Fr. Richard McBrien¯the Notre Dame theology professor and long-time lefty Catholic columnist¯is being tagged with the charge of plagiarism. The Boston Herald has picked up the story , which involves its Beantown competitor, the Boston Globe , and seems to run like this:
On December 11, the Globe ran a column by Eileen McNamara about the Catholic Charities’ dinner on December 9 that was headlined by Boston’s pro-abortion mayor, Thomas Menino. On January 6, The Tidings ran a column by Richard McBrien about, um, the Catholic Charities’ dinner on December 9 that was headlined by Boston’s pro-abortion mayor, Thomas Menino.
The blogger Diogenes notes :
Here’s a snippet from the original McNamara column: "They are a tiny band of antiabortion zealots . . . .These folks do not just miss the Latin Mass; they miss Cardinal Bernard Law . . . .There’s Bill Cotter, pining for the good old days when Law would allow Operation Rescue to use Catholic churches as staging areas for illegal blockades of abortion clinics."
Now from Father McBrien’s column, which wasn’t quite so original: "These ultra-conservative activists, for whom abortion is the only moral and political issue that counts, not only miss the Latin Mass but also the former archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law, who allowed Operation Rescue, a militant anti-abortion organization, to use Catholic churches as staging areas of illegal blockades of abortion clinics."
The Herald reports that McBrien has denied the charge: "’Plagiarism is when you steal someone’s ideas,’ said the 69-year-old priest, who taught at Boston College in the 1970s and whose column once ran in the Boston Pilot. ‘I was using the (Globe’s) facts (because) I’m not a reporter; I wasn’t at Menino’s talk.’ McBrien added that his critics ‘are not concerned about plagiarism, it’s that they disagree strongly with the point of the column.’ The January piece did attribute one sentence to the Globe."
The facts that McBrien got from the Globe are curiously wrong. For instance, the dinner was not at the Seaport Hotel but the Harbor Hotel (a point the Globe later corrected). More significantly, Cardinal Law actually prohibited rather than allowed Operation Rescue to use the parish churches. Is it too much to ask a Catholic commentator to have better facts about Catholicism than the Boston Globe ?
Apparently so. Still, I think Fr. McBrien is innocent of the charge of plagiarism. There’s no doubt that he was writing in the wake of Eileen McNamara, which is typically a sign of tiredness in a columnist: an indication that the man’s story ideas are running thin. But he did actually mention the Globe , and the weaker newspaper columnists have always fed off the chum left from the bigger sharks’ attacks. Within the ethics (so to speak) of the profession, that’s not plagiarism. So Richard McBrien behaves no better than other columnists in the bottom tier of American newspapers. Why is this news?
I’ve been saying for some while now that the most interesting story in American political history over the last fifty years is how the Democratic party, the home of serious Catholic voters and politicians, became the pro-abortion party. Mark Stricherz has been saying it, too, and unlike me he has been doing actual research into the question. Back in November, Stricherz summarized his work about Fred Dutton and the party’s McGovern Commission in a first-rate Commonweal article called " Goodbye, Catholics ." Now, on his blog , he talks about going to Eugene McCarthy’s funeral¯where he ran into Bill Clinton and, being a reporter, promptly asked the former president about McCarthy, the Democratic party, and Catholic voters. The answers are fascinating¯a partial admission that, in certain ways, McCarthy was wrong. "He didn’t want to give up the old members of the party, the blue-collar workers," Clinton said. "He was someone who, as you heard today, had grown up in a small town. He didn’t think that because blue-collar workers favored the war, they would leave the party. And I think he would have been appalled at the massive cultural change that took place between the two parties. A lot of the things that happened in ‘68 caused that."