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Comments Closed

On January 6, the National Catholic Reporter suspended and hid all comments indefinitely, citing the proliferation of “malicious, abusive, and vile” comments. 

In September 2013, the traditionalist blog, Rorate Caeli closed comments, citing overload:

Moderating so many comments is becoming close to impossible at this point -- we simply cannot keep up with an international readership commenting around the clock. ...

Unfortunately, we cannot keep comments open and not moderated. Yes, from time to time, tired and weary moderators do let some go through we wish we didn't as there were many in the queue and we didn't have time to read them all. But, for the most part, we do well keeping the more eccentric ones out (and trust us, there are many of them!) 

I've heard of a trend toward eliminating comments on other websites as well. And I know of blogs with increasing readers but decreasing comments. 

Is the era of expanding blog discussion winding down? Collapsing under the weight of neuroses and the inability to self-censor? Is the commenter pool getting more vile? More immoderate? Are reasonable readers more likely to pass up a discussion these days?

Many of our readers read and comment at several sites. I am interested in your impressions. What do you think is happening?


Commenting Guidelines

Anne C - *gasp* I never knew we were such soul mates :-)  Please do comment more.

I refuse to read "Fr." Z, but someone who does told me that they are gloating over having shut down the NCR site comments.

So much for one, holy church, eh?

I do find that a forum like dotCommonweal provides food for spiritual reflection, sometimes even extending to an examination of conscience not least in trying to assess the way I conduct myself in interchanges.  This is a virtual community, but the members are real people with real feelings and real dignity to which they're entitled.  (And the world is a lot smaller than some of us think!  We never know who you may meet at a conference or a class or a ball game.)


That s/b "one" of the commenters ....


PUHLEEEEEEEZ introduce a self-edit feature.  Pretty PUHLEEEEEEEEEEEZ.

One more comment - on the use of real names and email.  Full disclosure on a public website is not always a good idea, especially for those who have an uncommon name.  Having email show to all invites all kinds of problems, from commercial spam to harrassment.  I was advised a few years ago by a friend to not use my real name - at least not the name that is best known (that I had been using).  He had been using his real name on a Catholic website, commenting on the "liberal" or "progressive" side of issues.  He became the target of harrassment, but, more frighteningly, of a stalker, who even managed to find his home address and phone # and would call him to verbally harrass him.  Unfortunately, most who google their own name will discover that there are more than two dozen sites that provide as much information as they can about almost everyone - some for free (address, phone #, age, relatives, social media presence, and sometimes even resume information). On one site, I  found a photo of myself (warning to LinkedIn and Facebook users), and on another an arial view of my home, along with the address.  It is difficult to get off these sites, and impossible for a few of them, such as Radaris that directs you to a daunting list of public sites where they gather their information to create listings, asking that you remove your information from those sites. They refuse to remove your "listing".  They also sell information that is not provided for free -  they do criminal checks, financial information checks, etc.  I have little concern that NSA will waste a lot of time listening to my calls to my husband asking him to stop at the store, and find these private sellers of personal information to be far more frightening.

I do use my real name here - at least a real name - but  in the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that nobody who knows me very well calls me Anne. 

Agree, Jim McCrae about beating dead horses.

America sometimes has new and different topics.  

I just posted a comment there:

Jeremy and Rita,  there was an article at The Tablet blog a few weeks ago that was quite interesting. Perhaps others saw it, or if not, would be interested in reading it. It is not about the political situation facing Catholics and christians in Africa and elsewhere, but about the tension between euro-centric Catholicism and African (and other third world) Catholicism.


I found Dominic Preziosi's comment at 12:36 pm today quite good and am glad that others have also liked it and exprressed similar views. I don't know what it takes to be a good moderator in these situations, but I do hope that the "permissive" moderating wew have seen on this site is maintained. The few annoyers, and I'm sure I have sometimes been an annoyer, cangenerally be put up with or ignored without a great deal of trouble.

I am not especially wide-ranging on the internet, but of those blogs I do visit regularly, I think dotCommonweal has the most civilized and thoughtful comments. Even viewpoints that I disagree with, sometimes strongly, I find worth reading because they are usually well expressed and exhibit a grasp of the subject under discussion, or aspects of it, that may easily exceed my own. When very forceful language is used, it addresses other people's arguments and evidence, not their character, appearance, or personal habits. I am in the company of grown-ups.

