Watson-Surett: Wolf in sheep’s clothing or sheep in wolf’s clothing?

Watson became an example of purity of intention in the midst of slander. Even after being persecuted, he did not fail to prove his zeal for the cause of the Church.

Newsroom (October 17, 2021 16:29, Gaudium Press) Since popular wisdom is almost inerrant in its dictates, it is always wise to trust in what the seven thousand-year-old experience of the human being says. In this context, an old German adage is cited here which proclaims: “guter Wein lobt sich selbst” (the good wine makes its own praise). Now, this, which applies so wonderfully to almost everything, fails to apply to man, because he is endowed with intelligence and free will. Therefore, the innocent is often confused with the guilty, and the guilty with the innocent.

The case in question is, therefore, one of those facts in which death and glory dance their merry waltz around the supposedly innocent… or pseudo-guilty.


The story begins when, on December 9, 1865, an American named Watson-Surett – an officer who had fought in the American War of Secession – joins the ranks of the Pontifical Zuaves[1] in Italy.

In March of the following year, another young American named Sainte-Marie, who had served under Watson in his country, also joined the movement.

One day, the regimental vagomestre[2] mistakenly sent a letter to Sainte-Marie to another addressee. This soldier, unable to read it – because it is in English – gives it to Colonel Allet (commander of the detachment of the Zuaves) who, surprised, realizes that the letter comes from the chief of police of New York, thanking him for the news and stating that the requests to Sainte-Marie to arrest Watson are in progress.

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Once summoned, Sainte-Marie is revealed to be a New York police detective seeking information about Watson, who is accused of complicity in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, which occurred in Washington on April 15, 1865. Parallel to this, the other two perpetrators of the crime had been arrested, and even Watson’s mother had been hanged for having hosted one of the criminals in her hotel, but Watson had managed to escape. This news could not fail to amaze the colonel, since the American officer was a great Catholic and rendered excellent services to the Pope.

Not being able to return a supposed culprit to his country and not wanting to lose an exemplary soldier, the authorities find a romaine way out of the case: incarcerate him in a prison in Veroli and secretly order Belgian Lieutenant Victor Mousty to “make” him escape. In this way, the assassin escapes from the prison suspended by a rope, at night, while all the soldiers shoot at him (having taken the precaution of emptying their rifles…).

The fugitive goes to Naples, where he boards a ship for Egypt. However, halfway there, he is boarded by an American cruise ship and is taken back to stand trial in his home country. Before the court, to everyone’s amazement, he manages to prove his innocence and even rehabilitate his mother (pitifully too late).

After the tangled story, and this is where the beauty of it lies, J.B. Suratt (Watson was only a pseudonym), returns to Europe in order to resume his fight on behalf of the Church and to continue his mission as defender of the Holy Father’s temporal power.

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Is it not worthy of praise a person who, despite all the calumnies and slanders, surrenders his service with unpretentiousness and generosity?

By Eduardo Nasivert


GUENEL. Jean. La dernière guerre du Pape: Les zouaves pontificaux au secours du Saint-Siège – 1860-1870. Campus de La Harpe: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 1998, p. 87-88.

[1] Pontifical Zuaves were those who fought for the Pope against the annexation of the Papal States to the Kingdom of Italy promoted by Giuseppe Garibaldi. This fight took place from 1860 to 1870.

[2] In the French army, the non-commissioned officer who sent letters and money to the soldiers.

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