Thursday, 7 August 2008

What Bishop Cathy Roskam said

I linked last week to three reports in London newspapers about what Bishop Cathy Roskam was alleged to have said about husbands beating their wives.

These reports all referred to the Lambeth Witness as the source of the quotes, rather than to any Episcopal Church news briefing.

The relevant issue of the Witness is available as a PDF here.

Bishop Roskam’s own response to the press reports can be found on her blog (scroll down to item 9) and is reproduced in full below the fold here (emphasis added).

Bishop Roskam’s blog, #9, July 31, 2008

Imagine my horror to read in an English newspaper this morning a headline that screamed Woman Bishop Says Third World Clergy Beat Their Wives over a picture of yours truly. The article went on to quote very selectively from an interview I had given as one of the press briefers a couple of days ago when the theme of our day was Equal in God’s Sight: When Power is Abused. Let me tell you a bit about the day itself. The program originated from the Spouses Conference under the able leadership of Jane Williams, wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The bishops and spouses met together in plenary, men one one side of the tent and women on the other. Jane Williams gave the first theological reflection on violence. She said in the course of it that violence done in the body of Christ is violence done to the body of Christ. Dr. Jenny Te Paa followed with remarks about the program to follow, saying that the morning’s focus would be solely on violence against women and girls.

A really excellent theatre company then performed a very moving piece on the conversations and healings of women by Jesus. This powerful and moving drama included the woman taken in adultery, Jairus’s daughter, the woman with the hemorrage who touched Jesus’s garment, the woman who could not stand up straight until Jesus heals her on the Sabbath, and, with an added twist, the parable of the Prodigal Daughter.

The play was immediately followed by the reading from 2 Samuel 13:1-22, the rape of Tamar. Dr. Gerald West led the Bible study on this passage. We shared in groups of three in response to six or seven questions. Then there was some sharing in plenary before Jenny Te Paa returned to bring the program to its conclusion.

So it was on this day that I was one of the press briefers for the Episcopal Church. And no, I did not say that clergy in the Third World beat their wives! In fact I said nothing about violence in the developing world per se. All my comments were made in the context of the pervasive nature of violence against women all around the world. The only area I singled out was our own context, siting the recent spate of murders in the New York area of women, and sometimes their children also, by husbands or boyfriends. But of course, those comments were not quoted.

In Lambeth 1998 Jack Spong, then the Bishop of Newark, made some very hurtful comments to the press about African bishops that sting people to this day. We made a big mistake then by not addressing his comments at the time. I was not going to make that mistake again. I asked for a point of personal privilege during the afternoon plenary today and addressed the matter. I stated unequivocally that I never said—nor would I say—that clergy in the third world beat their wives. I told them of the context of what was quoted and told them of what had been omitted. I apologized for anything I might have said that led to misunderstanding toward my brother bishops or jeopardized already difficult ongoing conversations at this conference. I said that if anyone had any further question, I would wait after the session at the back of the room and be happy to speak with them. I also suggested that they ask some of our partners in other parts of the world if the person in the article bore any resemblance to the person with whom they had been working all these years.

Afterward a couple of bishops had a few questions for clarification, but many bishops from both near and far came over to express their understanding and support, for which I am very grateful. ENS will also issue a statement I am told and I will continue to do what I can to clear the air about this matter.

I have to say it is very disheartening after all these years of building relationships around the globe to think of these lies going out over the internet to people who don’t know me and who will believe what was said. At the same time, I also need to reiterate that violence against women remains a problem the world over, and all of us within the church and in the larger society must do all we can to prevent it.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 7 August 2008 at 3:03pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: ECUSA | Lambeth Conference 2008

As I said last time:

Figures abound, Interpretations are legion.

Someone on House of B/D said 1 wife in 4 is beaten in the USA. Can anyone here say when “disciplining the wife” became illegal in your country? In Sweden it was in 1908. The result is that 1 woman in 5 is beaten today by her husband/partner.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Thursday, 7 August 2008 at 5:33pm BST

As I noted elsewhere that the media - even the "quality" papers - went straight to the gutter with this story, completely misrepresenting Bishop Catherine from start to finish. Riazat Butt was marginally better than the rest, challenging the "conservative" spin that there was no way any of the bishops could ever have commited an act of domestic violence.

The "conservative" lynch mob are still posting their dishonest spin all over the blogosphere. Just today, a poster who ironically refers to him/herself as "saint" has reposted the initial filthy falsehood in the comments section of Ruth Gledhill's blog.

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Thursday, 7 August 2008 at 6:58pm BST

Having known Bishop Roskam for many years, I have been waiting to see this story corrected. As reported in the press, it was inconceivable to me that she would have made such a statement about African provinces.

Posted by: Phoebe Pettingell on Thursday, 7 August 2008 at 7:19pm BST

Any time hundreds of men gather, no matter who they are, what their vocation or where they are from, there will be wife beaters among them. (That's one reason some of us prefer not to be married!) That is all the good bishop said.

Riazad Butt of the Guardian and others in the English press owe the bishop a big time apology. Personally I am not too impressed with the quality of journalism right now.

Posted by: Phyllis on Thursday, 7 August 2008 at 7:26pm BST

We all know how abysmally bad the corporate media in the U.S. are, but I believed, until recently, that the British news media were better.

Following them during Lambeth disabused me of that notion, though. As far as I can tell, the only difference between the "quality papers" and the tabloids is the lack of bare boobs in the former.