As a result, very little moderation seems to be needed. A gentle reminder now and then, rarely a bludgeon or ax.

We have a stable of reliably frequent commenters. Many are knowledgeable and thoughtful; some are particularly incisive and direct.

Thank you Dominic!    Seriously, I did not realize, until Rita mentioned it, you were moderating the blog.   I like the approach you are taking.

While I agree it would be nice to have more people comment, I am reminded of something Rush Limbaugh once noted.   (If you are still reading) he said that it’s easy to discuss topics that will flood the phone lines, but those same topics do not generate a large number of listeners, and that’s what’s most important.   So while more commenters are certainly welcome, I think the more relevant metric is what type of blog gets more page views, from more people.   I’m curious to know how dotCommonweal fairs in that regard.   I gather, pretty well, but…

Let’s face it, we have a serious issue we need to deal with.   When I first started commenting here, there were several fellow conservatives who commented regularly.    Now, they are pretty much all gone.   I miss them, and dotCommonweal should miss them more.    I’m pretty much the last conservative standing.    What happens should I fall?

I can't help but think that others might have commented on what I wrote if the discussion hadn't moved in such a different direction.

I’m sure that must be very frustrating, but would you ever say at a cocktail party, “No, no, no, sorry, but what this conversation is about is…”?

It seems to me that there are usually only two reasons to comment on a blog post—either to add something of significance or to disagree. If it is really good post, there are probably not all that many people who can add something of significance. Saying something like, "What a beautiful reflection!" is not adding something of significance, nor is, "I am so glad you wrote that, since is about time we real Catholics spoke out to defend Holy Mother the Church!" So I think it is quite natural for comments to tend toward the negative, although then those might be balanced out by other commenters who defend the original blog post. As a commenter rather than an original poster, I expect people who comment on my comments to disagree with me. So I think contention is to be expected and welcomed.

I think I have mentioned this before, but back in the earliest days of online forums, I belonged to Prodigy, which had "bulletin boards" for just about every topic you could imagine, and I spent most of my time on the Roman Catholic Board. There were often rather heated discussions, and periodically someone would lament how sad it was that people quarreled so. One day, someone in all seriousness said, "If you think things are bad here, you should go over and read the Pet Care Board!" (I never bothered to look at it, but apparently it is not just sex, politics, and religion that bring out people's vicious streak.)

Mirror of Justice, which I used to read pretty faithfully, has eliminated comments, and I have largely stopped reading it. Not being a lawyer, it was always a bit over my head, but the comments often helped clarify the issues, so they served a useful purpose that (if there are many other people like me) may have attracted readers. 

I have been spending a great deal of my time commenting over at Strange Notions, which is a forum for Catholics "dialogue" with atheists, and the great thing for me is that I defend the Catholics when the atheists attack and the atheists when the Catholics attack, so I get to disagree with everyone! But over the years I have spent lots and lots of time here on dotCommonweal, and I would say this is the one place where I have actually learned the most, and a lot of it has been from fellow commenters. In that respect, and for a number of other reasons, dotCommonweal really is, I think, the best forum of its kind.  

Welcome to Dominic Preziosi. And why does preziosi (or prezioso) sound so familiar? The only Italian words I know are from the opera, and the only thing I can find on Spotify is "Cesare, a me son troppo preziosi i momenti" from that immortal opera Catone in Utica by Giovanni Battista Ferrandini. (Is it a coincidence that this is in a thread by Rita Ferrandini?) 

A thread by Rita Ferrandini??

Guess again, David Nickol!!

Dominic's surname reminds me of the line from the hymn Pange Lingua:

sanguinisque pretiosi

quem in mundi pretium

But I may be mispronouncing the name; Dominic will have to enlighten us. :) 




Anne C. --

Please do comment more.  So what if people disagree.  We learn.  Plus, if I had one criticism that I had to make about Commonweal, i'd say that it doesn't pay enough attention to economic questions.  Now, with Pope Francis stirring up the economic pea patch, your economic comments would be especially valuable.

The aim of many troll commentators is to silence people, especially people on the left. The trolls have succeeded.

It has occurred to me that one of the reasons there are few malicious comments on the Commonweal blog site has to do with the fact that the reply button does not operate. It makes it is hard to maintain escalating negativity when a commenter is not directly and immediately responding to another commenter. Just a thought. (Of course it may be that Commonweal readers are just nicer, more civil people.)

