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Updates in Bishop Cook case: Bail posted and a pastoral letter

Updates in Bishop Cook case: Bail posted and a pastoral letter

A deposed Episcopal priest has posted bail for Bishop Heather Cook who is facing vehicular manslaughter, DUI, and other charges, in the death of Thomas Palermo on December 27. Cook has been released from jail and is scheduled to appear in District Court on February 6th for criminal indictment.

Her bail was posted by Mark H. Hansen, a deposed Episcopal priest who now now serves as a “lay pastor” of St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, Massey, Maryland, in the Diocese of Easton (Maryland). Hansen was inhibited then deposed in 2005 by Bishop Andrew Smith of Connecticut for abandonment of the communion. Hansen is described in the autobiography that Cook provided before her election as “a steady companion” for the two years leading up to her nomination.

Both the Baltimore Sun and the Baltimore Brew report that Cook was headed to an inpatient treatment facility after her release.

Baltimore Sun:

Cook and Hansen attended General Theological Seminary in New York at the same time in the 1980s, according to the school’s website, and Hansen participated in Cook’s consecration ceremony last September.

Baltimore Brew:

Hansen posted $35,000 of collateral and signed a $215,000 promissory note to meet the 10% requirement of the $2.5 million bail for Bishop Cook, who was jailed last Friday on manslaughter and drunk driving charges stemming from a car crash that killed bicyclist Thomas Palermo.

Reached this afternoon, Hansen said, “I’m not talking to the press, OK? We have an attorney.”

Only one condition is required of Bishop Cook under the terms of today’s bail: “Do not drive while pending trial.”

Arinze Ifekauche, spokesman for State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, confirmed that Cook “is not on pretrial supervision.”

It is not known where Cook will go after her release today. After the fatal crash with Palermo, Cook stayed at Father Martin’s Ashley, an alcohol treatment center near Havre de Grace, before she was jailed last Friday.

The Baltimore Sun reported that Cook had entered a 28-day treatment program after the December crash that killed bicyclist Thomas Palermo. In a hearing on January 12,

[Cook’s attorney, attorney, Jose A.] Molina asked Klein to lower Cook’s [$2.5 million] bail to $500,000 and allow her to continue with residential treatment or home monitoring. He promised she would not drive.

The $2.5 million bail, which Molina said Cook could not pay, was upheld:

District Court Judge Nicole Pastore Klein rejected a request from prosecutors to deny bail, but also disagreed with Cook’s attorney that her bail should be lowered. Klein said the allegations against Cook show a “reckless and careless indifference to life.”

“I can’t trust her judgment if released,” Klein said.

Both the Baltimore Sun and the Baltimore Brew reported Hansen’s presence at the initial court proceedings, and that the Diocese of Maryland was not part of any bail arrangement. The Sun:

A spokeswoman for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland described Hansen as a friend of Cook’s. Spokeswoman Sharon Tillman said the church was not involved in the bail payment but was “grateful that she’ll now be able to resume treatment.”

Hansen signed a promissory note agreeing to pay $215,000 in monthly installments of $1,000, records show. If Cook fails to appear in court, Hansen could be on the hook for the full $2.5 million.

Hansen attended Cook’s bail review hearing Monday but declined to talk to a reporter. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Bishop Sutton PortraitIn other developments, the Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, Bishop of Maryland, wrote a pastoral letter to the Diocese dated January 13 and reported in the Baltimore Brew.

Bishop Sutton asks the question, “What do we do with our grief?” Bishop Sutton was presiding as bishop when Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook was elected in the Diocese of Maryland, and was aware of her 2010 DUI arrest.

There are still too many questions for which there are no easy answers, and we are filled with anger, bitterness, pain and tears. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the Palermo family in their bereavement and for ourselves as a diocese in mourning. And we continue to pray for our sister Heather in this time of her tremendous grief and sorrow, knowing the Episcopal Church’s “Title IV” disciplinary process is underway to consider consequences for her actions as well as review the process that resulted in her election.

