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Q: Why didn’t the church dig deeper? A: She had “stellar” recommendations.

Q: Why didn’t the church dig deeper? A: She had “stellar” recommendations.

Updated: Baltimore Brew has a report on the forum. Quotes in the addendum below.

Bishop Sutton held another public forum last night. According to the local CBS affiliate,

“Obviously there’s a flaw, there are flaws in there,” said Bishop Sutton. Top Bishop Eugene Sutton says they never had details of Cook’s initial DUI. “One of the regrets I have, is we didn’t have all the information we needed,” Bishop Sutton said.

Saying many spoke so highly of her, so they never felt a need to dig deeper. “She had only stellar recommendations,” said Bishop Sutton.

Ritter: “Why didn’t the diocese go after the details?”

“We were told that it was a one off deal not something that was an ongoing problem,” said Dan Webster, Spokesperson for Diocese of Maryland.

But even after that, Bishop Sutton was the one who says Cook was “inebriated” during a private dinner before she was ordained to the high ranking position. “A bishop just can’t get up and stop an election and by the way I have no business to think it should not [*] have been stopped,” said Sutton.

[*] The “not” was probably unintended in this sentence.

Addendum. (Added 2/13/15 at 10:50AM) Extracts from the report by the Baltimore Brew on the forum:

Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church, took charge of what Sutton said he believed to be an intervention on behalf of Cook after the September consecration.

“It was in the presiding bishop’s hands,” he said last night. “I made a follow-up call to say, ‘Has that begun?’ and the presiding bishop did say, ‘Yes.’”

After Cook officially took up her position in diocesan headquarters in September – separated from Sutton’s office only by an open reception area – Sutton did not pastorally counsel her or apparently broach the topic of alcohol or treatment options.

“It’s thought that the best thing to do is to have the presiding bishop be in charge of that because, guess what, we have a history of problems between bishops diocesan and suffragan bishops, and it can ruin a work relationship and a whole diocese can suffer.”

Posted by John B. Chilton


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WendY Rambo Shuford

An ordinary DWI could be looked at as a “one time” event yet driving erracially on the rim of one tire with bottles of whiskey in the care plus marijuana should have been a wake up call for those who were in charge at the time.
AND I understand not stopping the consecraiton in the middle yet why not be suspect when Heather was inebriated two nights before.
Too often she was given a pass which did not serve her as well as the diocese

David Streever

A few priests have come forward from her old Diocese to say they had *no* idea that she was in that DUI. Are people not reading the news about this?

If no one knew about it, they weren’t ‘giving her a pass’; they were just unaware.

Philip Snyder

I don’t believe that this type of situation will stop until we get at the heart of the issue. You can’t fix the problem until you correctly diagnose the problem. The problem is not simply that the PB (or someone else at 815) withheld information detrimental to Heather Cook’s election and eventual ordination as Bishop. The problem is that TEC (as a rule) no longer does discernment, but relies, instead, on process. Further, it relies on political activism and party spirit to discern direction and leadership for the Church.

Having overthrown Holy Scripture as a guide to moral behavior, why should it surprise anyone if we ignore it as a guide to what Christian leadership should look like?

June Butler

Philip Snyder, I hear passages from the scriptures and preaching from the scriptures whenever I attend church. In addition, much of the Book of Common Prayer comes from the bible. In no way has the Episcopal Church overthrown the Holy Scriptures.

I love the church, and no one here should mistake my comments to indicate anything other than loyalty to my church.

Nick Porter

I’m an Episcopalian, but my loyalty as a Christian is to Jesus Christ, not a denomination. The Episcopal Church is just where I choose to worship with fellow believers, nothing more and nothing less.

Harry M. Merryman

Please illustrate how TEC has “. . . overthrown Holy Scripture as a guide to moral behavior . . .” That’s a pretty serious assertion.

Eric Bonetti

One possible outcome from this situation: Looking at accountability in the church generally, and within ourselves. How often in parish life do we see issues that get swept under the rug? Whether it’s conflict, oppression, bullying, poor work performance, whatever, our culture all too often conflates forgiveness with accountability. One can be kind and merciful and still expect others to do the right thing.

In short, my experience in TEC is that “by what we have left undone” is far more applicable than, “by what we have done.”

Philip B. Spivey

It has not escaped my attention that the vitriol expressed toward the central-three in this tragedy is directed at two women and a Black man. I have no evidence that their identities play a role in our reactions, but neither do I have evidence to the contrary.

