Maryland bishop suffragan faces numerous charges in fatal accident

Vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence, texting among the charges

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby Jan. 9 announces the initial charges against Diocese of Maryland Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook in the Dec. 27 fatal accident that killed a bicyclist. Standing with her are Lt. Colonel Melissa Hyatt and Don Giblin, chief of homicide for the State’s Attorney’s Office. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/ENS

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby Jan. 9 announces the initial charges against Diocese of Maryland Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook in the Dec. 27 fatal accident that killed a bicyclist. Standing with her are Lt. Colonel Melissa Hyatt and Don Giblin, chief of homicide for the State’s Attorney’s Office. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/ENS

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:13 p.m. Jan. 9.

[Episcopal News Service – Baltimore, Maryland] Episcopal Diocese of Maryland Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook surrendered to Baltimore law enforcement hours after she was charged Jan. 9 with eight offenses for allegedly causing a fatal car accident in which she temporarily left the scene after striking and killing a bicyclist.

Cook turned herself in to police mid-Friday afternoon and was being processed at Central Booking, police told The Baltimore Sun. A court commissioner was expected to determine her bail in the evening, a judiciary spokeswoman said, the Sun reported.

Earlier in the day, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said at a news conference that charges had been filed in district court accusing Cook of four criminal charges. They include negligent manslaughter by vehicle (maximum penalty 10 years and/or $5,000 fine), criminal negligent manslaughter by vehicle (three years and/or $5,000 fine), negligently driving under the influence resulting in a homicide (five years and/or $5,000 fine) and negligent homicide involving an auto or boat while impaired (three years and/or $5,000 fine).

Cook also faces traffic charges of failing to remain at an accident resulting in death, failing to remain at the scene of an accident resulting in bodily injury, using a text messaging device while driving causing an accident with death or serious injury, and driving under the influence of alcohol.

Media representatives crowd the small news conference room in the offices of Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby Jan. 9. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/ENS

Media representatives crowd the small news conference room in the offices of Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby Jan. 9. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/ENS

Mosby said a breathalyzer test administered to Cook after the accident showed the bishop had a blood alcohol content of .22 percent. The legal limit in Maryland is .08 percent.

Thomas Palermo, 41, the married father of two young children, was pronounced dead on the afternoon of Dec. 27 at a hospital near the accident scene. He died from head injuries suffered in the accident.

Mosby reminded those at the news conference that Cook is presumed innocent until and unless she is found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

When Mosby met with the Palermo family Jan. 8, she said she “assured them that we’re going to pursue justice.”

The state’s attorney outlined the accident, citing the statement of probable cause that was filed in court. She said both Palermo and Cook were traveling southbound on Roland Avenue with Palermo in the bike lane and Cook in the traffic lane. Cook, who was texting while driving at the time, veered off to the right and into the bike lane, striking Palermo from the rear. The collision caused Palermo to strike the hood and windshield of Cook’s 2001 Subaru, Mosby said. He was thrown to the right-hand side before coming to a final rest against the curb.

She said the statement of probable cause alleges that Cook did not stop at the scene of the accident, and continued south on Roland. Roughly 30 minutes later she drove past the scene, heading northbound on Roland, but continued past the scene northbound to her residence, according to Mosby. The timeline in the statement of probable cause alleges that Cook was gone from the scene for a longer period of time than what was reported in earlier news accounts.

Cook left that residence shortly after her arrival there and returned to the scene. Mosby said that Cook then was taken from the scene to a police station by members of the Baltimore Police Department where she was given a breathalyzer test which resulted in the .22 reading.

Mosby said that the case will be presented to a grand jury scheduled to be impaneled on Jan. 12. The jury could drop some of the charges and/or add others.

Mosby, 34, was acting on her first full day as Baltimore City State’s Attorney, having been sworn into office the day before.

Just after Mosby concluded her news conference, Diocese of Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton released a statement saying in part: “Please know that we are deeply heartbroken over this, and we cry for the Palermo family, our sister Heather and all in the community who are hurting.”

