in Theology. Each class syllabus has the code of conduct demanding adherence to the catholic university’s highest standards. That is common practice and it is simple justice.

    A moral theologian would offer a few catch phrases:
    “Do good, avoid sin.”
    “Just because can do something, doesn’t make it right.”

  • oldestof9

    There are books written for the express purpose of allowing the priest or deacon to preach a homily as there own. (see #9 above)

    And did my deceased Msgr friend meet his obligation by allowing the congregation to see the book?

    Peace to all

  • http://quantumtheology.blogspot.com Michelle

    Deacon Norb, my theological training is roughly the same as yours (though undoubtedly you’ve had homiletics and pastoral work that I have not). Yes, I do know what an imprimatur and a nihil obstat are and I absolutely meant that one difference between a blogged homily and one taken from a collection of homilies (particularly older examples of such) is that the latter (may) have been deemed by someone speaking with the authority the Church free of anything that might be contrary to the deposit of faith. That’s a difference.

    I write for the Catholic press, and though what I write requires neither, it’s read quite carefully post-publication by my former systematic theology professor, now a bishop – so I imagine I would hear quickly and clearly should I err.

  • http://quantumtheology.blogspot.com Michelle

    Deacon Robinson, I admire your humility and your contribution to the preaching of the Church.

    I still think that there’s a difference between consulting collections of homilies and homily helps, then drawing on those resources to bring something forward that is particular to the time and place it is preached and simply standing up and preaching words prepared by another.

  • HMS

    Those of us who are in the teaching profession are acquainted with Turnitin.com, an online plagiarism detector.

    A few years ago, a student of mine submitted her paper on another teacher’s class account. When she realized her mistake, she resubmitted the paper for my class. Obviously, I had to tell her that she had completely plagiarized the work. After she explained what happened, I told her: “You have done something really remarkable. You have plagiarized YOURSELF.”


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