Bishop Heather Cook: A request for resignation from the Diocese of Maryland

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Breaking news from the Diocese of Maryland. Here is the letter sent to all churches today

Baltimore, MD — The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland has requested Heather Cook’s resignation as bishop suffragan in a letter sent through her lawyer on January 27. On Dec 27, 2014, Heather Cook hit and killed cyclist Thomas Palermo, 41, and has been charged by police with vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence, and texting while driving, among other charges.”It was clear that our lay and clergy leaders on the Standing Committee felt that the best interests of the diocese would be served were Heather to resign. Since this does not impede the Episcopal Church’s investigation into the matter, it is my hope Heather will see the wisdom in this recommendation,” said the Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, bishop of Maryland.The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland is acting as swiftly as it can in the context of the Episcopal Church’s disciplinary action, Title IV, currently underway. While Cook cannot resign her orders as a bishop while the disciplinary process is underway, nothing prevents her from resigning as an employee of the Diocese of Maryland.

Follow this link to read the Standing Committee’s letter.

 

For news, information and resources regarding the Heather Cook case, please visit http://latestnews.episcopalmaryland.org/

 

Media Contact:
Please contact Sharon Tillman, director of communications for the Episcopal Churches of Maryland, 410-467-1399stillman@episcopalmaryland.org.

The Baltimore Brew has published an in-depth story examining Bishop Heather Cook’s life from a more intimate perspective – the turns her life took before and after priesthood, both healthy and destructive, friends’ and colleagues’ views of her as a person and as a bishop and her close relationship with family.

They are not totally silent, the people who knew Heather Cook before December 27 – the terrible day when, texting and severely intoxicated, the Episcopal bishop plowed into a bicyclist pedaling along a Baltimore bike lane and killed him.

Online and in conversations with The Brew, they wrestle with how Cook’s actions that day – in particular, fleeing from the scene of the crash – square with the warm, empathetic, down-to-earth person they knew her to be.

“She’s good people,” said Rev. John Morris, in an online forum, recalling Cook from her days as the rector in charge of a suburban parish in York, Pa.

The story addresses Bishop Cook’s destination on the day of the December accident:

Those listening closely at the end of a recent public gathering of local Episcopal clergy and laity heard an answer:  She was not headed off on church business that day, according to her superior, Bishop Sutton.

“She was going,” Sutton said, “home to the Eastern Shore.”

Records show Cook still owns the home she bought across the Chesapeake Bay after her appointment as Canon to the Ordinary at the Diocese of Easton.

The house is about 100 miles from Cook’s gated apartment community in North Baltimore, so it appears she was embarking on a nearly two-hour drive while extremely intoxicated.

Cook’s family was close-knit. Alcoholism was not unknown in the family – her father, rector of Old St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore, struggled with addiction:

Thirteen years later [after a 1964 family photo first published in the Baltimore Sun], in a Sunday sermon, Cook told his congregation “I am an alcoholic,” discussing his addiction at length in the newspaper. In 1981,  as he stepped down from the position and retired from the ministry, he said was proud of his accomplishments but wearied by the stresses of the job, changes in the church and the “personal cost which has left me temporarily fatigued.” He died in 1989.

Heather Cook has spoken fondly of the summer ritual of gathering at their family place in Lansdowne, Ontario in the Canadian Thousand Islands, of golden retrievers and their father reading aloud from “Chronicles of Narnia.”

 

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By way of resources, the Episcopal Diocese has added to its Bishop Cook case portal a link to a list of FAQs regarding Ecclesiastical Discipline.
The portal includes prayers, resources on addiction and pastoral care, information on the Palermo Children’s Educational Trust, links to pastoral messages and statements and other information. Scroll down to Moving Forward and Pastoral Letters to read the latest additions.

Photo: Flickr/Baltimore Brew

Posted by Cara Modisett and Ann Fontaine

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Anne Bay
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Anne Bay

