Gregorian University to ‘review’ bishop’s allegedly plagiarized dissertation

Vatican City, Jan 17, 2020 / 11:11 am (CNA).- The Pontifical Gregorian University said Friday it will review the doctoral dissertation of Scotland’s Bishop Stephen Robson, which is alleged to contain several acts of plagiarism.

The institution’s “academic authorities have decided to proceed to a careful review of the dissertation in question, in accordance with what is established in the University’s Ethical Norms,” the university said in a Jan. 17 statement provided to CNA.

“The Pontifical Gregorian University considers plagiarism a very serious infringement of university ethics since the ‘attribution to itself of the intellectual property of the text or content of a work of others, in any part of it, is a lack of justice and truth,’” the statement added, quoting from the university’s plagiarism policy.

“A charge of plagiarism involving a doctoral dissertation necessarily implies special attention by the University,” the statement added.

The Gregorian’s announcement came days after Bishop Stephen Robson of Dunkeld told CNA that he never intentionally committed any act of plagiarism, but did not explain evidence that his 2003 dissertation contained verbatim, or nearly verbatim excerpts from published scholarship, without attribution.

“I can categorically state that there was absolutely never any intention to plagiarise any work,” Robson told CNA Jan. 14th.

Robson also told CNA that he would accept the judgment of his alma mater regarding his dissertation.

“I am happy for the Gregorian to nullify my text if they think fit,” the bishop said.

Robson completed his dissertation, “With the Spirit and Power of Elijah (Lk 1,17). The Prophetic-Reforming Spirituality of Bernard of Clairvaux as Evidenced Particularly in his Letters,” at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University in 2003.

The text was awarded the university’s 2004 Premio Bellarmino, the annual prize given to the best dissertation completed at the university.

A 2019 article in the scholarly journal Analecta Cisterciensia first alleged that Robson’s dissertation contained plagiarism. The article was written by the journal’s editor, Fr. Alkuin Schachenmayr, a Cistercian priest living in an Austrian monastery.

Schachenmayr wrote that “there seem to be dozens of passages in Robson’s dissertation which are apparently identical or remarkably similar to texts published by other scholars, yet the author does not attribute these sources.”

The article cited several passages in Robson’s dissertation that were identical or nearly identical to already published scholarship. Those passages give no indication of their source material.

Among the scholars from whom Robson apparently copied are Bruno Scott James, Jean Leclercq, Friedrich Kempf, and Robert Bartlett, according to Schachenmayr.

Some of those scholars were mentioned as sources in his dissertation, even while particular verbatim passages from them were reproduced without citation. In other cases, identical or nearly identical passages from published scholars who were never referenced as sources at all were included in the dissertation, Schachenmayr showed.

Regarding the prize given to Robson by the university, Schachenmayr wrote: “One must ask whether the jury responsible for awards of excellence at the Gregorian succeeded in identifying one of the institution’s best dissertations of 2003.”  

The Gregorian University told CNA it learned of the plagiarism charge against Robson Jan. 16, after the publication of a CNA article on the subject. It did not give indication of how long its planned review will take.

In addition to a doctorate in theology, Robson also earned a licentiate in canon law from the university.

The Pontifical Gregorian University, founded in 1551 by St. Ignatius of Loyola, is a Jesuit university, and offers degrees in theology, canon law, philosophy, Church history, among other subjects.

Robson was named a bishop in 2012 and was installed as Bishop of Dunkeld in 2014.

Hannah Brockhaus contributed to this report.

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