“Our Lord Jesus would be a healing presence in the midst of this tragic situation, and we are seeking ways to walk in his footsteps in the days and months ahead,” he said. “As we do so we are truly being the church, and we will always be guided by our core Christian values of personal accountability, compassion and respect for the rule of law.”

Neva Rae Fox, Episcopal Church public affairs officer, also issued a statement acknowledging the charges and saying “as this is a legal matter, we will not comment on the charges or the proceedings that will follow.”

“Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori maintains a pastoral and canonical relationship with Bishop Cook,” Fox said. “As a result, Cook will not be permitted to exercise her ordained ministry in the foreseeable future.”

Sutton had placed Cook on administrative leave shortly after the accident and The Episcopal Church’s disciplinary processes have been put in motion. Title IV of the Canons of The Episcopal Church governs ecclesiastical discipline of clergy members. Canon 17 of Title IV outlines the disciplinary process of bishops. Title IV requires confidentiality at this point in the process.

Cook became the diocese’s first female bishop when she was ordained and consecrated Sept. 6. Cook’s biography is here on the diocesan website.

The Dec. 27 fatal accident brought to light a 2010 traffic incident in which Cook was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and for marijuana possession. Cook pleaded guilty to drunken driving in that incident, and the prosecution of marijuana possession charge was dropped. A judge sentenced her on Oct. 25, 2010, to pay a $300 fine and supervised probation. Court records available online do not note the length or conditions of Cook’s probation.

A Dec. 30 statement on the diocesan website said that during the search process that resulted in Cook being elected suffragan in 2014 she had “fully disclosed” the 2010 arrest for which she received “probation before judgment” from the court. “After extensive discussion and discernment about the incident, and after further investigation, including extensive background check and psychological investigation, it was determined that this one mistake should not bar her for consideration as a leader,” the statement said.

The convention that elected Cook on May 2, 2014, however, was not told about the 2010 arrest, Sharon Tillman, the diocese’s director of communications, confirmed to ENS Jan. 9.

Previous ENS coverage of the accident is here.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

Comments

  1. Charlie Linebarger says:

    Why is she still a bishop? Do you recall a few years ago that right after the election of the first woman to head the powerful German Evangelical Church she was stopped by police for a DUI. It took about two days for her to resign her office, on a par with that of the primate of the US Episcopal Church. As for forgiveness etc. outweighing her previous DUI in the process of making her bishop. I would call that complicit and negligent. People who drink drink. I drink. People who drink and drive are people who will continue to do that. Again what is it about our Church rules that allow her to remain a bishop while this mess tarnishes the whole church. Is the episcopacy in denial? Why is this woman still a bishop?

    • Grace Cangialosi says:

      Unless she chooses to resign, the canonical process under Title IV has to play out, and that takes time. I was impressed by the fact that Bishop Sutton immediately placed her on leave and inhibited her instead of delaying that.

    • David Koskela says:

      My sense is all this is an underlying symptom of why the appeal of the organized church at large and the way it conducts itself is reflected in people’s diminished intertest in it. The deeper question is how and why this person ultimtely was concecrated bishop to begin with! An expanded background check would have not only revealed the history of her involvement with the law but also her apparent lack of honest transparency, a significant piece of assessing Cook’s ability to provide pastroal care. Sadly, and for whatever reason, it didn’t take her very long to show her true self. Where was the integrity and accountabilty of those involved in the search process? As for Cook remaining in office? The PB by obligation of her office has the pastoral responsibility to not only evaluate how Cook’s actions have effected and will continue to impact the community she apparently believed she was called to serve but moreover that will strongly be encouraged Cook to seek the help she obviiously needs. Ordination doesn’t make a person but hopefully should reveal who a person authetically is! Peace and Blessings

    • John C. Kimbrough says:

      There is a process that, as someone else mentioned, must play out…….I think the church looks as bad as this unfortunate and unhappy woman does….I feel sympathy for her and her plight and wonder if she will do time in prison……and how much time? Probably between 7 to 10 years…….Having spent time in prison as a young man and later having taught men and women in two provincial prisons as a volunteer in Cambodia, I have much compassion to those who do time, but the way of the world and societies and cultures is to punish those who break the law and commit crimes……This woman is not a criminal, but she has committed a crime…….I wonder how she could have been such a troubled soul, but I wonder more why the church did not know her problems were so severe and take some sort of action to deal with them…..

