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.”

 

***

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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27 Responses to "Bishop Heather Cook: A request for resignation from the Diocese of Maryland"
    • A month is fairly quick considering the gravity of the request and the legal proceedings going on.

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  1. 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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  2. 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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  3. 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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  4. 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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    • Anne, I'm very happy I took the time to read this. Very very very well said!!

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      • 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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  5. Tenure applies of course to an elected Suffragan--which is why some dioceses in recent years have preferred the appointment of an Assistant. Thus if they don't want to wait for the deliberate turning of the Title IV gears the Standing Committee of Maryland would need to initiate the procedures outlined in III.12.10. I have no idea what Bishop Cook's financial situation may be at this point, but she is obviously incurring significant legal expenses, and I'm sure the costs of her in-residence rehab situation would be substantial without the coverage provided by the DHP. At this point there would seem to be substantial incentives for her to remain on the payroll for as long as possible.

    Bruce Robison
    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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    • Of course, for that very reason, the diocese has a big incentive to want her to resign rather then letting her keep drawing her salary and benefits without doing anything to deserve them.

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  6. A very sad situation, we must remember that we are all flawed human beings No matter what God has called us to do ! My prayers go out to all involved

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  7. Bruce raises a good point about needing health insurance to help cover the cost of in-patient rehab, so i hope that COBRA or something similar is available to her. The last thing Heather needs is to get booted out of rehab because she doesn't have sufficient funds to pay for treatment.

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    • Tomorrow will mark my 16 years of recovery through AA. I can assure you, rehab is a "nice to have", not a "need to have". Buy a Big Book, get a sponsor, work the Steps, and make meetings. Anyone can afford that. But they need to want it.

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    • Maryland has passed the medicaid expansion, so no-one will find themselves without health insurance unless they willfully refuse to apply for it. You can apply for Medicaid outside of the marketplace open enrollment period.

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  8. The late Rt. Rev. Robert Hall, bishop of Virginia, was a recovering alcoholic and was instrumental in the diocese requiring candidates for ordination to complete seminary courses in alcoholism and other addiction. Over 33 years in ministry, I often have been thankful for that training. It was one of many gifts Bishop Hall gave the diocese, its clergy and laity.

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  9. Bishop Cook has no incentive whatsoever to give up her generous salary and benefits (even though he's basically "stealing" them). Bishop Sutton and the Standing Committee might do well to "reconvene" last year's Diocesan Convention for the purpose of discussing the office of Suffragan Bishop and then voting whether or not to eliminate it altogether,

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  10. Steven,

    One of the reasons dioceses in recent years have been drawn to the model of ministry provided in the canon on Assistant Bishops is that by doing so they avoid tenure issues. The pool of eligible candidates is much smaller, of course, but there is more flexibility down the road. As per Bishop Cook--once elected, consecrated, and instituted as Suffragan, she will continue in that office until she reaches the age of 72, or resigns, or is removed from her position through canon III.12.10 or through Title IV discipline or deposition.

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    • Thanks, Bruce, for the clarification. So until the national church gets its act in gear, folks in the pews throughout the Diocese of Maryland have to keep on paying her. On the upside, though, whatever she has left after inevitably losing any "wrongful death" lawsuit would go to the Palermo family.

