Heather Cook’s ministry restricted by Presiding Bishop

Media Release

The Episcopal Church
Office of Public Affairs

Presiding Bishop further restricts ministry of Heather Cook


Presiding Bishop further restricts ministry of Heather Cook

[February 10, 2015] Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori today issued a formal canonical Restriction on Ordained Ministry directed to the Rt. Rev. Heather Cook, Bishop Suffragan of Maryland.

This Restriction was issued as part of the Episcopal Church’s Title IV disciplinary process.  The Restriction provides:

Pursuant to Canons IV.7(3), (4) and IV.17(2) of this church, I hereby place the following restrictions on your ordained ministry:

You shall not exercise or engage in the ordained ministry of this Church in any respect, shall not participate in any functions of the House of Bishops, and shall not hold yourself out as an ordained person of this Church in good standing, until such time as all matters relating to you that are pending before a panel of the Disciplinary Board of Bishops shall have been finally resolved.

In her notice, the Presiding Bishop indicates, “This restriction is being placed upon your ordained ministry because information has been received by the Intake Officer that indicates that you may have committed one or more offenses under Canon IV.4 as a result of your alleged criminal conduct in connection with an automobile accident on December 27, 2014 and misrepresentations you allegedly made to persons in the Diocese of Easton and in connection to your candidacy for the episcopate in the Diocese of Maryland regarding your experience with alcohol.

The Restriction takes effect immediately.


The Episcopal Church

On the web:
Presiding Bishop further restricts ministry of Heather Cook

##Press release ends##

The press release appears to contain a new allegation: “misrepresentations you allegedly made to persons in the Diocese of Easton … regarding your experience with alcohol.” A timeline released last week by the Diocese of Maryland stated that in January of 2014 “Bishop Sutton has requisite bishop-to-bishop conversation with Bishop “Bud” Shand, Diocese of Easton. Bishop Shand recommends Cook without concerns or reservations.” Shand has made no public statement.

Posted by John B. Chilton

Follow the Tag “Bishop Heather Cook” below for earlier reports by The Episcopal Café.

Posted by

Comment Policy
Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted. We also ask that you limit your comments to no more than four comments per story per day.

  1. Nick Porter

    Shouldn’t this have happened sooner?

    • Norman Fuklton, Deacon

      The restriction should also be placed on the people responsible for this.

  2. Jay Croft

    Nick, remember that the lawyers are doing an elaborate dance. Lawyers for the PB, lawyers for two dioceses, lawyers for the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland, lawyers for bishops involved and, of course, for HC herself.

    It’s all choreographed, like professional wrestling. It takes time to work out the moves.

    • Nick Porter

      From the wording in this, they are trying to lay everything at her door in order to take certain people out of the limelight.

      • Jay Croft

        I wouldn’t agree, Nick. They’re laying it all on her doorstep because she is the one who did the deed.

        Monday morning quarterbacking of the selection process, vetting, etc is quite another matter.

        Inhibiting a bishop is very, very rare. The PB’s letter of inhibition is quite firm and as specific as it can be at this point. Specific details will come in the criminal and the ecclesiastical trials.

      • Nick Porter

        Believe me, I’m not trying to say otherwise, this is absolutely 100% her fault, but there were people along the way that turned a blind eye and covered for her and it ultimately lead to this terrible destruction of a family.

      • c seitz

        It would take an act of courage to bring Title IV charges against those whom we have been told knew about the alcohol issue.

        One wonders if all this scuffling about is meant to keep that topic at arm’s length.

  3. Does this mean that the diocese can stop paying Ms. Cook?

    • Jay Croft

      I hope so, but I don’t think the PB has authority over a diocese’s finances–at least not in this situation.

  4. Jay Croft

    Nick, the PB’s letter of inhibition is specific to the matter and to the person. Culpability of others will come out later.

    One thing is pretty certain: Gay Jennings will make sure that the process is tightened. That will take place through committee work and resolutions at this summer’s General Convention, and afterwards.

    One size does not fit all.

    • Nick Porter

      I pray you are right.

  5. She can still end this honorably at any time by resigning her orders, her job, and arranging a plea. Still looks like she is going to make it cost everyone even more.