    • In the Episcopal Church — as in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches — ordination as deacon, priest or bishop within the one sacrament of Ordination — is, like baptism, indelible. Once ordained, a basic change has come to the recipient — as is true of Baptism, the Eucharist and other sacraments. (See the BCP1979 Liturgies and the Catechism) Sacraments are not an aid to living a “better” life (although they are); they are a sign that the “sacramentalized” person is now different by personal choice. Sin can no longer change our relationship with God; but rather an indication of the point where we need more prayerful care and practice (like an athlete) in that area.
      The church cannot “revoke” the “fact” of ordination. But the Church CAN remove the “authority to act” granted “by the church” to individuals who have been canonically ordained. This has already happened on a temporary basis. Now “the church” follows the “procedures-established” in canon law in regard to this particular situation. Testimony and trial may be needed to be sure that “authority to act” is not permanently/temporarily removed without serious reason. When that happens, then the decision is completed: by absolute; or temporary; or no; by “inhibition of authority to act.”
      This process has nothing to do with secular law — which proceeds to do similar things as they affect an accused person in any societal matter.
      Having said this, I also add my personal attitude: The accused bishop withheld nothing (apparently) from the committee to elect a bishop. They knew of her arrest and other lapses and alcohol issues. If fault (as we Americans love to locate) is to be had, one needs to see and interview the committee to elect a bishop to understand why these issues — very important in my mind — were not told to the electors.
      I pray for Thomas Palermo and his family daily — such a horrible accident from such a person should never have happened.
      Perren

    • She isn’t permitted to function as a priest or bishop. She is likely to be removed, but that is a process that requires some time.

  2. Thomas Andrews says:

    Google Children of Tom Palermo for the educational fund for their two children.

  3. Linda Burnett says:

    This situation again reiterates that issues with alcohol and drug usage is not defined by class, gender, social standing, or holy calling. We are so blessed to have an active recovery ministry within our church and help is available to all-clergy, laity, seeker. It is no secret that addictive illness is a condition marked by shame and secrecy, and perhaps this is no more evident when it comes to light in such a public and tragic way. We especially want to look the other way when we see a clergy member “in trouble”, because of the stigma attached, or mistakenly thinking its not our place to intervene. Please, please, please contact someone from Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church in your diocese if you see someone in trouble. There of course are no guarantees that a person will seek help when confronted with their addiction issues, or maintain their sobriety, but it is worth the chance if it possibly can prevent such a sad event from occurring.

  4. This tragedy is more than high distressing to me–I have been both a cyclist and an Episcopalian for over 50 of my 62 years. Bishop Cook has apparently failed to be transparent and honest–with herself, her God, and with the church–about her addiction and her behavior(s).

    Having known several bishops and many other clergy during my life, I have seen what temptations they are offered, especially in using alcohol and other drugs. Especially given her additional training and knowledge as a priest, how Bishop Cook could have gone through her previous (2010) DUI conviction process and failed to deal honestly herself and others–especially the Diocese of Maryland–is appalling. (It may be very, very human, too, but her additional responsibility and trust as a bishop would seem to call for an even higher standard of conscientiousness and self-revelation on her part.)

    I am, of course, praying for all of the people harmed and in mourning as a result of this tragic failure on the part of Helen Cook. But I also hope that justice will be served.

