Several years ago, the Church was rocked by the scandal that Fr. Thomas Roscia had extensively plagiarized material for articles and speeches. He had been a Vatican advisor and the head of Canada’s Catholic TV network before the fall. I think this story is Rosica 2.0.
Plagiarism is a serious issue for those who write or speak publicly. In academia, it is one of the few things you can be fired for after tenure. If we want to state the Church is sharing the truth, we have a stronger obligation to the truth than secular academia. Plagiarism is taking someone’s text and claiming it as your own by not citing it.
Another priest has an extensive history of plagiarism and should be removed from the public sphere over it. His name is Fr. Jim Sichko. He is a habitual and chronic plagiarist. The evidence is so overwhelming here that I don’t think I need to couch my words in terms like “allegedly,” as is often done if someone is accused, but it’s uncertain. The rest of this piece will explore his plagiarism history and recommend at least one of his books be removed from distribution, and he should not be invited to more speaking engagements.
This piece will briefly review his history of plagiarism on Twitter and then look at his upcoming book. [UPDATE (1/12/23): the book was withdrawn & I include some details at the end.]
His Twitter Plagiarism
For the calendar year of 2021, someone found over 300 plagiarized tweets from Fr. Jim Sichko, with an account listing them all: @RevPlagiarism. I know the person behind this account, Fr. Stephen Vrazel, and he had tried hard to convince Fr. Jim to stop plagiarizing before this. In his texts with Vrazel, Sichko lacks remorse for this. Others, including myself, had mentioned to Sichko that such social media plagiarism was wrong, but he seemed to mainly react by blocking, not by stopping plagiarizing. This piece will not go in-depth on this as the evidence is laid out there. Where he plagiarizes from is eclectic: from bishops to Ralph Waldo Emerson to random Catholic laypeople to comedians to Protestant pastors to Juanita Broaddrick. Many of these tweets are things he reposts every year, showing a degree of knowledge and planning. This includes stories he repeated year after year as if they happened that day. Often, you can find the exact words tweeted only a few hours before the first time Sichko posts a plagiarized tweet.
If he were to cite them, that would be fine. I often cite quotes from interesting people on Twitter: I have posted over two dozen quotes from Fr. Frederick Faber, for example.
His New Book
Fr. Sichko has a new book that claims to be a bunch of short reflections called 60 Seconds for Jesus. You can find it online, but as I suspect it might removed, here it is on the Wayback Machine. Large parts of it are plagiarized, and some are in bad taste for a priest. This is far from an exhaustive list. The book repeats pages of short aphorisms and page-long stories. One person who prefers not to be credited helped me find this plagiarism, and he found a little over half the cases below. We stopped looking at the Aphorisms after page 20, and we stopped with the stories at page 50, plus we may have missed some, including several where an online search told me about a social media post exactly matching Sichko’s, but clicking gave it as deleted, and that is too weak of evidence to rely on.
This will be divided into three parts: direct plagiarism, possible plagiarism where it might be OK as it is a line or story that has been so often shared that the source may not be clear. Some of these might not sound too improbable of wording to appear independently of the original source: I can see that if there were one or two over 200 pages, but when each page of six aphorisms had multiple cases of plagiarism or at least probable plagiarism, that is not a reasonable assumption.
Straight up Plagiarism
These are cases where the person at the origin is identifiable, and the story or quote is verbatim. The crazy thing is that a lot of these work even better as short quotes in a book like this with attribution than presented as the author’s original content. Fr. Sichko could have cited all these.
Page 3: “Surround yourself with people who push you to do and be better. No drama or negativity. Just higher goals and higher motivation. Good times and positive energy. No jealousy or hate. Simply bringing out the absolute best in each other.”
This is attributed to Warren Buffet by several websites (example), but I could not find the original place Buffet said it.
Page 3: “Even though there are days I wish I could change some things that happened in the past, there’s a reason the rearview mirror is so small and the windshield so big. Where you are headed is much more important than what you have left behind.”
Kenny Lynn of EXIT Southwest (a real estate company) said this on Facebook. Everything from “There’s” traces back further to Sam Elliot, and Mr. Lynn was likely also plagiarizing Elliot.
Page 7: “Christian? Yeah. Perfect? Nah. Changed? Yeah. Mistake-free? Nah. Forgiven? Yeah. Worthy? Nah. Accepted? Yeah. Deserving? Nah. Loved? Yeah.”
This was posted by Cody Hughes on Twitter. He may be plagiarizing a prior woman who also posted it earlier. How can there be multiple cases of plagiarism-ception where Sichko plagiarizes someone who plagiarizes someone else?