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  11. I am familiar with recovery programs for alcoholism and addiction. There are not enough rehab programs, and hopefully there will be more in the future, but there are programs that do not require any money to the extremely expensive ones. So, there is no reason why anyone from any economic situation cannot go into recovery. Each city has a "substance abuse" section in the phone book and it's as simple as calling the number listed to find rehabs in the local area. In addition, you can contact your primary physician, ask people in recovery for their recommendations, call local rehab clinics and get information. Also, there are national substance abuse organizations listed on the internet. So, recovery is available, and it doesn't need to be a $27,000.00 28 day program like Fr. Martin's Ashley to go through a recovery program. I looked at the Fr. Martin's Ashley program on the internet and it is very nice and looks like a very through 12 step program which seem to work the best and their staff is excellent in my opinion. As anyone in recovery will tell you, 28 days is an insurance number for the financial coverage of the program,but it in no way represents how long it takes to get a hold on one's program for lifelong recovery-it's a start and it's only meant to be that- a start. Ashley has an active after-care program and those patients who complete their program can go back for the rest of their life to programs there. They also a very good family program and even a children's program very similar to the Betty Ford Clinic children's program for children of alcoholics from age 6 on up. I can testify it's crucial that the children of alcoholics get treatment also--extremely important. Jerry Moe was the pioneer in children's programs in recovery programs-he was at Tuscon, then Betty Ford, and now he's the Director of the Hazelden Foundation Family program. He's super. I was privilege to be in seminars with him some years ago. So, for Bishop Cook, she does not need to be in an expensive place, she can go to a less expensive place and in addition to that it is commonly recommended that after care is very important to any recovery program, including outpatient follow-up and also she would do well to go into a Sober Living for several months. From what I've read, she needs to be in a no-nonsense enviornment that will lend itself to recovery and with other women. it's obvious she has people around her, including family, that have access to a lot of money. In my experience, that may be a problem-it is imperative that her whole family get treatment also and begin to go to Al-anon in their communities. Alcoholism is a Disease that is life-long, and the families and friends of an alcoholic will find that life goes on and Al-anon provides support, education, and the insight into living life on life's terms that only Al-anon can provide. I am still surprised that people don't know about Al-anon, but hopefully that will change as more and more people start talking about the Disease of Alcoholism openly. Alateen is also part of the Al-anon program for children ages 6-20 years. I'm hoping Bishop Cook resigns soon so she can start to focus on her recovery. She has admitted she has a problem, so that's good, but what can happen is the person goes to rehab, family and friends don't participate in the recovery program, and the Disease gets swept under the rug, as was quoted in the article about Bishop Cook's 2010 DUI- as a "one time thing." It was good to see that Bishop Hall did so much for his diocese to incorporate recovery and information in his ministry. Yes, there are many clergy in recovery. Help is available.

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  12. I have just read several just released articles, one of which is in the Washington Post, all saying the same thing: Bishop Cook was inebriated at the pre-consecration dinner held two days before her consecration. This unfortunately confirms what I stated in my previous post about "functional" Alcoholics having people that cover up for them. It's true. However, what a shame that in observing her drunken state at dinner those in authority who could have stopped the consecration did not do so. That was the time to stop, re-examine the election, and re-evaluate Heather Cook. The audio from her 2010 court appearance is further proof that Heather had a team of enablers from the get-go. She comes from a large family-it would be good to have her siblings comment on her Alcoholism-if there's a place to start, it's with the family-talk about denial! Since her dad, Fr. Cook, also went into rehab more than once for his Alcoholism, I'm sure the family would have much to tell about life in an Alcoholic family that would have helped in the discernment process of Heather's difficult history, both being the child of an Alcoholic, and an Alcoholic herself. It's difficult to think that there are only two in the Cook family who are Alcoholics. It's my experience that when one looks through the family of an Alcoholic, if you know Alcoholism, the family system is easy to identify-it takes a lot to maintain a family when Alcoholism is present. I am wondering how many of Heather's family are in Al-anon? Is anyone else in A.A.? How many family members have gone through professional treatment other than Heather? Also, if Mark Hansen is her main support as she stated in her statement for presentment for bishop, is he also in Recovery? These are all serious and needed questions that should have been covered in her examination process. The whole picture of her Disease and background needed to be gone into. She did a typical job of an Alcoholic who is in denial during her walk-abouts and refusing to share her Recovery, if any, at least to talk about her Disease of Alcoholism.I was shocked to read the Diocese thought it necessary to not let it be known to the voting delegates that she was an Alcoholic~this is so important-it's part of who she is. To an Alcoholic if they don't put their Recovery First, they won't be able to be sober and live the one day at a time way of dealing with their Alcoholism. Also, if she had a sponsor during the vetting, it would have been a good idea to talk to them too. The facts that are coming out in bits and pieces just get worse and worse. Huge mistakes were made. She needs to resign. I would suggest the Diocese of Maryland pause and get some really good education on Alcoholism /Addiction before putting any one else up for bishop or priest. Hazelden , Betty Ford Clinic, Sierra Tuscon, the National Substance Abuse Foundation, the Meadows, the National Organisation for Children of Alcoholics, etc. I'm sure they would be most honored and glad to come and speak to the parishes. This won't bring Tom Palermo back though. It's still a tragedy.But maybe it will help prevent this from happening again. Just a thought. Her 2010 DUI wasn't a "one time thing"-some people think a DUI is an isolated instance. Alcoholism is a progressive disease and red flags should have been going up at the speed of sound on that one.