    I hope and trust that the Diocese of Maryland will deal generously with the Palermo family without their having to pursue legal action. Furthermore, I pray and hope that the church will learn to take a far more careful and healthy stance towards alcohol use and abuse, especially among its clergy, and to account far more carefully for drug and alcohol abuse in its discernment and selection processes. There are the very least we can do as a tribute to Tom Palermo. Perhaps such a careful approach to alcohol abuse will be one of Helen Cook’s legacies, too.

  5. Michael Vogt says:

    “Interesting” that her prior legal issues were kept secret from the convention electing a new bishop. In fact, I find this disturbing.

  6. Alcohol abuse is everywhere and the church is no exception. I wonder why she felt that she did not
    need help? She knew that she had problems in several areas and could have sought help outside of
    the church if that was the issue. A clinical psychologist or any other qualified professional would have
    not disclosed her situation to anyone, including the head bishop. If the position was “too much” for
    her to manage she could have taken a leave of absence. Being a women and “failing” in the church
    is hell, I can relate to that, however not being able to face herself is far worse. It is worse because
    she was unable to see or acknowledge her problems and their cost to others. This innocent man
    died because she lacked faith in the very system, in the very church she vowed to serve.

    • John C. Kimbrough says:

      It is both sad and disturbing……The points that you have made Noreen are correct, wise and righteous…..God bless you for your wisdom and your ability to articulate these thoughts so well…….

      • Thank you John C. I pray for this women she is most likely living the worst time in her life.
        I hope the she can find a way to face what she has tried so hard to hide. I do wonder how
        she was able to hide her past so well and why the church even when they knew of her past
        were not concerned to the extent that she should have been monitored and told to seek help.
        I think that “blame” can be shared in this situation. Jail time will be difficult for her, to say the
        least. Life without a loving husband and father will never be completely healed. The family needs to hear from “THE CUCRCH” and not via an attorney.

  7. John C. Kimbrough says:

    This update is most interesting. I was surprised about the pot possession charge. Perhaps the fact that I was sexually molested and abused by an Episcopalian minister when I was 13 years old would qualify me to be the Bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. I mean, could I really be any more irresponsible and disrespectful to my fellow clergymen and lay followers then Oris Walker Jr. was. Better yet, I would like to have Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori’s job. Seriously though, being a student of the Bible and a flawed but sincere servant of God, as we all are, this is such a sad tragedy for all, but I think that the Episcopal church has kind of screwed up here……and everybody knows it…….

  8. Frogmire Anders von Vondervolt says:

    If she had any integrity at all, she would resign as a bishop and a priest. Covering up her previous arrest alone is a blot on those in the diocese who knew of it and chose to withhold that information from the electors. None of us is perfect, but some of us have varying degrees of integrity. It would appear that neither this woman nor those who covered up for her had much integrity. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the man she killed. Yes, killed.

  9. John C. Kimbrough says:

    “Be alert and of sober mind” – 1 Peter 5:8

  10. Len Freeman says:

    Given the .22 alcohol level and deadly result of the current offense, and given that the nominating committee in Maryland: A) knew about her previous DUI at a similarly high level… not to mention the marijuana pipe… B) decided to nominate her anyway, and C) didn’t inform the diocesan convention voters about either A or B, — a modest proposal: that perhaps that nominating committee leadership should be considered for disciplinary action as well. It’s kind of the classic “who knew what, and when did they know it, and why didn’t they do something about it.”

  11. Hugh Hansen, Ph.D. says:

    These hard-hitting reports by The Reverand Mary Frances Schjonberg have the ring of honesty and integrity that I would expect in a church that embraces transparency. Comments on this tragedy inform are thinking and prompt us to pray for all involved. Up to now I have not heard any comments addressing another party in this tragedy, those who Bishop Cook would be shepherding in this difficult world. I am sure the church will be providing for their spiritual and ecclesiastical needs, however, including them at the table, that is, in our thoughts and discussion would be helpful.