Bishop Sutton lists five practices that are helping him through his own feelings of grief and sense of responsibility: prayer, being vulnerable rather than defensive, trust in the Spirit, be patient in the recognition that we cannot “simply fix problems on our own,” and acceptance:

After discussing this tragedy with some of my bishop colleagues for over an hour and being held up in prayer by them, one said, “Eugene, I am the child of an alcoholic and I’ve spent many years dealing with that and coming to understand the hold that alcohol has on someone who is addicted to it. I want to tell you that the Diocese of Maryland is not responsible for the terrible accident that killed that bicyclist. You are not responsible for that; Heather Cook is. It’s not your fault.” I burst into tears. I hadn’t realized how much I had internalized the weight of responsibility for the tragedy, the sense of shame, and the desperate need to make it all better. Later, praying before the Icon of Christ the Pantocrater, I gazed into those piercing eyes of our Lord, asking: What is Christ wanting to say to me? And what did I want to say to him? After what seemed like an eternity, I was finally able to gaze into his eyes and say: “Lord, it’s not your fault.” And both of us cried.

His letter is posted on the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland’s website here.

Posted by Cara Modisett and Andrew Gerns


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Rev Andrew Gentry

I guess when you view the role of a bishop as a CEO of his or her diocese rather than the chief pastor, being drunk before you are installed as the CEO is not so bad after all, other than a potential image problem that any good consulting firm could fix! However if you understand the function of a bishop and the example he or she is to set as essentially pastoral and one of teacher, being drunk before your consecration would be sufficient cause for your being denied consecration! Then again if you look at the service of ordination as liturgical theatre where the vows you are making at least theoretically before God and his congregation really don’t mean anything as evidenced by such gleaming examples of Mr Spong and Ms Schori you proceed with the theatrics with a hopefully sober participant!

Helen Kromm

First of all, I have to state that I am both frustrated and anguished that Heather Cook is out on bail. I believe this circumstance represents a disservice to the community, and I believe that it represents a disservice to Heather Cook. Her interests and our interests would have been better served had she remained incarcerated until trial.
I don’t make that statement lightly. Nor do I make that statement out of any sense or need to extract revenge or heap an added measure of suffering or punishment upon Heather Cook. Yes, I feel anger and frustration. But if there is any paramount emotion at play here, it is one of extraordinary sadness.
Just a scant time ago, Heather Cook unnecessarily and with complete disregard took the life of another human being. She is, and remains, in the grip of an illness that renders it impossible for her to make rational choices. She is not in remission and is not in a stage of demonstrable recovery. And to make matters worse, there is not a single condition of her recovery that alleviates this ongoing threat to the community at large. I believe that she shouldn’t have been released, and that the potential danger to the community provides reason enough to leave her incarcerated until trial.
She was told not to drive. Ridiculous. Anyone with even a remote understanding of the thought process of an alcoholic knows that telling them not to drive is an exercise in futility. Her thought process is not like ours. She will do anything to serve her need for alcohol.
She would have been better served remaining in jail. Clearly, Cook has suffered from alcoholism for an extended period of time. Whatever treatment she has received, whatever process she has participated in to date and leading to the murder she committed has not worked. Statistics regarding those who recover from alcoholism vary. But regardless of whatever statistic you accept, most alcoholics are unsuccessful in long term recovery.
It is generally accepted that alcoholics must reach bottom before recovery has any hope of success. And I would posit that a dose of tough love, and an extended pre-trial stay incarcerated, would have served this purpose better than any opportunity available to her. And of course, there are in-house treatment programs available to those incarcerated. Had she remained incarcerated, this would largely eliminate the threat of Cook harming herself, and eliminated entirely the threat of her harming yet again another member of the community.
But none of that matters now. She is out on bail. And this, at least to me, raises serious and troubling questions. Questions that not only haven’t been answered, but as far as I can tell, have yet to be thoroughly asked.
We have heard that the Maryland Diocese was not involved in her release. And this is true. But an individual representing the church, who in fact occupies a position of leadership in the church, is responsible. And that of course would be Mark Hansen.
Mark Hansen is the lay pastor and rector of Saint Clements Church in Massey Maryland. He is the point of contact not only on the Saint Clements website, but also the point of contact on the Diocese of Easton website. The E Mail contact on the diocese website- the Pastor’s website, is the E Mail address for his non-profit Pegasus. Both links appear directly below.
The Facebook page for Saint Clements appears below. Although the last three posts are about Saint Paul’s Cathedral, contained therein are the by-laws for the church itself. The page appears to be managed by Mark Hansen.
So, and according to public information available to us, Mark Hansen serves as an Episcopal official in a parish. Which to me begs the question how did he get there? It would have to have been as a result of an application made to the Bishop, and a license granted. And who was the Bishop, or which Bishop granted this or influenced this?
On the Diocese of Easton website, which obviously is outdated, the names of two Bishops appear. And the Canon of the Ordinary is Heather Cook.
She was at that time unquestionably the second most powerful church official in the diocese. I don’t know what her specific role was, but some definitions of the role of Canon of the Ordinary refer to that position as a “Chief of Staff”. Other sources indicate this is a position that is deeply involved in personnel decisions.
Press reports have told us that shortly after his divorce, Cook and Hansen moved in together. Press reports indicate they have possibly lived together since, and they define themselves as “companions”.
Did Heather Cook facilitate this position at Saint Clements for Hansen as a result of her relationship with him, and as her companion and lover? That is a question which needs to be asked and answered. What were his qualifications for this position, other than an intimate relationship with an Episcopal Bishop. Was he the best choice to lead a Parish in light of his past conflicts with the Church?
What is his income, and what role did Heather Cook play in insuring her companion had an additional source of income?
It is clear that the diocese and the church were not inclined to provide bail for Heather Cook. So I am somewhat troubled that bail was provided by someone who occupies a position of responsibility within the church. And I am troubled by the fact that he may owe this position of responsibility to the very person who committed this crime and provided this position for him.
These to me are troubling questions. But questions that we deserve answers to.