The letter from the Standing Committee is all that is necessary. They are the voice of the Diocese and Heather is employed by the Diocese of Maryland. If she refuses to resign, which I don't think will happen under the circumstances, but if she does, then the next step is termination. As far as her "bishop" status goes, only the Presiding Bishop can deal with that. Ecclesiastical disciplinary procedures have to be followed. I am only guessing, but since Heather is guilty of hit and run, negligent homicide and several other charges (or allegedly guilty-but it's rather apparent she is guilty) I think the PB and the council will go with deposing her. This is the most serious situation I have seen of a bishop in all the years I have been an Episcopalian. Vital information on her background didn't get to the electors according to several articles I have read. The Diocesan committee that presented her name in nomination did not include the 2010 DUI in her "walk-abouts" with the people that were going to actually vote at convention, and it was also written in more than one article, that Heather was encouraged to talk about her DUI and her time in rehab, but chose not to do so. I am very familiar with the Disease of Alcoholism and how it affects families and in my opinion, one red flag to her being elected was this very fact-that she chose not to share about her Disease. Any recoverying person in this situation would have been more than open about their recovery-that is the essence of Recovery and had she been a recoverying alcoholic instead of in denial and wanting to cover it up, she could have been a positive influence in her ministry. There are millions of people in Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-anon and Alateen all over the world. But Heather is the daughter of an alcoholic who I think wanted to make this, as Bishop Sutton said, a "one-time thing"--but in the Disease of Alcoholism without a thorough recovery program, there is no such thing as "one-time." It's a progressive disease. I'm sure there were lots of signs through the years, both to her own family and church people of her alcoholism, but due to not being able to recognize the disease in action, or the wanting as so often happens of not wanting to see the disease, the red flags that she needed a lot of treatment and recovery went by the wayside. Even with all that she did-killed Tom Polermo, left the scene and him to die alone, and apparently wasn't going to return to the scene of her running him down, a close friend of hers posted bail to the tune of $215,000.00-another big clue that she has enablers all over the place. In all my years of being around alcoholics and families of alcoholics, this is absolutely unbelieveable. In one article it stated her brother is an orthopedic surgeon and was active in the bail process-so she has enablers everywhere. Education is so important for everyone that knows an alcoholic, whether they are sober or not. It's a very complex disease, and the AMA has stated it is. I am hopeful that the Diocese of Maryland starts an active and aggressive education program for the parishes to educate the parishioners about the Disease of Alcoholism, how it affects the alcoholic and the people that are a part of their life, whether living with them or not. AA. , Al-anon and Alateen are incredibly wonderful and the literature of all three programs is the best for people wanting to learn about this family disease. It's interesting that Heather's father after going through several rehab programs finally died sober. I am sure as a child of an alcoholic, she was determined to not be one, but it's not about choice-the alcoholic's complex disease is just that-one does not choose to become an alcoholic. I speak from experience on that and have seen that for myself. Cunning, baffling powerful-and it doesn't matter what job you have, financial status, education level, etc. -non-discriminatory disease. The main thing is there is help-Hazelden Foundation in Minnesota is probably the finest source for help in the U.S.There are many fine rehabs all over the U.S., but for education Hazelden is tremendous. The bottom line is Tom Palermo is dead and didn't need to be. It's a real tragedy for him and his family.I read about him and he was such a fabulous man, father, husband. Focus needs to be on the Diocese too to provide for Tom's children and their future. That needs to be addressed. They have a fund, but I'm hoping it's for long term.

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Nick Porter
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Nick Porter

Anne, I'm very happy I took the time to read this. Very very very well said!!

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Benjamin A. Carey MD
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Benjamin A. Carey MD

I am a cradle Episcopalian and a Board Certified Addiction Psychiatrist and Forensic Psychiatrist. As I have read through this case, what is striking to me is that she had a DUI in 2010 with a BAC 0.27 gm/dL or 3.5 times the legal limit for intoxication and she also had possession of marijuana. She has a genetic disorder Type 2 alcoholism as described in 1988 in Science. What I see that is most striking is that the Search Committee was aware of her DUI and yet did not share this information with the clergy and the laity who elected her. Two days before her consecration, she was reported to be drunk. The RED FLAGS could not have been more obvious. There has been a massive failure of leadership in this tragic case and the legal consequences are significant.
Benjamin A Carey MD
CAPT MC USN (retired)
Forensic and Addiction Psychiatry
Galilee Episcopal Church
Virginia Beach

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Samuel Knopf
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Samuel Knopf

Paragraph breaks would make your thoughts more readable.

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Brian Kneeland
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Brian Kneeland

Sadly, it is the right thing to do. While she has remained silent due to legal proceedings, she should do what is best for the diocese and step aside as Suffragan! Then her healing can really continue, as well as the healing the diocese needs to have!

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Jay Croft
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Jay Croft

They can "forget' to pay her.

I've heard of that being done in a parish that needed to get rid of a priest, but he wouldn't resign.

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John Chilton
Editor
John Chilton

Question. What do the canons say? If she does not resign can she be terminated? Is different whether you are a bishop suffragan rather than the diocesan bishop? I'm thinking of the Bennison case.

https://www.episcopalcafe.com/breaking_diopa_standing_committee_asks_for_presiding_bishops_help/

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Nick Porter
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Nick Porter

Took them long enough.

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Les Ferguson
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Les Ferguson

A month is fairly quick considering the gravity of the request and the legal proceedings going on.

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