  12. T J White says:

    As traffic becomes more complex, new driving skills must be developed. I changed from pedal cycle to motorcycle when I found a bus 12 inches from my elbow! I used a motorcycle for about 15 years in London (UK) traffic. There I developed DEFENSIVE DRIVING. Expect erratic behaviour from all! Never make yourself the ‘jam’ in the sandwich (do not advance between lanes unless they are not moving). Due to arthritis, I now use a car and the ‘game’ has changed. Cyclists not obeying the highway code – e,g., riding abreast, not observing rights of way on roundabouts. Cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians phoning and texting. Here it is illegal for drivers to phone but pedestrians phone and talk while on the pavement(road) without looking! NO ONE (pedestrian, cyclist, or driver) should be on the road when over the limit!

  13. Ann Tucker says:

    Forgiveness of past infractions is the way of the church. But, forgiveness without realistic treatment and help with the initial problem assures the individul will have more failres. Forgiveness and second chances need to be coupled with authentic treatment for the problem.

    • Susanna DesMarais says:

      And accountability. When you know someone is not trustworthy (or dealing with significant issues in this case) why would anyone put them in a place of heightened responsibility? Forgiveness is our mandate, absolutely, AND that should never preclude accountability.

  14. Linda M Ewing says:

    Every time I say that there is too much emphsis on alcholo in the church, I’m shouted down. I left a church because congrgants were routinely drunk and impaired at the Wed evening churh dinners. The Priest’s answere to my complaint-we drink becasue we can. There was’t a single chrurch function where alcohol was not served. TThis Priest has moved on and is now brewing beer in the church and have Beer and Bible studies. The Bishop appoved a church’s involvement in a music festival that has been cited for two years for drug and alcohol violations. The feeling is that turning the church into a cocktail lounge will bring yourger people to the church.

  15. Theodore W. Johnson says:

    Was there a canonical disciplinary process conducted by the Diocese of Easton following the 2010 DUI event? If so, what was its nature? What did it conclude? What discipline did it impose?

    If the canonical process was not followed, did this omission enter into the determination (by whom is unclear) not to make public any information about the 2010 DUI event during the entire search process, to the voters in the electing convention, to the bishops and standing committees consenting to the election, and to all people interested in the election of a bishop in the Episcopal Church?

    • John D. Ruff says:

      The fact that information regarding Bp. Cook’s prior arrest was withheld from the Convention that elected her strongly suggests that the election process was rigged in her favor. One of the other candidates likely would have been elected if this shocking information had been disclosed to the electors. Why has no one expressed concern about the obvious unfairness to the other candidates?

    • Patrick McQuarter says:

      I agree with Theodore and John about the consent process. Those bishops and standing committees who consented to the election: they should resign as well. Their failure to consider the results of background checks gave Bishop Cook opportunity for killing another rather than a journey of healing for herself. The cyclist’s family must live with the process of loss and grief, because those responsible for the process of ordination to the episcopate were negligent and will excuse themselves.

  16. Jane Maxwell says:

    Alcoholism is a disease just like diabetes and it is treatable just like diabetes, including treatment for the rest of her life. Would not you want to know that the candidate for bishop or rector was diabetic? Why not for alcohol? If she were in recovery, she could set an outstanding example for all of us, but instead she has shamed herself and the Church. We need to drag alcoholism (and drug abuse) out of the closet and confront it and treat it.

    • Linda Burnett says:

      I agree, Jane. Unfortunatly, it seems there is always some degree of push back when it comes to talking openly about alcoholism and other addictive illness even within our progressive church. When I was serving on the diocesan recovery commission there were always stories of a less than enthusiastic embrace of our ministry- many times from clergy-even one member who was told that there were no alcoholics in their parish…stories of people who would linger longer than others where the wine was served at clergy conference…etc, etc. One would hope TEC would use this situation to do some soul searching about how we address this issue so that in the future these problems are not ignored. We as a church are not doing anyone any favors by looking the other way. It is easy for persons with addictive illness to hide in plain site within our church since we place no religious restrictions on the consumption of alcohol and frequently serve it at church functions. Many are not awsre that we as a church have a policy on serving alcohol at church functions, but I am not sure how many parishes actually adhere to it.