Posted by: JPM on Thursday, 7 August 2008 at 9:19pm BST

...violence done in the body of Christ is violence done to the body of Christ.....the morning’s focus would be solely on violence against women and girls.

And as almost invariably happens, domestic violence against men is ignored. And those of us who have suffered it are left in silence.

Posted by: Anon on Friday, 8 August 2008 at 9:03am BST

Hold on folks. All the newspapers quoted Bishop Roskam absolutely accurately and their interpretation of what she said is not untoward - that in any large group of men (even a group of bishops) there are likely to be some that beat their wives; and this is more likely if some of them come from socieites where wife beating is culturally accepted.

The sad thing about this episode was Bishop Roskam's attempt to deny what she had said once she was back among the bishops. Her blog merely reinforces the impression that Lambeth was a big love-in where the bishops were at pains to say nothing hurtful about or to anybody else present. 'Let's all hug one another and to hell with truth and justice.'

Posted by: Terence Dear on Friday, 8 August 2008 at 9:17am BST

As the reporter who first picked up on what Bishop Roskam had said, I would like to challenge this idea that I misrepresented her.

She did not, contrary to what she now claims on her blog, just talk about domestic violence existing in the world generally or specifically in New York.

She quite clearly stated that among the 700 men present at the Lambeth Conference, "chances are" that some of them beat their wives.

I would say that unless she has any evidence, this in itself is a fairly offensive claim to make about a group of church leaders.

She then went on to claim that "many of our bishops come from places where it is culturally accepted to beat your wife".

In another quote from the Lambeth Witness story, much of which was about Sudan, she talked about violence being used "as an act of war".

Where exactly do you think she is talking about? If she just meant New York then I'd be happy to correct the story to say: 'American bishop calls fellow clergy wife-beaters'.

However I do not believe she meant New York and apart from what she has said on her blog, at no point in the past week have Bishop Roskam or anyone in the Episcopal Church asked me to correct my story or suggested there was anything wrong with it.

Posted by: Martin Beckford on Friday, 8 August 2008 at 10:09am BST

Someone out here knows it happens. It takes bravery to stand up and say it. I've seen the hostility and scorn that often greets a man talking about his experience of this.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Friday, 8 August 2008 at 11:31am BST


with all those men you'd of thought maybe one would get up and speak. Men made the agenda.
I think the idea is violence to women is much much higher than the other way around.

Posted by: Bob in SW PA on Friday, 8 August 2008 at 3:36pm BST

No Martin. I think you completely distorted her comments.

Yes, she said "chances are." That's the point.

Hard stats are difficult to get for things that are typically unreported or under-reported. That said, various studies indicate that domestic violence occurs in between 10% and 30% of homes. While there are variances based on education, class, religious observance etc, all strata of society are affected.

Given that, it is UNLIKELY - though not impossible - that not a single man present at Lambeth had ever commited an act of domestic violence.

Had she said it was certainly so, I could see the demand for evidence.

Had she even made the statistical mistake of claiming that "70 to 200" of the men present had beaten teir wives, she'd have needed better evidence.

She didn't. She said "chances are."

"Chances are" does not even deny the possibility that the number would be zero - and God knows we all wish it were so.

And even your colleague Riazat Butt was prepared to scoff at the assertions from some quarters that holy bishopw would be immune from such a thing.

She was speaking of probabilities and she was telling the truth.

She did also say that some bishops were from cultures where such behaviour was more tolerated than others. She said that the varying cultural attitudes made the discussion of the issue more difficult. She did NOT say that Global South bishops were more likely to beat their wives. She did not say that North American or European bishops were immune.

Frankly, Martin, the way you twisted her comments was yellow journalism of the worst sort. It was as if I was reading the National Enquirer rather than The Telegraph.

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Friday, 8 August 2008 at 11:19pm BST

I did not hear Cathy Roskam brief the media, and of course no journalist was admitted to the event at which she spoke to other bishops, but I note that when blogging on Friday 1 August, Bishop Nick Baines wrote this:

I felt a bit sorry for the media people. They have built today up into the day the explosion would happen and the Anglican Communion would collapse in on itself under a weight of sexual tension. But it didn't and we didn't. Mind you, this might have been an appropriate and just reward to the Daily Telegraph for its scandalous, misrepresentative and deliberately sensationalist article about wife-beating by bishops. The American bishop who had been interviewed was horrified to see what the press had done and explained herself to the assembled bishops in the afternoon session. Welcome to the British media! She should sue the journalist concerned. And the journalist should ask whether this sort of story really satisfies any sense of professional integrity.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 8 August 2008 at 11:46pm BST

Martin - the comment about 700 bishops does not single out any particular region. It means ALL the bishops. It is obvious to women that some of those men will be wife beaters. I begin to question your judgment as a journalist. As to the quote about Sudan, it has been well reported by good journalists that rape is often used as an act of war not only in Sudan but other parts of Africa and the rest of the world when there is military conflict. The bishop is quite correct and you are wrong. The wrongness of your response calls your journalistic judgment in to serious question. I repeat, the press owes the bishop an apology.

Posted by: Phyllis on Saturday, 9 August 2008 at 3:31am BST

>>>It was as if I was reading the National Enquirer rather than The Telegraph.

There's a difference?

Posted by: JPM on Saturday, 9 August 2008 at 2:07pm BST
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