Steven Ford

Bishop Sutton is, of course, in no way responsible for Ms. Cook’s disease, her actions or her decisions. Did he exercise “culpable negligence” by failing to inform electors, diocesan bishops and standing committees of her arrest record? That’s for a court to decide in an inevitable lawsuit.

Eileen quinn

I am curious why Cook was elected. Out of the four resumes of the nominees there is one woman who seems far more qualified. I sent copies to several friends and all picked the same woman. Even without knowing about the DUI there must be some reason she was selected.

David Streever

Eileen, I wonder if she interviewed compellingly? I know I’ve had a hard choice between candidates, where one seemed more qualified on paper, but another felt more natural & at ease in our office.

In one (memorable) interview, the highly qualified applicant said, upon arrival, “I hope you appreciate that I drove an hour to be here. That’s going to factor into my compensation, or I’m not taking the job.” He then brushed off pleasantries (tea, a glass of water, etc) with a dismissive, cutting comment about how inefficient we must be if we have time to sit around and drink tea instead of getting right to business. The interview lasted 5 minutes more; I asked him a question, & he cut me off to say that everything was on his resume already, before telling me he was certain I’d be calling him with a competitive offer and leaving.

I’m not suggesting that the other candidates were rude, at all, but just speculating that there is much we can’t know about the meetings & discussions, and sharing my own experience of finding the most qualified person to be a very poor fit indeed. It was such an outsized (and I hope unusual) experience, but having had it, I’m less likely to assume that the resume tells the whole story!

Art Stewart

Anand nails it. We keep drifting from the essential issues that the Church needs to face in this tragedy. Our system of discerning, vetting, and electing candidates to office of Bishop (and I would add Rector) is broken. It was a breach in due process for Bishop Sutton, and/or the MD Search Committee, to withhold all of the details of Heather Cook’s DUI history during the election process. It was vital information that not only the convention delegates had a right to have but also the congregants at large throughout the constituency in which she would be charged with leading and serving if elected. It was information they had a right to have in order for fulfill their dutiful role in the election process. It is not sufficient to have simply disclosed that “one of the candidates has a DUI record” without disclosing who it was. That was a manipulative maneuver which could easily be construed as a political attempt to minimize certain facts in the biographical qualifications of a candidate because Sutton and the Committee denied the delegates their right to weigh the merits of such a ‘factor’ and evaluate a candidate in totality. Furthermore, I’m perplexed as to why the other candidates – all devoid of any arrest record (as far as we know) – would go along with such an approach as in a way it rests responsibility for the DUI arrest with all of them – rather than the one who needs to own it. And then the nondisclosure continued at the national level where Cook’s elevation was affirmed by the various diocesan Standing Committees around the country who also lacked awareness of her DUI “situation” and the circumstances of it (shockingly high blood alcohol level, the bald tire, the pot, etc.). From my perspective it is clearly a technical slam dunk: By these omissions the process was compromised and her election was invalid.

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