    • I totally agree. Alcoholism is a physiological, primary and complex Disease, and the AMA stated in the early sixties that it “was the most complex Disease known.” It is progressive and fatal if not treated. Even with a top treatment inpatient program and excellent follow-up outpatient treatment and meetings-meetings-meetings, the fatality rate is still too high. It is an insidious baffling, cunning Disease and it is a family disease and the whole family needs treatment also. Alcoholics are master mainpulators and those people that are close to the Alcoholic need education and treatment also. It’s a treatable Disease and shame and guilt need to be out the picture. Heather Cook’s dad went to rehab several times before achieving sobriety. I wish in 2015 we could we know a lot about Alcoholsm: ie. AA.Al-anon, Alateen, and help is available. I read today that the Diocese of Maryland sent a letter to Bishop Cook requesting her resignation as Bishop Suffragan and I’m very glad to see that done. She is nowhere ready to do anything in my opinion except focus on recovery, maybe for several years before being able to take on a job. I was sorry to see she was bailed out to the tune of $2l5,000.00 though. Money misspent.

  17. Steve Skardon says:

    This is an unimaginable tragedy for the family of Thomas Palermo. However, I have trouble seeing this as just a “tragedy” for the Church. It is much more than that.
    Last year someone in the Diocese of Maryland’s search process apparently decided that the delegates to convention didn’t need to know about Bishop Cook’s legal entanglements and challenges with substance abuse. Consequently, she was elected, that election was consented to by the wider Church… and a time bomb was placed in the highest echelons of our institutional leadership. There is very real culpability here.
    We need to be careful not indulge in the kind of delusional thinking that infected the Catholic Church in its handling of priests accused of sexual abuse. According to Mary Frances’ article, the bishop’s history was intentionally covered up by the Diocese with her knowledge, and she was allowed to stand for election, while those in the know closed their eyes and crossed their fingers.
    Yes, the Church has a disciplinary process and it is moving forward. However, that takes time, and as long as there is even the slightest possibility that Bishop Cook will continue as a bishop, even on administrative leave, it will be very difficult for healing or forgiveness to even begin.
    Guilty until proven innocent is a fundamental tenant of our legal system, not institutional common sense. The process by which Bishop Cook was elected was intentionally distorted, and now the resulting cover up has cost a 41-year-old husband and father of two his life.
    We are required by Christ to hold out love and compassion for Heather Cook and her family. However, that does not mean we must accept the grievous error made by the Diocese of Maryland that led to this loss of life. If Bishop Cook insists on remaining a bishop in that Diocese a minute longer, Bishop Sutton and his Standing Committee need to insist on her resignation.

    • William A. Flint, PhD says:

      Once upon a time, the Episcopal Church decided that the politically correct thing to do was to do was to elect a green apple to be a bishop and so it did in order to make a social statement. Then it was the politically correct thing to elect a yellow grape to be a bishop and so it did for the same reason. Soon the Episcopal Church had elected a whole House filled with multi-colored politically correct bishops in order to make social statements. In each election, the Episcopal Church was striving for equality and diversity because that was the catch words of the day. My question is this” “What profits the Episcopacy if it gains the world’s politically correct awards and loses its own soul?” The checks and balances in the election process it broken and needs to be corrected whereby the Voice of the Holy Spirit can be clearly discerned and the politics be silenced.

      Let those who read also understand what the read.

  18. Nicholson B. White says:

    Steve Skardon nailed it! Thanks -=-

  19. Charles Nutter says:

    If Bishop Sutton consented to the concealment of bishop Cook’s prior offense from the convention which elected her, what questions does this raise about his judgment as a bishop?

