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Heather Cook’s ministry restricted by Presiding Bishop

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.


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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.

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.

Kathy Corbett-Welch

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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 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?

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