By the way at first when I read the headline here "Comments Closed" I thought that Commonweal was closing comments.

Re: repetitive post topics and comment conversations being rehashed over and over again.  I don't think it's a problem to have multiple posts on a topic, particularly when the topic is important.  There were four or five separate posts from different posters on Home Depot's Ken Langone's complaint.  I don't have an issue with that, as each post examined a different facet of the issue, and I think most of us agree that this is an important topic.  Eduardo has posted several times on teachers being fired from Catholic schools after their same sex marriages have become known.  Again, each post has been on a different instance or a different facet of one of the instances, and it's safe to assume that he believes this is an important issue.  Some issues don't just come and go; they develop over a long time line, sometimes many years, and I think it's good to keep apace of those developments.  Grant has been following Archbishop Nienstedt with periodic posts - he posts when there is a development in the story.

Granted, the conversations in the comments on the same sex marriage/Catholic teacher issue have been recycled (mea culpa, mea culpa ...), and we commenters probably can do a better job of restraining ourselves from sending in a comment that expresses a view that we've expressed before.  


I think that shutting down the comment section(s) on NCR is wrong-headed for all the same reasons that we here in the US extend the protections of the First Amendment to even the most odious speech.

Why?  Because that is how we help protect the individual liberty of everyone.  The answer is not censorship of repugnant speech.  The real solution is MORE speech, not less.

It may be the cost of doing business in the public square these days, but publications like NCR have to find the resources to police their blogs exercising the best principles of journalism and public discourse.

Call me a "conspiralist" but I would venture that it is more than likely that all the recent "malicious, abusive and vile" comments on NCR has really been a concerted cyber attack by dark forces that insist on a fasicist Catholicism.  I don't think that it is a coincidence that the volume of the invective comes just at a time when there is a new moderate voice coming from the papacy.  We may be witnessing the right-wing, corporatist push-back to our Jesuit pope who has put forward a rigorous critique of unbridled capitalism - the real evil afoot in the world, not abortion or homosexuality. 

Catholics need to have public discussions and debate about the future of the church especially since many, if not most, of the hierarchy's pastoral leadership is compromised or nonexistent.

I love the comments section at Commonweal and have commented occasionally. Eliciting new comments or new perspectives (some have noted conservative commenters are thin on the ground here) can be difficult, some suggestions:

a) The blog post should ask for types of comments, commenters. E.g.: "How would commenters resolve this issue?" This set of comments is a response to such a question and very well focused. Or, "What do our conservative readers think about this topic?"

b) Limited posts, or limited time: C-SPAN has a mandated interval between call-ins on their programs (90 days? I can't remember). Such a limit might be good at Commonweal, probably not 90 days, but once a month? Limited time would be that posts on a topic would only be open for 24 hours or so, that might focus people.

c) Letters not comments: A well crafted letter is a gem, some posts might benefit by saying "No comments, but tune in in one week (5 days? 48 hours) where I will publish the best letters I have received in response to this post, send letters via e-mail to this address."

Jim Jenkins, I agree that more free speech is better than less free speech, but it would be cruel and inhuman to ask someone to read all the comments that come in now that NCR has gone to Disqus.   

It's too bad the haters managed to shut down the comments.  I would like to have agreed with Michael Sean Winters's remark this morning about Charles Krauthammer:


I’m pretty much the last conservative standing.    What happens should I fall?

Folks, let's all give brave Mark a rousing ovation for his efforts as conservative maverick:

Doesn't it depend on what you mean by "conservative"?

Abe—Thanks, but I’m not sure you understood the thrust of my comment.   What happens to me is irrelevant.    The question is, “What kind of blog do the editors want?”   I assume the goal is something more than an echo chamber.

Margaret—I don’t understand your question, can you explain?

Conservative? Well, there are conservatives and conservatives. There's Ross Douthat and there's Glenn Beck. The former espouses conservative ideas and principles, and offers cogent reasons for them. The latters presses conservative ideas with a punch to the nose. Douthat deserves a reading.

There are conservatives here at dotCommonweal, not necessarily about everything but about issues they see as central to their theological, political, or cultural views. I won't name names lest they be harrassed.

And there are liberals and liberals!


I think you draw the mistaken conclusion that because certain commenters sometimes express views that are to the right of your views, they are conservative.

Do you really think that "outing" conservatives here at dotCommonweal exposes them to harassment?   What does that say about those who frequent this blog?

