Statement by the Diocese of Maryland following State’s Attorney for Baltimore City Press Conference

With the announcement today by civil authorities of charges against Heather Cook in the tragic death of Thomas Palermo, the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland reaffirms its respect for the course of action the legal system is taking and prays for a just outcome in this case.

Diocese of Maryland:

The Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland said in reaction to these charges, “I want to thank the Baltimore Police Department and the State’s Attorney’s office for the thoroughness and care by which they have handled and investigated this case.

“On behalf of everyone in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, 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,” Sutton said. “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. 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.”

Additionally, the diocese commends the compassionate response of Episcopalians who are keeping the Palermos and the cycling community in their prayers and those who have contributed to the Palermo Children’s Educational Trust.

Finally, the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland is fully cooperating with the Episcopal Church’s internal investigation concerning Cook’s conduct as a clergy-leader. Since she is a bishop it falls under the jurisdiction of the Episcopal Church and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to handle disciplinary proceedings regarding Cook’s actions. These proceedings were begun on or about Jan 2. The disciplinary process, known internally as Title IV for the section of the Church’s Constitution dealing with discipline procedures, is in place to objectively investigate and determine appropriate action by the Episcopal Church.

The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland is guided throughout this tragic situation by three core values: accountability, compassion and the rule of law. As we all process and come to understand this tragedy, these values will be our guide.

Posted by Andrew Gerns

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  1. Michael Russell

    The Church should thank Bishop Sutton and his leadership team for the gracious and utterly transparent way they have handled this tragedy. Textbook best practices and pastoral compassion.

    Heather Cook could mirror that by resigning. Bishop Ihloff was spot on in his comments.

  2. Tom

    Perhaps Bishop Cook should resign, but as I read Title IV, that is not an option until the investigation charges her with something. At that point, resignation is a way to arrive at an “Accord,” which is one possible resolution to the charges. I am not a canon lawyer, so perhaps someone can correct this if I am wrong.

    • Ann Fontaine

      Tom — please sign your full name when commenting. Thanks, editor.

    • Andrew Gerns

      I believe your reading of Title IV is correct on this matter. The idea, I think, is to avoid using resignation as a means to avoid accountability once a complaint is made.

  3. Michael Hartney

    Title IV.9.1 allows any Member of the Clergy who is alleged to have committed an Offense to propose terms of discipline, at any time, to (in this case) the Presiding Bishop, or the Presiding Bishop may propose terms of discipline to the Member of the Clergy.

    Bishop Cook or Bishop Jefferts Schori may propose appropriate discipline at any time.

  4. Robin Bugbee

    the disciplinary process should be permitted to proceed but Bishop Cook apparently stands accused of driving while grossly exceeding the legal limit, leaving the scene of an accident and driving while texting. Only one of those issues involved a designated disease (alcohol abuse). The other two issues speak to personal irresponsibility and in light of that I believe Bishop Cook should signal her intention to resign voluntarily. It would take the burden of her behavior from the Church and make it directly her responsibility and would be the right and decent thing to do.

  5. Theodore W. Johnson

    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?

    • Philiip B. Spivey

      If we are to believe what has been reported in the New York Times today: “In 2010, Bishop Cook pleaded guilty to a drunken driving charge…(c)hurch officials said that while that charge was revealed during her election process, it was weighed against her broader qualifications and ultimately the notions of forgiveness and second chances prevailed.”

      If it is true that this is what transpired (and we cannot know from this report because The Times does not attribute this statement), then it reveals a serious blind spot in the understanding of DUIs: Driving while intoxicated is not a sin; it’s evidence of an untreated illness which, gone untreated, can have tragic consequences.

      It’s unfortunate that in this day and age, certain diseases are still viewed as moral failings. And because they are viewed in this way, disorders like chemical dependency go unrecognized, untreated and continue to shatter lives, families and communities.

      • Nick Porter

        Philiip, it’s not about alcoholism being an illness, it’s about exercising good judgment. If you blow a .09 it’s still a DUI and not everyone that has a DUI is an alcoholic, it means they are irresponsible.

  6. Erica Russo

    I am utterly distressed and disgusted that, not only have our worst fears been confirmed in all of this, but also that Bp. Cook has shown neither a civil/criminal nor a canonical sense of remorse. If she had immediately stopped the car… If she had confessed at the scene… If she had suggested “resignation” as an appropriate discipline… Furthermore, if she had sought and honestly attended treatment, or if the Search Committee had offered full disclosure to the voting body…

    Would the Search Committee have acted differently if her last name had been Jones and her father had been a postman? Would she have presumed differently about her alcoholism and its impact if she had been held as accountable in 2010 as any of us would have been?

    Tomorrow morning, I will find it incredibly difficult to direct prayers, if asked to do so, in equal measure to the Palermo family and to this scion who has failed our church.

  7. Robert Martin

    These are dark days for our church, and for the innocent victim and his shattered family. I pray that the peace of the Lord finds us all in this affair and that His grace holds us up. I pray that the people of the diocese of Maryland do right by the family and hold them up.

    I feel sorrow for the family, great pity towards the accused …there but for the grace of the Lord we go.

  8. Ed Hodges

    So the Good News Heather Cook gets to hear, and that the rest of us should expect when we fall, is “Come to me all who suffer, and I will be governed first by the principle of personal accountability and second by the principle of compassion”? That doesn’t sound right to me, somehow. There are forces a-plenty to deal with accountability. I expect compassion from the church, and nothing but compassion. For Tom Palermo and his family, and for Heather Cook.

  9. Dirk Reinken

    Ed, I’m not sure what you are expecting in the form of compassion for Heather Cook. I certainly expect that compassion demands the presence of a pastor to be available to walk with her through this journey to help her through confession, repentance, amendment of life, and healing as needed. At the same time, there is no excusing what happened or avoiding of consequences. Compassion is loving her and not abandoning her, but it is not finding ways to pretend that what happened didn’t happen.

    I do think some commentors from the Episcopal community might find a way to be measured with their anger in their comments, remembering that Bishop Cook is a child of God and God’s believed, and that Christ died for her sins as much as Christ died for all of ours.

    I was surprised to find the balance of comments on the story at Stand Firm a bit more distant and measured (and Stand Firm is a community that could certainly run with the “moral bankruptcy of TEC” theme from this story), than I’ve found from many entries on Facebook and responses to Episcopal-oriented blog posts. Maybe it’s more raw for us because it happened in our community. Maybe we feel brought up short by our own institutional failings when we spend so much energy defending TEC or advocating for TEC in social media. Maybe we all need to be more compassionate with ourselves and each other.

  10. I have utter sad thoughts about this matter. Many families have been plagued with alcohol addiction and no words, efforts, prayers, advice or anything has been helpful to the addict or the
    people who love them. How many of our churches have given space to AA. Do we not learn from them? I can NOT imagine what advice came to
    this bishop long before she came to her high office but clearly
    whatever they were they did not heal her problem. There has to be a judgement on this. Our church FAILS the public if we
    just forgive and neglect penance.

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