    • Nancy Bennett

      I think we can be fairly confident her lawyers are doing all they can to arrange a plea. Since there is zero chance she would be found other than guilty (she does not deny that she hit him, the alcohol reading speaks for itself, and if she was texting at the time, that will be readily provable) it would be suicidal to go to trial. In the meantime she needs her salary and her insurance to pay for her lawyers and her “treatment” (which is undoubtedly part of what she’s going to throw into her plea although it probably won’t actually help given that she already played that card once). I don’t doubt that when this is all over and she is serving her sentence (whatever her lawyers may succeed in bargaining it down to) she will resign. I’m sure her lawyers are telling her not to do so now.

      • Philip Snyder

        Nancy – the question arises – why would the DA even entertain a plea? What possible good could come out of it? The case is about as open and shut as it can be. It is a high profile case, so a plea would be used by the DA’s political opponents as the DA supporting one kind of justice for the poor and another for the influential and connected.

        If this goes to trial, the DA’s office will have a lot of publicity and be shown to be “tough on crime” ™.

        So, I don’t see an upside to the DA being willing to plea this case.

      • Nancy Bennett

        The DA would entertain a plea for a lot of reasons. The number one reason is money. Trials cost a fortune.

        The number two reason is that anything can happen at a trial. For example, in 2013 where I live, a young man drove a car 60 MPH down a quiet residential street. He then (apparently) lost control of the car and slammed it into a parked car. The parked car was pushed 500 feet down the street and slammed into another parked car into which a local beloved rabbi had just entered. The rabbi was killed.

        The kid pled not guilty by reason of insanity. Evidence was presented that he had a history of mental illness. He stated that he was trying to commit suicide by slamming his vehicle into something at high speed. He was acquitted on this basis. He spent one month in a psychiatric institute and is now at home living with mom and dad. Although he has no driver’s license *for now* there is no ruling that he can never obtain one again.


        So you never know.

    • Philip Snyder

      Actually, Bishop Cook CANNOT simply resign here orders for two reasons. First, as a Bishop, she cannot resign or retire without the express permission of the House of Bishops. Second, she is the subject of a Title IV investigation and she cannot simply resign until that is complete. I wish it were that simple. But the new Title IV canons make the process (particularly for Bishops) much more complex than it needs to be.

      • C. Lewis

        If she were to resign, it seems it would be easy enough to get the express permission of the House of Bishops by the same process they use routinely to affirm bishops elected between General Conventions.

  6. Anand Gnanadesikan

    Something to remember is that judicial procedures that seem to protect the guilty are really there to protect the innocent. I am glad that Heather Cook is no longer in a position as my bishop. I am disturbed by the failures to look into her relationship with Mark Hansen and her DUI.

    But the point of judicial proceedings is to make sure that those in power can’t simply trump up charges against those they don’t like to remove them from ministry. This is bigger than any single individual. And if that means we pay her salary a little longer, so be it. Maybe it will teach us to be more careful next time.

    • Stephen Naughton

      Anand Gnanadesikan? THE Anand Gnanadesikan? 🙂

  7. David Crawford

    “misrepresentations you allegedly made to persons in the Diocese of Easton …
    It seems that they are trying to tie this to Easton instead of Sutton. Did not Sutton have a duty to investigate on his own ? Let everyone know the issues ? This is nothing but passing the buck. I have seen to date nothing from the presiding bishop about what she knew and said. This is sounding more like Adam said it was the women and the woman said it was the serpent. Covering our bases !!!!!

  8. I agree with Michael Russell. The best possible outcome would be for Heather Cook to resign as a bishop. I am surprised that more in the church are not calling for this.

    Borrowing from a comment I read a few weeks ago, Heather Cook remains a baptized Christian called to both repentance and ministry. However, her ordained ministry should come to an end as soon as possible, hopefully at her own initiative.

    • John Chilton

      For our readers who may not know, the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Maryland has asked Cook to resign.