Now you're dealing in stereotypes about my views and what is to the right of them.

"Do you really think that "outing" conservatives here at dotCommonweal exposes them to harassment?" Joke!


Well, I don’t see any stereotypes being used, but at least now I get the joke!    It does raise the question though.   If you have conservatives on staff there (not just people who have conservative views on certain issues), wouldn’t that be apparent to everyone from reading their threads and commentary?    If you’d have to “out” them, it defeats the purpose, no?

It’s a bit like needing to tell people to laugh when you think you’ve just told a joke. ;-)

The New York Times used to have the best comments sections.  Readers would "like" and editors would "pick" comments.  An editors pick was very positive reinforcement.  They were excellent judges.  Something deep inside had to click in your writing for it to be chosen.  And someone had to receive and appreciate that message; cute stuff didn't make it.  It was like a mini writing class.  But the reading/teaching took too much editor time.  They may still do some of this.  But they used to a lot of it. 

About repetition -- Sometimes it's a good idea, e.g., if there are new people on the blog who have obviously never heard of your side, or if someone asks you a question, you might have to repeat something you said before.  And sometimes issues develop and old ideas become relevant again.

What we need is an old fashioned internet "chat room" -- where there are no texts to comment on, and the relevant topics were whatever the group might be interested in.  But that kind of thing takes monitoring too.

For example, I have not been convinced that the climate change issue is being looked at as rationally as it should be - especially from the economics point of view. However, I did not comment on that thread because I have in the past experienced a "tsunami" (sorry) of attacks because of my views on climate change. 

I wish you did. On that thread we've focused almost exclusively on the physics and climatology, not at all on the economics.

"The aim of many troll commentators is to silence people, especially people on the left. The trolls have succeeded."

This is especially true of the topics of gayness and querying of witch hunt thinking on sexuality in general. The trolls discovered that the easiest way to skew debate on these topics was to project theories about the sexual proclivities of contributors, and on gay issues to multiply scatological references ad nauseam, as happened at NCR (as well as on right wing Catholic sites, with the blessing of the blog hosts).

What should be done is simply to demand that people give their real names and real email addresses.  

This is especially true of the topics of gayness and querying of witch hunt thinking on sexuality in general. The trolls discovered that the easiest way to skew debate on these topics was to project theories about the sexual proclivities of contributors, and on gay issues to multiply scatological references ad nauseam, as happened at NCR (as well as on right wing Catholic sites, with the blessing of the blog hosts).  What should be done is simply to demand that people give their real names and real email addresses.

I've read that conservatives who contributed financially a few years ago to the proposition in California that prohibited gay marriage (since overturned) were subjected to organized harassment by pro-gay-marriage groups, when the donors' names were made public in accordance with transparency laws.

I've read, too, that persons who contribute in some way to building abortion clnics, e.g. the construction general contractor, have been picketed in front of their homes by anti-abortion groups.  I would consider that a form of harassment as well.

It seems that there are many venues, both actual and virtual, in which organized ideological groups of any and all stripes can attack their enemies.  What rules of civil engagement should prevail?  I know that I would feel freer to speak up and assert my views if I don't need to worry much about facing personal attacks, nastygrams to my boss, phone calls on my personal phone, and all the other harassing tactics used to silence and bully people in the public square.  In my opinion, these considerations justify a nom de plume.  Sometimes the stakes aren't trivial.


I agree, Jim Pauwels, that dogmatic liberals are dab hands at harassment as well. To tar all opponents of gay marriage as bigots, and to diagnose people as closeted self-hating gays, are tactics unworthy of civilized debate, and damaging to the causes in which they are used.

I think those who resort to pseudonymity are not contributing to creating a culture of open discussion and are leaving the brave minority who give their real names more exposed to the nasty bullying you mention.

I do think it would help to require commenters to be subscribers even without publishing addresses.


I think an important distinction between say the Chicago Tribune and the groups NCR, Commonweal and Rorate Caeli is that these latter have religious contexts. So in that regard, nasty comments can act as an anti-witness against the faith that the journal was founded to represent.

And don't forget, one of the tools of the internet commenting brigade is the Poe--who pretends to be more religious than thou and in Catholic circles this usually involves someone representing themselves as more pious than, well, any of the Piuses. The idea is to state something outlandish from the alleged perspecive of this super religoius person and this either results in a derail of the conversation or just creating an antiwitness to the faith that makes it highly unattractive.

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