    • Selena Smith says:

      And what questions does this raise about the Presiding Bishop’s judgment in taking order for Bishop Cook’s ordination? Women like men should not be exempt from that consideration.

  20. Steven Ford says:

    Perhaps bishops with jurisdiction and diocesan standing committees might exercise their own due diligence by doing their own background checks before consenting to episcopal elections. Arrest and adjudication information is a matter of public record and is easily obtainable by anyone. There’s plenty of blame to go around.

  21. She has to resign. Her public ministry is finished.

  22. John Gangwisch says:

    The problem for me is that the “church” followed procedures and elected this person who based on her actions (leaving an critically injured man by the side of the road and not publicly taking responsibility for her actions) does not really believe enough of what she preached to be able to practice it. Given that, how can I know that ANY church leader really believes what they preach. Her actions have harmed not just the Palermo family, herself, and the Maryland Diocese, but has harmed many people’s faith most church leaders.

  23. J. W. McRee says:

    I think the former bishop of Maryland, Robert Ilhoff, makes an excellent statement. Regarding the vetting process, I cannot speak for it. Bishop Ilhoff’s statement is below:

    Each time a bishop is consecrated, she/he is charged: “You are called…to be in all things a faithful pastor and wholesome example for the entire flock of Christ.” Earlier at his/her priestly ordination, each candidate answers, “I will,” to the following: “Will you do your best to pattern your life in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that you may be a wholesome example to your people?” Bishops and priests all fall short and are guilty of sin, like the rest of us. Despite the fact none of us is perfect, we all have a right to expect the persons the Church ordains will take responsibility for their actions, will model best practices, and will willingly accept the consequences of their actions. Over the last several days, many have heard orread Caroline+’s excellent and powerful sermon of Sunday past, many of you participated in the moving meetings after each service. A number of you participated in the January 1st bike ride to memorialize Tom Palermo. Our clergy met with the Bishop on Tuesday, and most of us continue to mull over and talk about Tom Palermo’s tragic death caused by our Bishop Suffragan, Heather Cook. It is the main topic of conversation everywhere I go and we are still reeling from its implications. None of this is made better by the fact we are still waiting for charges to be filed and do not know a number of key details.

    We do know an innocent man is dead and his family grieving. We know that Heather, the driver of the car left the scene of the accident and returned later. We do not yet know other crucial details; there is much speculation. However we know enough to assume Heather will not be allowed to resume her episcopal ministry. Why? She has violated the basis for our trust in leaving the scene of the accident. All persons have a moral responsibility to stop whatever the nature of an accident. When a life hangs in the balance, that duty to stop and assist is especially crucial. We will, sadly, never know if Heather’s stopping and calling 911 would have enhanced efforts to keep Tom Palermo alive; what we do know is she ceased being “a wholesome example,” as she drove away. Can she be forgiven? Yes, by God and after repentance. Can she be trusted as a leader of the Christian Church? Sadly, “No.” This accident will haunt her the rest of her life, regardless of what other details eventually come out. The Church deposes clergy who cross boundaries of sexual morality or who embezzle money or are guilty of a variety of crimes, including “hit and run.” It’s not that these persons no longer have a ministry or God can’t use them, it’s that we can no longer trust them to model a “wholesome example” as leaders in the Church. Already, Presentment charges are being prepared by The Episcopal Church which will almost assuredly result in Heather being deposed. Of course, we should hold her in prayer and trust in time, God will be able to guide her into new ways of service. She may even be able in time to draw on her tragic story in ways which will edify others. We should all be humbled in this tragedy to realize anew how potentially dangerous each of us can become behind the wheel of a car if we are inattentive, distracted, or careless. We can be more watchful and courteous to bikers and pedestrians (as well as to other drivers). We cannot change this tragedy, but we can learn from it.

  24. J. W. McRee says:

    I meant to say, “Regarding the vetting process, I cannot speak to it.”

  25. Larry Norton says:

    Where can I find Caroline’s + sermon referred to, above. Could someone please send me a link?

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