  9. Margaret Shannon

    Excellent point, Anand. Note it is the STATE that prefers criminal charges, not other people. (A civil suit is still possible separately.) It is the STATE that has been “offended.” That’s what separates our judicial system from those where individuals act as vigilantes. The State interposed itself between the perpetrator and victim. Due process means Ms. Cooke cannot be summarily dumped by the Diocese, despite a “mob” mentality seeking vengeance rather than justice.

    • Nick Porter

      The evidence is overwhelming. The process must play itself out but it’s safe to assume that this won’t end in any fashion besides her being desposed.

      • Anand Gnanadesikan

        Oh I agree. My point is not that we’re likely to find out something new that exonerates Bp. Cook completely. Indeed, the longer it takes the more we are learning about dysfunction at the diocesan level.

        My point is that comments like “shouldn’t this have happened sooner”? “How come it’s taking so long.” ignore the real value of due process.

      • Nick Porter

        It’s just unreal this situation, and it makes me and probably a lot of others question every decision ever made by our leaders.

  10. Theodore William Johnson

    The bottom line: What did the Right Reverend James “Bud” Shand (the retired bishop of Easton) know about her drinking and the DUI event in 2010, when did he know it, and what did he do about it? Did Cook conceal the DUI event from him? That defies credibility because her arrest was reported in the local news media soon after it occurred. It also defies credibility that no one in the Diocese of Easton witnessed her impairment by alcohol sometime before or after the DUI event and reported it to Bishop Shand.

    • C. Lewis

      I’ve seen conflicting reports about whether she reported it in the Diocese of Maryland episcopal search process or whether it came up in the background check and she was asked about it. Would love that point clarified.

  11. Marc A Cooper

    Glad to see this finally take place.

    For the reputation of TEC, I’d suggest a timeline in the future of something like 7 hours or 7 days would be better than 7 weeks.

  12. christopher seitz

    First Sutton points at the PB who said ‘she’d take care of it.’

    Then Jennings points her finger at those who did not tell the PB what she knew when she asked about suitability on the day of the consecration itself.

    Now the PB points her finger at Cook who didn’t tell Shand.

    So that covers Sutton, the PB, Shand. All those who knew are not one of them in any special place of responsibility.

    • Erica Russo

      It’s very telling of the moral leadership of this diocese and that of Easton that not one of them is willing to say “We made a huge mistake in our support of HC as a candidate for Bishop, and we accept responsibility for neglecting our duty as Christians and leaders in not insisting she got the help she needed.” I have zero confidence in the PB or Bps Sutton and Shand. In a time when our church often feels defensive, this trio provides plenty of rationale for those who have moved away or on from the Episcopal Church.

      More importantly, it sickens me to sit through masses where HC’s name is invoked again and again, while friends of the Palermo family in the congregation can confirm that NO apologies have been made. It is they who should be receiving our prayers, not this deceitful woman.

  13. Jay Croft

    Erica, there have been many expressions of sympathy but–for a reason–no “apologies.”

    1. An apology would be an admission of guilt. Any lawyer would tell a client, ” Don’t admit until forced to by a court. Anything you say will be held against you.”

    2. The deed was done by HC and no one else. Others may have been remiss in their duties, but they didn’t drive the car.

    • Jim Frodge


      Your first point is correct from a legal standpoint as it applies to Heather Cook. At this time she should allow her attorney to do all of the talking in order to preserve what little defense she might have.

      However the situation for the Episcopal Church is quite different. The church, just like any other entity, has a legal duty to regulate the activities of those employed in any capacity. The police department where I worked required all employees to immediately report any arrest or citation. In addition any supervisor who observed improper or illegal conduct had to take immediate action to correct the problem and ensure that it did not happen again. Failure to do so would allow liability for future conduct to attach to the department under the doctrine of “failure to supervise”. Bishop Shand as Heather Cook’s supervisor had a legal duty to intervene and take corrective measures designed to ensure that similar misconduct did not occur again. Bishop Shand is not talking but the fact that nobody has asserted that the Diocese of Easton took any corrective action certainly indicates that no such actions were taken.

      Secondly there seems to be evidence that Heather Cook continued drinking right up until the day that she killed Thomas Palermo. There also is evidence from others including Bishop Sutton that she still had a drinking problem. There is no evidence yet that anybody attempted to intervene but instead kept her on at her duties and even advanced her to Bishop. The act of knowing that an employee has a problem that makes them a danger to others and not intervening but instead retaining them and eventually promoting them could allow liability to attach under the doctrine of “negligent retention”.