Page 7: “The 4 Cs in life: Christ, Choice, Chance, Change. You must make the Choice, to take the Chance, if you want anything in life to Change, and it all becomes possible with Christ.”
Fr. Sichko is partially quoting, partially riffing on Zig Zigler here. Zigler said “The 3 C’s in Life [are]: Choice, Chance, Change. You must make the Choice, to take the Chance, if you want anything in life to Change.” Even with Sichko’s change to add Christ to the list and to the end, Zigler should still be cited.
Page 7: “A baby rabbit gifted a flower to its mother, saying, ‘I had picked this flower for you, but then I forgot and ate the top.’ ‘That’s okay,’ said the mother rabbit with a laugh. ‘Love doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be real.’”
This is a slight change from a tweet where are the quotes of the characters are the same, but it is a rabbit giving a boy a flower. The “Love doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be real” fits better below as a common quote of uncertain origin.
Page 7: “Nothing you confess would make me love you less.”
Lyrics from “I’ll Stand by You” by the Pretenders.
Page 11: “Authenticity always wins. It’s your biggest competitive advantage, but maybe you’re not using it. You look around at others you perceive to be successful, and you’re trying to be them. In reality, if you were more authentically yourself, you’d be more successful.”
Stolen from a Twitter user promising Old School Life lessons.
Page 11: “Jesus taught us. Walked with us. Ate with us. Worked with us. Debated with us. And then, after doing nothing wrong, he died for us. We don’t deserve it. We didn’t earn it. We are all sinners. We are all broken, but we have been given salvation. Thanks be to Jesus for taking up the cross to save us.”
Stolen from Charlie Kirk on Twitter.
Page 15: “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”
A quote from Lao Tzu, the legendary philosopher who founded Taoism.
Page 15: “Be the reason someone believes in the goodness of people.”
Page 19: Gospel: Jesus often reaches out to sinners even before they ask for forgiveness. It’s community first, then conversion. Welcoming, and being welcomed, is transformative.
This is taken from Fr. James Martin, SJ. Fr. Sichko did slightly transform the last sentence, but this was likely the editors as he tweeted a plagiarized version exactly like the original nine times (every June 14 since 2016 and once on June 13 as well). This pattern of him finding one good tweet to plagiarize then reposting it annually was a repeated pattern when you look at the @RevPlagiarism account.
Hopefully, the degree of plagiarism in this work by Sichko is becoming clear.
Stories That are Repeated but have an Uncertain Source
These should be mentioned as they come from somewhere else, but are often attributed to anonymous or are stories repeated so often different origin stories exist, or the origin becomes muddied.
Page 3: “Use your voice for kindness, your ears for compassion, your hands for charity, your mind for truth, and your heart for love.”
This is an old saying he copied, usually attributed to anonymous such as by the PassItOn foundation (the ones who do all those inspirational billboards).
Page 9: “It’s easy to spot a yellow car when you are always thinking of a yellow car. It’s easy to spot opportunity when you are always thinking of opportunity.”
I found this exact quote on several websites & social media posts. (Here’s one of the older ones I found.)
Page 15: “When you win, be kind. When you are ignored, be kind. When you are stuck, be kind. When you are upset, be kind. When you are disappointed, be kind. When you are in doubt, be kind. When you are scared, be kind. Kindness will always serve you well.”
This seems to be taken from somewhere on Twitter. It is more a copypasta than any particular person.
Page 15: “Thank you, God,
for your grace.
For your mercy.
For your forgiveness.
For your protection.
For your guidance.
For your friendship.
For your peace.
For your unfailing love.
For being my savior.
This also seems to be a Twitter-sourced copypasta, although less common, and here is the first using that exact wording.
Page 19: “Jesus didn’t die so that we would come to church. Jesus did die so that we would become the Church.”
This is a borderline copypasta. As far as I can tell, it begins with a Twitter account called “Love Like Jesus” which was often a source of Fr. Jim’s plagiarized tweets. Here’s the first time that account posted this.
Page 29: “Many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, frustration, anger, and disappointment. As their negativity piles up, they need a place to dump it.”
He modified the actual text of the story around it, but this is a pre-existing business story.
Page 37: “One Sunday morning at a small Southern church, the new pastor called on one of his older deacons to lead the opening prayer. The deacon stood up, bowed his head, and said, ‘Lord, I hate buttermilk.’ The pastor opened one eye and wondered where this was going. The deacon continued, ‘Lord, I hate lard.’ Now the pastor was totally perplexed. The deacon concluded, ‘Lord, I ain’t too crazy about plain flour either, but after you mix ’em all together and bake ’em in a hot oven, I just love biscuits.’
