Sandwich Rector Accused Of Plagiarizing Sermons

Father John McGinnENTERPRISE FILE PHOTO - Father John McGinn

The Reverend John E. McGinn, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sandwich, has been placed on administrative leave from the church amid allegations that he plagiarized at least a dozen sermons that he has delivered as his own work both orally and in writing to his congregation since 2006.

Church officials said that when Fr. McGinn was first confronted with the accusation back in May of last year, he lied, saying he had only copied one sermon and that it would never happen again.

In a letter sent to parishioners last Thursday, Bishop M. Thomas Shaw of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts stated that Fr. McGinn’s actions were a “serious breach of the pastoral relationship” with the church. “His conduct raises serious doubts about his honesty in dealing with his congregation and with his bishop.”

Fr. McGinn has been rector at St. John’s for 17 years. Before coming to Sandwich, Fr. McGinn was rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Southington, Connecticut, for 13 years.

His leave of absence will remain in effect until an agreement is signed by the diocese, the church and Fr. McGinn, which, among other things, will spell out the scope of punishment, said Mally E. Lloyd, the diocese’s Canon to the Ordinary, who serves essentially as chief-of-staff for the diocese.

Until that agreement is signed, Ms. Lloyd said she could not comment on what the punishment would be.

Ms. Lloyd said Fr. McGinn is accused of copying, word for word, several sermons from a fee-based service that is meant to provide ideas and inspiration to members of the clergy. She said clergy can use the sermons from the service verbatim but they must cite their source. They cannot pass them off as their own, which is what Fr. McGinn is accused of doing.

The online service is called Sermons.com but it also comes in print form, called Dynamic Preaching, which is what Fr. McGinn worked from, Ms. Lloyd said.

Fr. McGinn is accused of delivering these sermons as his own work and had printed versions made and placed at the back of the church for parishioners to take after the services. The sermons, with Fr. McGinn’s named afixed to them, were also transcribed and posted on the church’s website. 

The first plagiarism complaint about Fr. McGinn was made to the diocese last April. Bishop Shaw met with Fr. McGinn on May 2, 2012, to discuss the complaint. During that meeting, Fr. McGinn admitted that he copied a sermon but said it was a one-time occurrence and that it would not happen again, according to the bishop’s letter to parishioners.

However, Ms. Lloyd said that recently, “it came to the diocese’s attention that the plagiarism had continued. We did a spot check and found 12 or 13 instances between 2006 and 2012,” Ms. Lloyd said.

Asked if Fr. McGinn would be returning to lead St. John’s, Ms. Lloyd said she could not say for certain until a final agreement is signed. She made it sound unlikely, however.

Reached at his Sandwich home yesterday morning, Fr. McGinn said he is retiring from St. John’s but made no further comment.

St. John’s vestry issued a brief written statement yesterday saying that Fr. McGinn has raised “thousand of dollars for local charities and provided pastoral care for hundreds of people on the Upper Cape. Our prayers are with him.”

Tuesday evening, Ms. Lloyd was in town to meet with St. John’s parishioners. About 100 people attended.

The facts of the situation were presented and then the larger group was broken into small groups “so people felt more comfortable discussing their feelings about the situation.”

Next steps for St. John’s were also discussed, Ms. Lloyd said. Among those next steps is finding an interim rector for the church.

Ms. Lloyd said the immediate goal is to find someone to lead services for the next few months, until more permanent leadership can he chosen.

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