      Our policy in instances where we made a mistake was to immediately admit the mistake, apologize and immediately take steps to ensure that we did not make that mistake again. This policy was in place to mitigate damages when a lawsuit was filed.

      I am sure that the Palermo family will eventually sue the Episcopal Church and the church, or its insurance company, will write a check.

      Heather Cook certainly drove the car but those who were remiss in their duties will cause liability for this matter to fall upon the church.

      Sadly I doubt that this will cause the church to change the way that it does business. However I pray that I am wrong about that.

      • Bro Dabid

        Much 20/20 hindsight here and jumping to conclusions on facts not in evidence.

        There is a tremendous difference in the civil service employees of a police department and the folks employed in a religious institution, or even a general business. If Heather Cook had been the clerk in a local 7-11, would the owner of the 7-11 have the legal responsibilities that you claim everyone in TEC has for the actions of Heather Cook?

      • Jim Frodge

        Bro David,

        First off we were not civil service although that does not really matter here.

        General Businesses do in fact fall under the same doctrines as public entities. Religious organizations do as well. Companies such as trucking or bus lines can certainly be held responsible for actions of their employees. Retail establishments can be held responsible if negligence on the part of their staff results in an injury on their property.

        Finally I am sure that you recall the millions of dollars that the Catholic Church has paid out in settlements because the church was negligent in its handling of priests who sexually abused people.

      • Bro David

        Nothing of which covers this situation. Heather Cook wasn’t even on the time clock.

        Bus and truck drivers, as well as retail and service employees do not put their companies in jeopardy of anything when they are off for the weekend driving to their home away from home.

        Roman priests were usually on the job and preying on parishioners in all manner of church related situations, Heather Cook was not.

      • Jim Frodge

        Thanks for your well thought out and reasoned response. Your analogy makes sense to reasonable people, however that is not always how the law works.

        Extensive studies conducted by the Catholic Church as well as others concluded that a significant percentage of abuse incidents happened in hotels, vacation homes and the like and were not on church property. Likewise in many cases the abusers were not “on duty” or functioning in any priestly manner. Likewise in many cases the abuse happened at a time and place that was not connected in any way with a church function. None of this mattered in civil court.

        As a result the Catholic Church has paid out millions to settle these cases.

      • David Streever

        I don’t think that’s a very good comparison.

        Mr. Palermo did not know that Heather Cook was a Bishop. She was unable to use her position and authority in any meaningful way to either shirk responsibility or to pressure Mr. Palermo into silence.

        Her role as a Bishop seems to have little to no impact on this, except for the ensuing debate in the Episcopal Church.

        A Catholic Priest who uses his position and authority, granted by the Catholic Church, in order to be alone with a vulnerable person is a clear sign of an abuse of their Priestly authority. I don’t think that you’ve composed a solid analogy, and without it, I think your position falls apart.

      • Bro David

        Which is a straw man argument which has nothing to do with the situation with Heather Cook, unless you can make some bizarre connection with her being a bishop and somehow using her position to take advantage of someone while driving to her weekend home. Regardless of where the priest committed the abuse, you would be hard pressed to make the case that there was not an advantage in being a priest and being allowed to even get in the situation to commit the abuse.

      • Jim Frodge

        This will be my last attempt to clarify this.

        The Catholic Church had in its possession proof that many of the abuse incidents did not happen on church property, did not happen at a church function and did not happen while the priest was performing any priestly duty. Absolutely none of that mattered.

        The Catholic Church could not overcome the fact that in many cases the church knew that an individual under their general supervision had problems and the church failed to intervene and take corrective action. In fact in some cases the church covered up for the individuals. This situation made the church liable under the doctrine of failure to supervise.

        Likewise the Diocese of Easton knew in 2010 that Heather Cook had a DUI with a stunningly high test. As yet there is no evidence that the Diocese of Easton took corrective action or monitored her. People are now coming forward saying that Heather Cook continued drinking and was intoxicated at a consecration function. Finally she drove drunk while texting on a phone that belonged to the Diocese of Maryland and hit and killed Thomas Palermo.