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  13. Anne,
    See my post of February 4, 2015. Your description of the disease of alcoholism is correct as is your description of the failure of leadership.
    Ben Carey MD

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  14. I went to seminary on a paid fellowship and left after one semester because I could not tolerate the bad psychology. The way Bp Cook's history was dealt with by the diocesan leadership seems like just one more example of the church's arrogance when it comes to the expertise of other professions. Any half-trained behavioral health intern could have told them that to put a person in early recovery into such a highly stressful and visible role is not forgiveness; it is sabotage. I cannot imagine that the examining psychiatrist did not note this fact. I know that previous guidelines have required a decade of sobriety prior to an elevation of this type, much more in keeping with our knowledge of recovery, but these were again disregarded. This seems to be a widespread issue in as many denominational churches as I have knowledge of. Church hierarchy: you do not know everything, practice humility and protect your people by seeking the expertise of _experts_ in whatever area you are called upon to make decisions. The life of faith is very broad, and church leadership cannot be expected to know what to do in every situation, but they can consult. _Please_ consult. Please. People depend on your integrity. Meaning well is not enough. This tragedy could and should have been prevented.

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  15. Jennifer,
    I am a cradle Episcopalian and Board Certified Addiction and Forensic Psychiatrist. Your comments are correct regarding the leadership of TEC. That Heather Cook had a BAC of 0.27 gm/dL should have been a Red Flag to the Search Committee and should have been addressed during the Walk About. The failure to disclose this to the laity and clergy who had to vote on her nomination is grossly negligent. That the PBp was aware of Bp Cook's inebriation at the dinner two nights before the consecration and failed to halt the consecration is also grossly negligent and enabling of Bp Cook's alcoholism. What would have been very helpful to know following the 2010 DUI is what treatment did she receive, was she in AA, had she completed a 4th Step, was she taking Naltrexone, etc.
    To paraphrase Hamlet, "there is something rotten in the Episcopal Church"
    Benjamin A Carey MD
    CAPT MC USN (retired)
    Addiction and Forensic Psychiatrist
    Virginia Beach, VA

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  16. My prayers are with the church, Rt. Rev. Cook's family, but mostly with Mr. Palermo's family.. I have been a victim of a DUI, I have been engaged in long-term recovery, active in H & I ( look it up), registered as an AOD counselor- the bottom-feeders of the social work movement, least paid least appreciated(between $8.00/hr to $20.00/hr). I am also somewhat of a transportation activist, bicyclist, Boy Scout servant, and father of two sons. My Dad's brothers were alcoholic. My Dad's mother was a declared alcoholic. My Mom's family contained some heavy drinkers. I am the son of a priest, grandson of a priest, great-grandson of a Bishop of two states ( Colorado and Maine). Surprisingly I am still an Episcopalian and a Christian, but somewhat ashamed of my so called Anglican brethren for separating from our church. ( That may be an interrelated issue but for another time).
    I am appalled that we in the Episcopal church overlook 'a good man's fault' when it now could mean life or death. Continued enabling will kill Ms. Cook.
    I would tell my D.U. I. and inmate clients that out of 100 folks, ten are problem drinkers/druggers, of those ten 1 or 2 cannot stop using with out intervention, sometimes Divine and of the ten problem drinkers, five will have had scrapes with law enforcement at least 3 times prior to their first arrest ( yea, even minorities get breaks from law enforcement), and of the ten, 3 to 7 will get arrested for D.U.I. at least 1 time. That means that at least a third of all D.U.I. arrests are folks who are likely alcoholic. A true alcoholic cannot stop completely without a complete change of heart, mind, body and soul. Read the "Doctor's Opinion" found in the text "Alcoholics Anonymous" and decide for yourself what the two most important words are for you in that part of the " Big Book". The text was so far ahead of its time. Also read anything by Sam Shoemaker (!) . The founders of AA wrote at the 6th grade level, so anyone could understand their text, and yet the Brain scientists are still uncovering what AA members have known for a really long time. One can heal if totally abstinent and be willing to share with another the exact nature of the problem.

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  17. Oh, By the way, Thank you Jennifer and Benjamin for your expertise and sharing.

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