This story is also on this site, but seems like an old story repeated in sermons and homilies enough the origin is lost.
Page 45: “A young couple moves into a new neighborhood. The next morning while they are eating breakfast, the young woman sees her neighbor hanging the wash outside. ‘That laundry is not very clean; she doesn’t know how to wash correctly. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap.’ Her husband looks on, remaining silent. Every time her neighbor hangs her wash to dry, the young woman makes the same comments. A month later, the woman is surprised to see a nice clean wash on the line and says to her husband: ‘Look, she’s finally learned how to wash correctly. I wonder who taught her this?’ The husband replies, ‘I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.’”
This is one of those stories that gets passed around, but here’s a source.
This very brief review found 19 cases of plagiarism or questionable content from Sichko.
One joke Sichko made is very poor taste.
Page 10: “I once saw a bumper sticker that read, ‘I’m a veterinarian, therefore I can drive like an animal.’ That made me realize how many proctologists are on the roads.”
This is a joke in poor taste (proctologists study the intestines and rectum, for those who don’t understand it). This is also one of these repeated jokes; for example, here it is on Reddit.
This plagiarism is rampant and seemingly unrepentant. It is an anti-model for Catholics to follow.
I hope this evidence is sufficient to cancel this book and no longer invite Sichko to travel on speaking engagements. Once this is published, I may send it to the places he has upcoming engagements, suggesting they might find a better speaker. I wrote this earlier and sent it to Loyola over the weekend with the indication I would publish it on Wednesday, hoping they would withdraw the book, but they have not done so. This was important as Yesterday, January 9, was the official release date so pulling it now would have prevented most distribution of the book. They did have an unusually quiet day yesterday when they did not post about a new book on launch day, so maybe they are reconsidering this book, but as of posting it is still on Amazon and Loyola Press.
He had at least 16 cases of direct or probable plagiarism in the first 20 pages! This is not a slight accident or mere coincidence but a systematic pattern of plagiarism. The format of this book repeats the same 4-page pattern: (1) a page with a longer story, (2) a reflection for Sunday, (3) six aphorisms for the other six days of the week, and (4) an empty note page. The pages with six aphorisms had the highest concentration of plagiarism: none had less than two of six probably plagiarized, with page seven having four of six plagiarized.
Plagiarism was enough to bring down the presidents of Harvard and Stanford: we Catholics should have higher standards for honesty than them. Fr Jim Sichko does not even pass some of the lowest bars you can set for plagiarism. Let’s share the TRUTH with others, not just a bunch from others that we claim as our own. As Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32)
UPDATE (1/12/23): 60 Seconds with Jesus Pulled
Later on the same day as this was originally published, Loyola announced they were pulling the book. I want to thank them for this & indicate I have no animosity to them, as this was done pretty quickly. (I wrote a relatively positive review of another of their books recently and would do so again if a book deserved it.) Had I known it would be pulled later on Wednesday, I likely would have delayed my post above until it was pulled and reworded the post in an appropriate manner.
That afternoon, before the book was pulled, I spoke with Gina Christian from OSV News. Later that day, they posted an article on it. I was quoted extensively. I did not see it until the next morning. Here are some good points:
A Catholic book publisher has scrapped a new book one day after its release, following allegations the priest who wrote it had plagiarized material.
Loyola Press announced Jan. 10 it would pull from publication “60 Seconds for Jesus” by Father Jim Sichko, a priest of the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, and a papal Missionary of Mercy known for his motivational talks, generous donations and active social and mainstream media presence…
Cicciarelli said Loyola Press had been contacted on Jan. 6 regarding allegations concerning the book, and “immediately initiated a detailed review of the content.”…
“Our investigation revealed missing attributions for certain statements in the book,” said Cicciarelli in her statement, noting that the decision to cancel publication” was made as soon as practicable based on the events and our review.
The rest of the article is good if you are interested. As noted above, I wish the timing was such that this would have happened just before my initial post.
Fr. Jim SIchko posted a statement on his website that I leave for you to judge the merits of. (Here is a wayback machine version as well.) I hope Fr. Sichko truly changes his ways & stops plagiarizing. We preach the TRUTH, so we need representatives who respect the truth. Plagiarism does the opposite.
The local paper in Lexington, KY (Fr. Jim Sichko’s home diocese) carried a piece outlining the story of his book, 60 Seconds with Jesus, being pulled.