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November 30, 2023

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Notre Dame professor again accused of plagiarism

By Karen Langley U-WIRE

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Only weeks after the theology department dismissed the Cardinal Newman Society’s (CNS) complaint of plagiarism against Notre Dame theology professor Father Richard McBrien, the national conservative Catholic organization again presented the University with an allegation of plagiarism leveled against McBrien’s work.

In a March 13 letter sent by fax to University President Father John Jenkins, CNS president Patrick J. Reilly asked Jenkins to pursue an investigation into McBrien’s 1997 book, “Lives of the Popes” – a work that Reilly said contains passages that paraphrase or directly copy portions of J.N.D. Kelly’s 1986 work, “The Oxford Dictionary of Popes.”

According to Reilly’s letter, former professor Father Marvin O’Connell raised concerns regarding similarities between McBrien and Kelly’s books in 1998 in a review of “Lives of the Popes” published in Books and Culture magazine.

University spokesman Dennis Brown confirmed Monday that Jenkins had received the CNS letter.

“We take such allegations seriously but we won’t confirm whether an investigation is taking place,” he said, noting that any such investigations are confidential.

The CNS raised its previous complaint of possible plagiarism by McBrien in a Jan. 19 letter to Jenkins. The letter focused on similarities between a column by McBrien that appeared in the Jan. 6 issue of The Tidings of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and an op-ed piece by Eileen McNamara that ran in the Dec. 11 issue of the Boston Globe.

According to an article in the Feb. 24 edition of the National Catholic Reporter, theology department chairman John Cavadini dismissed the accusation because the similarities were both unintentional and unprecedented.

In an e-mail sent to The Observer Monday, McBrien said the CNS “has a history of making unsubstantiated allegations against me, including the serious charge of heresy,” and said only the hierarchical Magisterium of the Church is authorized to make such a judgment.

“To date [the University] has found this type of criticism of my work to be unsubstantiated,” McBrien said. “I continue to have confidence in these University procedures.”

Cavadini declined to comment Monday.

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