SANDWICH — One of the Ten Commandments is “thou shall not steal,” but an Episcopal priest has been suspended for allegedly lifting more than a dozen Sunday sermons verbatim from a book.
The Rev. John E. McGinn, 65, who has led the 300-plus families at St. John’s Episcopal Church since 1993, was placed on administrative leave amid allegations that he plagiarized sermons dating back to 2006, said the Rev. Mally Lloyd, canon to the ordinary for the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, a position equivalent to the bishop’s chief of staff.
As many as 15 sermons have been identified as direct copies, Lloyd said.
They were allegedly taken from a book called “Dynamic Preaching,” which can be accessed only with an online subscription.
The bishop’s office pointed out a Dec. 11, 2011, sermon as an example. The sermon is still on the church’s website.
“I keep saying that one of these days I’m going to sit down and write a book because some of the things that have happened in my ministry need to be written down so that people can read them,” the opening line of McGinn’s sermon states. “They probably will think they are fiction but in reality they really happened.”
The sermon goes on to tell a detailed story of officiating at the funeral of a man who died suddenly and had “Jingle Bells” sung at his funeral instead of “Glory Bells.” An Internet search shows the same story, with slightly different wording, has been told at other churches.
Members of the tiny, wood-shingled 1899 church with vibrant red doors in the heart of Sandwich’s historic village were notified of McGinn’s alleged plagiarism through a May 9 letter from Bishop M. Thomas Shaw of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. The letter announced that the rector had been removed from the pulpit.
“This is a serious breach of the pastoral relationship between John and each of you, the congregation of St. John’s,” Shaw wrote in his May 9 letter to parishioners. “I am sorry that this matter has caused pain and will likely cause further pain in the parish. As difficult as this situation is, we know that truth telling helps to bring about healing, and our renewal follows repentance.”
In his letter, Shaw said plagiarism allegations first arose a year ago. McGinn said at the time that it was an isolated incident and would not happen again, Shaw’s letter said. “We investigated further and have documentation that not only did he continue to copy sermons and preach and publish them verbatim, in print and online, as his own, but he had been doing so for many years,” the letter states. “He admits to having done so.”
The sermons were published on the church’s website, as well as in the church’s newsletter, where they were signed by McGinn.
At the mailbox outside his East Sandwich home, McGinn declined to comment on the allegations.
“I’m going to retire,” he said. “I loved my time at the parish. That’s all. I think I did a good job.”
Sean Randall, senior warden of the church vestry, issued a statement on behalf of the local parishioners.
“For 17 years Fr. John McGinn has raised thousands of dollars for local charities and provided pastoral care for hundreds of people on the Upper Cape. Our prayers are with him as the diocese, St. John’s Church and Fr. McGinn work to resolve this,” Randall said.
The Rev. John Thomas, the retired rector of St. John’s and one of the few willing to comment publicly on the allegations, said he wished McGinn had retired earlier. Thomas, who retired in 1993 and left Sandwich for several years to fill in at other churches, returned 10 years ago to sing in the St. John’s choir. He said he has been unimpressed with McGinn’s leadership.
“I’m sorry for him. I like the man,” Thomas said. “I have been critical of his function as parish priest.”
Thomas predicted it will be a “tough road ahead” for the parish as it seeks to heal.
“There are a full range of emotions,” said Lloyd, who met with parishioners this week to begin mapping the church’s future.
The church, through its canon of regulations, concentrates on healing and forgiveness, rather than punishment, Lloyd said.
Over the next few weeks, the diocese will work with church leaders to make sure they can cover services and ceremonies such as baptisms and wedding…..
The Cape Cod Times has the rest.