New York Episcopal bishop denies supposed comments about domestic violence

New York’s Bishop Catherine Roskam, it seems, has started an international stir!

I’ve been writing in recent days about Roskam — the assistant bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York — blogging from the Lambeth Conference (the once-a-decade gathering of Anglican bishops in England).

I’ve noted that she is a consistently honest and liberal voice who is an unabashed supporter of the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in church life.

Yesterday’s headline in the the UK’s Telegraph was this:

Woman bishop claims church leaders from developing countries beat their wives

catherine-roskam-46_783631a.jpgBeneath the headline was this photo of Roskam. Yowza!

The article opened like this:

The Rt Rev Catherine Roskam, Suffragan Bishop of New York, said domestic violence is deemed acceptable in some parts of the world and that “even the most devout Christians” are guilty of it.

She said some of the 670 Anglican bishops gathered in Canterbury for the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference probably beat their wives, and added that it is difficult to discuss it with them because they do not believe it is wrong.

Her comments have been condemned as outrageous and untrue, and a further example of the condescending attitude of western Anglicans to those in developing countries.

The Telegraph included these reactions:

Archbishop John Chew, the Primate of South-East Asia, said: “I don’t think it’s fair for her to say that. Bishops respect their wives – how could any bishop condone domestic violence?

“I don’t think we see things like that in the church, what she said is far removed from the real picture.”

Bishop Paul Yugusuk from Sudan said: “I don’t think it’s true – the church speaks out against this.

“In the wider community these things still exist but we don’t do that as bishops or pastors.

“She is being unfair – she’s talking from a general view without any evidence.”

In her latest blog post (sent to me via email, but not on her blogpage as of this writing), Roskam writes that she was horrified when she saw the newspaper story. She says the newspaper quoted “selectively” from an interview she had given at a press briefing.

Roskam writes:

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 vioence 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.

Roskam writes that she asked to address the matter during an afternoon session yesterday.

“I stated unequivocally that I never said — nor would I say — that clergy in the third world beat their wives,” she writes. “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.”

She writes that her fellow bishops expressed mostly support after her comments.

Roskam concludes her blog post with this:

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.

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.