Furor Over Papal Plagiarism

The large headline in CRUX blares, “Ethicist says ghostwriter’s role in ‘Amoris’ is troubling.” This was an invited article, written by Michael Pakaluk, Professor of Ethics in the Catholic University of America. He pointed out that large sections of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Joy of Love” (Amoris Laetitia) were plagiarized.

Normally, plagiarism is viewed as a serious breach of intellectual integrity and morality. Plagiarists get fired. But Professor Pakaluk expressed moral outrage, not against the Pope, but against the ghost writer, Archbishop Victor Fernandez, who “plagiarized” some of his own writings: “these instances of material plagiarism call into question Fernandez’s suitability to be a ghostwriter for the pope. A ghostwriter should remain a ghost. By quoting himself, Fernandez has drawn attention to himself and away from the pope.”

A papal encyclical is claimed to have special moral authority, reflecting the “magisterium.” The assumption is that it was divinely inspired, or at least divinely approved. Due to this, the Church holds that encyclicals are almost infallible, and effectively beyond question. That’s not the kind of document we’d expect to be ghost-written. Nor was this simply a matter of a ghostwriter polishing papal prose. (In fact, there are many complaints about the clarity of the text.) Pope Francis delegated the substance to his ghost-writer and pretended the text and ideas behind them were his own.

This Catholic professor of ethics complains about the morality of the ghost-writer, not the putative author of the document. He recognizes that people are being deceived into believing Pope Francis wrote the document, but criticizes the ghost-writer for not doing a better job of deception. He has no moral qualms about the Pope taking claim for someone else’s work, or for the Church knowingly attributing quasi-infallibility to the work of ghost-writers. This seems more like the ethics of the Great Deceiver, Satan.

The ghost-writing of papal encyclicals seems to be widely known among religious journalists and commentators, yet they always credit the Pope with authorship. No one feels it is appropriate to tell the truth to the flock, who might have trouble finding the higher moral authority in the process.

Pope Francis refuses to answer questions about his encyclical. Perhaps he is insufficiently familiar with the contents of his immaculately conceived work.