Watch out for "The Watcher"

I have recently had my trust abused by a commentator calling himself “The Watcher”.

As you may know, when a new commentator leaves a comment on Sentire Cum Ecclesia, it first comes into my email box to be moderated. This email contains a lot of information: who sent the email, what the email address is, what server is used, etc. So from the start I have a few clues as to who the commentator is. But in addition, I always ask three questions of potential commentators before approving them. I keep this information to myself, but it is for my own protection so that I know the bona fides of the commentator.

I ask:

1) Your real name (where a pseudonym is used)
2) Your approximate geographic location (eg. Melbourne or Timbuktoo)
3) Your religious background

As I said, I show trust in my commentators by agreeing to keep this information private.

“The Watcher” recently left a comment to be moderated on my blog. Some of you may have seen it. I wrote to “The Watcher” and asked him the usual three questions. He replied, answering all questions, and I approved him and his comment.

But I noticed that the name that he gave did not match the name on the email attached to the moderating notification, and enquired further.

I discovered that in fact he was not only using someone else’s email, but further (from speaking to that someone else, whose identity I will keep to myself), that the identity he gave me was not only not his but was actually (except for the Christian name) that of a known and respected scholar.

I do not take kindly to having my trust abused like this. I wrote asking him to give me an apology within 24 hours, otherwise I would post this warning. That was 48 hours ago, and as have not heard from him, let me warn you against this commentator, in case you find him posting on your blog or discusion board.

I judge such behaviour to be “not nice” and abusive of my trust. This is not the kind of behaviour that we want on SCE, or on Catholic internet discussion boards in general.

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16 Responses to Watch out for "The Watcher"

  1. Son of Trypho says:

    Talking about not very nice things David, I would refer you to Mr Coyne’s comments about his fellow brother Catholics (re. Cooees):

    -and you still maintain a link to a guy who uses dehumanising language like this;

    “they’re like cockroaches”

    “Like the Neanderthal predecessors to humans they engage in activities and thinking that will destroy their own species”

    and my personal favourite:

    “this small cancer in the Body of Christ”

    I would suggest if you read that comment through you could consider it an example of hate speech and your site is linking to it.

    Your thoughts?

    • Schütz says:

      Dear SoT,

      I have copied your criticism to this string on the Catholica forum (without mentioning you by name), and added this comment for Brian:

      “I must say that it does cause me concern that you use such language to denigrate your brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church. Criticism is well and good, but it does show a severe lack of charity (not to say “niceness”, which we value over on SCE!) to use such language.

      “Can I ask you, as I think I have asked you before when you have left comments on SCE, to show some care in this?

      “As the commentator says, I do have a link to Catholica on my blog, and would not like to feel forced to remove it on account of the kind of criticism this commentator reasonably makes of your rhetoric.”

      • Son of Trypho says:


        I commend you for taking this up – however I would refer you to the first response to your remark.

        One must query how intellectually dishonest one can be to seriously try to argue that the examples used were not dehumanising nor an example of hate speech.

        The cockroach example is the most obvious example of dishonesty I have seen in a long time. The context is quite clear from the passage. I would also like to remind readers that the Tutsis were called cockroaches during the Rwanda genocide.

        I could of course provide further examples but I find it distasteful.

        For the record, I’m not sympathetic to some of the extremists that post on Cooees either – but then most of the inflammatory comments are not from the editors of that site either.

        As to my own positions – I am best described as a Hebrew Catholic, who attends the Ordinary Form, so I don’t really have a stake in either camp – I certainly don’t see Catholica’s readers/participants as “the enemy” nor do I “hate” them.

        I will say that I have developed a dislike of Coyne from the few comments that I have read of his when he has popped up on other threads.

        I should also note that when I used “my personal favourite” I was being sarcastic – the language is repulsive.

        • Kiran says:

          Being a cockroach does definitely beat being compared to Satan though, as I was not too long ago…

          • Schütz says:

            Ian appeared to be expressing a preference for being called a “cockroach” to being called a member of a “tiny, but increasingly powerful, academe-based, male literary and theological elite”. Odd, but each to their own, I guess.

      • Tony says:

        Although I find the ‘niceness’ stuff a bit icky, I actually agree with you David, but I’d have to say there are commentators here who are anything but nice too, from time to time, so don’t be too eager to cast stones.

        I also find some of the commentaries of groups, real or perceived, can be couched in ‘nice’ language but is every bit as uncharitable as stuff I see in other places.

        I also understand the we all need to ‘vent’ and we can cut people some slack. Generally people who care enough about their faith to compose and post comments are pretty passionate people anyhow and find those who they disagree with very frustrating.

        As for Cooees, if you can justify having a ‘Cloister Countdown’ as anything approaching ‘nice’ then we’re talking a different meaning of the word.

        • Tony says:

          PS, I meant to say I’m sorry you were stung by ‘The Watcher’. I seem to recall seeing someone with that nic on one of the DBs but can’t recall too much more. Either way, such behavior is reprehensible.

        • Son of Trypho says:


          Can you advise if the commentators on here who are “anything but nice” are the editor/publisher of the website?

          That is what the problem is with your comment.

          Coyne has a responsibility in that position not to engage in speech which is far beyond venting or expressing his frustrations – it was out and out hate speech against people he disagrees with replete with dehumanising language and a call to abandon them to their own failure.

          • Tony says:

            I’d rather not get specific or personal SoT, beyond saying that I think the standards here reflect well on the host.

            I am just saying that you can often be blind to unkindness when you have general sympathy for the opinions expressed. This place is not imune to ‘unkindness’.