That said, I’d like to share my take on how Heather Cook’s consecration could have proceeded with nary a fire alarm going off. Three things can occur when raising up clergy: One relates to the public reputation the person brings with them — very much like an entourage. These are our “golden” clerics who, be dint of having earned it or not, become the chosen ones. When they are vetted, what ensues is largely directed by a “halo” affect—no pun, really, but very apt here. The halo affect bestows a certain protection for this person; a protection in which everyone in the vetting process, colludes. The agreed upon collusion is this—let’s not look too hard and find anything about this person that might upset our image of her.

A second stumbling block—as a poster above has stated—is that personal references are frequently useless–especially if the applicant in question is seated under a halo.

The third, and most consequential factor in this case, is a blindness to alcohol as a disease process. I have no doubt that everyone at that Sunday afternoon affair did see that Heather Cook was inebriated, but I guarantee you she was not the
only one. And so, in a dining room of free-flowing alcohol, who stands out as the anomaly? Not every one in that room has a drinking problem, but I’m sure you’d have a hard time time telling who does and who does not.

I can see Bishop Sutton and Presiding Bishop Schori —or anyone in that room — saying to themselves (and to each other) about Heather Cook: “Not the most elegant pose before her consecration.”

As many have noted, 20/20 hindsight makes up for our lack of clear-eyes as an event unfolds. But, hindsight cannot change what amounted to, a cascade of regrettable decisions over the course of many years. I for one, am not ready to excoriate the most recent generation of participants in Heather Cook’s trajectory in our church.

I think it’s time to put down our swords and begin the work of redemption and reconciliation with the Palermo family.

June Butler

Philip, you can suggest that people here at the Café stop talking about the matter, but that does not mean the people in the Diocese of Maryland and in the wider church will lay aside their concerns about the search process and about why the consecration was allowed to take place after Heather Cook was inebriated two evenings before the event in the presence of Eugen Sutton and Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Bp. Sutton invited the media to attend the meetings in Baltimore, and, so far as I’ve seen, the coverage has been mostly fair and accurate. People who wish the discussion to go away can wish all they like, but the conversation will not stop until many questions have been answered satisfactorily.

According to the latest article in the Baltimore Brew, Sutton has shifted the entire responsibility for the consecration going forward entirely to the PB, and Katharine does not comment. Why does anyone wonder that so many questions continue to be asked?

c seitz

When people try to regulate what people say rather than allow a free flow of discussion related to the topic as such, we get blog breakdown.

June Butler

Philip, you completely misunderstood my comment. If you had read the entire thread, you would know that I address only the search process gone bad and a consecration that should have been stopped I have already said more than once that Heather Cook alone is responsible for the death of Tom Palermo.

If others conflate the two, that is not my problem, nor is it my problem when other commenters psychoanalyze via the internet why people continue the discussion.

Philip B. Spivey

June: I’m not suggesting anybody end conversation on an issue as important to our church. I’m suggesting that we cease throwing these “co-conspirators” against the wall in an effort to shake lose confessions. I am suggesting we move on to deeper perspectives, e.g., addressing the three points I raised. Like any institution protecting its reputation, transparency in our church is something we reach for, but is not immediately forthcoming. In spite of the tragic outcome of Heather Cook’s decisions, I don’t think anybody will be determined “responsible” for these events other than Heather Cook. Rather, I think that in time to come, with 20/20 hindsight, we will recognize that a church culture —which continues to hold benign views of alcohol— failed Heather, and ultimately, the Palermo family.

Re: The one African American and two women bishops: Only someone who’s had their head in the sand for the last 400 years would be so quick as to rule out –without pause and reflection– race and gender—as a factor in this level of vitriol; add to that, the grudges that these three bishops may have attracted over time. I did not say that race and gender are a factor here; what I did say is that I am not color blind.

c seitz

Spot on. Thank you for the clear-headedness of your comment.

Nick Porter

Philip, even if it were three caucasian men my opinions would be unchanged. To bring up their race and sex at all is beyond unneeded.

Nick Porter

I’m not that bad,Jay. 🙂

Jay Croft

I agree with Nick.


c seitz

What an odd comment.

Vitriol against two women and one African-American? You mean: “Not every one in that room has a drinking problem, but I’m sure you’d have a hard time time telling who does and who does not.”

Marc A Cooper

Passive voice is almost always a sign of hedging, and an attempt to diffuse blame. Sadly, this reads like an attempt to shore up against a civil trial, which seems likely, and frankly, appropriate.

Am I the only one who is reminded of Neville Chamberlain here?

c seitz

Is your point that Sutton is manipulating things?

I should think that if so, the PB’s office would want to rebut that. He is placing the responsibility with them.

One wonders how this will play out.

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