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plagiarism claim found false to bishop’s relief

Dunkeld bishop did not copy other scholars in his 2003 dissertation — by Peter Diamond and Ryan McDougall

The bishop of Dunkeld has welcomed news that he has been cleared of plagiarism accusations.

Bishop Stephen Robson was accused of lifting verbatim passages from other scholars in his 2003 dissertation—an allegation that this week has been proven false by the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome where he studied.

The university announced its decision on Monday March 2, following an investigation that began in January which concerned the bishop’s dissertation on St Bernard of Clairvaux.

A three-member panel appointed by the institution ‘unanimously decided that the dissertation of Bishop Stephen Robson did not include plagiarised material, and therefore no sanctions of any kind were required.’


The panel consisted of a medievalist and two patristic scholars—one of whom came from outside the university. Bishop Robson’s dissertation, titled: With Spirit and Power of Elijah (Lk 1,17). The Prophetic-Reforming Spirituality of Bernard of Clairvaux as Evidenced Particularly in his Letters was found by the three scholars not to have contained material stolen from another dissertation.

Fr Alkuin Schachenmayr, a Cisterian priest from Austria, first raised plagiarism concerns in 2019.Fr Schachenmayr is a priest monk based in Heiligenkreuz and is a Church historian.

In his scholarly journal, Analecta Cisterciensia, the priest wrote an article titled Concerns about Bishop Stephen Robson’s Dissertation on Bernard of Clairvaux.

He stated Bishop Robson had taken ‘word-for-word passages from scholars including Bruno Scott James, Jean Leclercq, Friedrich Kempf and Robert Bartlett.’

Other scholars were not cited in the dissertation, though Fr Schachenmayr claimed passages in the Dunkeld bishop’s dissertation appeared to copy or nearly copy passages from their work.


Fr Schachenmayr alleged: “One must ask whether the jury responsible for awards of excellence at the Gregorian succeeded in identifying one of the institutions best dissertations of 2003.”

The university debunked the claims however, stating all texts in question were sourced originally by Bishop Robson in the bibliography and footnotes of his dissertation.

Other passages in question had cited different versions of the works than those named by the priest who accused Bishop Robson, essentially rubbishing the allegations, the university confirmed.

The commission found just one exception, stating it was text ‘from a Church History manual frequently used in First Cycle courses which provides general knowledge background.’

Investigators said the text might have been recalled by Bishop Robson ‘verbatim from an earlier lecture course.’

A welcome decision

After the investigation concluded, the president of the Institute of Spirituality approved the findings. Bishop Robson has since applauded the university’s findings.

A spokesperson for the Church in Scotland said: “Bishop Robson welcomes the decision and extends his thanks to the Gregorian University for conducting such a thorough investigation.”

His dissertation was given the Premio Ballarmino prize by the university in 2004, for the best submission. The university began its investigation after the Catholic News Agency reported on the allegations.

No wrongdoing

He has always maintained there was no wrongdoing in his studies. In January, he said: “I can categorically state that there was absolutely never any intention to plagiarise any work.”

He also stated that his work ‘was checked at every stage by Fr Herbert Alphonso SJ, my supervisor, now deceased.’

He added: “I repeat, whatever the person you mention has claimed, there was never any intention to deceive or plagiarise. I was simply trying to understand St Bernard a bit better.”

Bishop Robson has a doctorate in theology from the Gregorian University’s Institute of Spirituality and a licence in canon law.

He was assigned to the Scottish seminary in Rome back in 1998. Fr Alkuin Schachenmayr was approached by the SCO for comment.

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