        My friends the issue is not where or when this offense happened. The issue is not Heather Cook’s relationship to Thomas Palermo. The issue will be did the people in the Episcopal Church have reason to believe that Heather Cook had a drinking problem and did they provide proper supervision in an attempt to deal with the problem. Given what information available in the public domain that is rapidly becoming a reasonable assumption. I realize that the doctrine of failure to supervise is both arbitrary and at times subjective. On its face it seems unreasonable and almost impossible to understand and to comply with. However it is a legal standard that the Episcopal Church, just like the Catholic Church, may well face in this matter.

        We will probably never know who knew what and when they knew it. The Episcopal Church will settle out of court while not admitting any wrongdoing. No Bishop will ever have to testify under oath and all church files will remain confidential.

      • David Streever

        I don’t know that you’re really clarifying. I understand your point perfectly, and it’s clear that Bro David does as well, from his reply.

        What we’re both pointing out is a flaw in your analogy. Those lawsuits were possible because the Priests were able to commit those offenses in part *due to being Priests*. They had an authority over others. Regardless of where the incidents took place, or their time card punch, they were able to gain intimate access to people they abused *precisely because they used their Priestly authority to buy trust*.

        Cook was not portraying herself as a Bishop nor was Tom Palermo aware of her role as a Bishop. He was not ignoring clear warning signs that she was giving because she was wearing a mitre.

        If she killed a passenger while driving intoxicated, you’d probably be right; the argument could be made that her passenger trusted her as a Bishop.

        In this case, her office (I mean her authority and identity as a Bishop) was not involved in any way. There could not be two more dissimilar instances than those which you’ve described. It isn’t a matter of work time vs free time, or a church versus a hotel room.

        If you review the actual decisions in some of the lawsuits against the Catholic Church, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. The people suing the Catholic Church allege that they were in a vulnerable position *precisely because* they were aware of the identity of their abuser and they trusted them.

        That’s the difference.

        While you may be correct that Easton could be actionable in a civil suit, you haven’t given a reason that would hold actual standing in a court yet. If a litigant sues Easton with the reasoning you’ve presented, I would bet dollars to doughnuts that the suit would be dismissed.

  14. Eva Kresofsky

    It seems to me that is possible to have compassion for both Ms. Cook and the victim’s family. Her life, as she knows it, is over. That is not to say that she will never be able to make a contribution to society either while in prison or afterwards but her life will be irrevocably changed.

    Pleas are often offered when the evidence of guilt is overwhelming. Some of the charges are repetitive (including lesser and more serious counts for the same offense), so the charges would be consolidated. I think it is fair to say that any agreement will involve serious time in prison. The state generally seeks to avoid a trial if possible.

    This case has received a lot of publicity because she is a bishop but it would be equally heart-breaking if she were a minister or a lay person.

  15. I had a Bishop tell me that there was a priest he knew who, at one point, seemed to have a complete change of personality. When the Bishop [a Rector at the time] asked his friend what was different, the friend replied “I’m sober.” is that different?
    “yes,” replied the priest”you’ve never seen me sober before.” For all of the years they knew each other the man was drunk every day! Maybe Bp Shand never knew HC was always drunk.

    • Nick Porter

      She was Canon to the Ordinary. She spent a lot of time with the bishop. It would be pretty incredible for him to have really not known.

  16. c seitz

    I think at some point we have a collision between the in-crowd of ‘progressive’ TEC Bishops (Sutton, Schori, Shand, Cook) and the reality of where most people live.

    St Paul spoke clearly about having to face the stern arm of the state, whose job it is to punish. No miter can deflect that harsh reality. We are watching the state bring a kind of hard sanity that is their domain. May God have mercy on those involved in this dysfunction.

    • Jean Lall

      Dr. Seitz, it is hard to miss how much you are enjoying this.

  17. c seitz

    We have a dead father and grieving loved ones. We have a Bishop who will spend her last years in jail. We have leadership that is good at assigning blame elsewhere.

    There isn’t one enjoyable thing in this. It is for prayer and fasting.

Comments are closed.