            Brian operates by different standards. He has tried on many occasions to say what those standards are and I’ve had the of tiff with him about his ‘excesses’. But you know what your getting and you can take it or leave it.

            • Gareth says:

              I think the co-ees coutdown is simply a bit of tongue in cheek.

              Above all, it may sadly be true.

              I know my own Bishop features on the coutdown and he (after not having one single vocation in his entire time in office) would most probably be counting down the days until he can hang up his boots, ever more so than our dear friends at the cloister.

        • Schütz says:

          I generally try to watch this and moderate if the language goes too far. Everyone is on notice in this regard.

  2. jules says:

    I was always under the impression that “The Watcher” is Ian. And he used to post on Cath Pews, and Cath News.

  3. Peregrinus says:


    I don’t see that there is a great problem about using an e-mail address that doesn’t actually belong to you, but belongs to someone else. As long as you can send e-mails from that address and will receive e-mails sent to you at that address, so that the address works as an avenue of communication with you, I don’t see any objection. From your description, I don’t think commenters are invited to give e-mail accounts for the purpose of confirming their identities; merely to provide avenues of communication.

    When you say the Watcher gave you an “identity” which was not his, I take it that you mean he gave you, as his real name, a name which is not the name he is usually known by. You’re quite within your rights to object very strongly to that, when you have explicitly asked for his real name.

    You say that the name he gave you “was actually (except for the Christian name) that of a known and respected scholar”.

    The “except for the Christian name” bit seems to me to be a fairly signficant exception. If I told you that my name was, say, “David Williams” or “David Ratzinger”, you wouldn’t accuse me of trying to pass myself off as the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Pope. I think offering as his real name something which was not, in fact, his real name is highly objectionable and is sufficient grounds for you to ban him, but I don’t see that the situation is really compounded by the claim to share a surname with someone identifiable, even if that claim is false.

    It would be different if I told you that my name was, say, Nigel Terence Wright, since you might forseeably confuse me with the N. T. Wright, even though those are not in fact his Christian names. If the names were close enough to suggest an intention to deceive, they you have grounds for objection. So does the scholar concerned, obviously.

    Where is all this going? I’ve no desire to invite you to disclose any more about the identity of “The Watcher” than you have already decided to disclose, or of course about the owner of the e-mail account or the scholar that you mention. And of course this is your blog; the terms on which you invite people to leave comments are completely a matter for you. (And, just to be clear, even if I felt I had any right to voice objections to the terms you set, I would have no objections to voice. Your requirements seem to me to be eminently reasonable.)

    But I very cautiously and respectfully suggest that if you impose these requirements as a condition of commenting, then the sanction for not complying should be loss of commenting rights, but perhaps not public denunciation. There are two reasons for this.

    First, you ask for these items of information off-board, in a private e-mail, and the information is furnished in a private e-mail. Given that you run a blog and post most of your rules and expectations there, I think this creates an expectation that what you deal with privately will remain off-board. I have no sympathy for “The Watcher” in the circumstances you outline, but I’m still not convinced that you should make his private exchanges with you public.

    Secondly, someone called “The Watcher” has posted to a couple of other Australian-linked Catholic-focussed boards/blogs that I read. It wouldn’t at all surprise me if it were the same person. His posts have generally favourably impressed me, and I have previously wondered who he was, and what his background is. I’ve asked a couple of people if they know but, apart from eliminating one or two possibilities, I haven’t found very much.

    But I have found something. And if I added what I already know to the snippets of information that you offer, I could if I wanted pursue the matter further, and perhaps tentatively identify (or persuade myself that I had tentatively identified) not only “The Watcher”, but possibly also the scholar and/or the e-mail account owner. and/or institutions with which some or all of them might be linked. I might be right in my wild surmises; I might be wrong. As it happens, I’m not going to go down that road. But, my point is, the ripples from your denunciation here could intersect with ripples from other events that you do not know of, and have consequences for people other than the Watcher. Be careful.

    And, on preview, a PS for Jules. I have reason to believe that “the Watcher” is not Ian. Given what David has told us about the Watcher, you should be slow to share your “impression” about this with the world.

    See what I mean about needing to be careful?

  4. Schütz says:

    That, Perry, is something that ‘The Watcher’ should have thought of before he broke the contract of trust that his honest reply would have established between us.

    I agree that ‘The Watcher’ is a commentator of theological ability, which is why his lack of virtue to match so greatly disappointed me.

    And yes. The name, location and religious backgroud of the scholar whose name ‘The Watcher’ gave was sufficient to be identified as the other scholar to whom I refer.

    And Jules is incorrect in her surmise as to the identity of ‘The Watcher’.

    • Peregrinus says:

      That, Perry, is something that ‘The Watcher’ should have thought of before he broke the contract of trust that his honest reply would have established between us.

      Look, I agree. I am not seeking either to excuse the Watcher’s conduct which you describe, or to absolve him of any “downstream” consequences.

      My point is simply that your decision to make the whole matter public may impact adversely on people other than the Watcher, in ways that might not always be completely foreseeable.

      I agree that ‘The Watcher’ is a commentator of theological ability, which is why his lack of virtue to match so greatly disappointed me.

      Well, the recent report relating to the Dublin Diocese is just the latest in a series of reports illustrating that Episcopal ordination and moral clarity are not invariably closely linked. Perhaps our expectations of theologians should be similarly dampened.

  5. Matthias says:

    Tony i have stopped going over and reading at Cooees site ,for the reason you ennunciated above.
    However as for THE WATCHER using another person’s real name is not only a breach of trust but is also foolish given the current focus by law enforcement authorities around identity issues.

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