Disciplinary process begins for Maryland suffragan in fatal accident

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Jan 8, 2015
Diocese of Maryland Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook remains on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation into a fatal accident in which police say she was the driver. Photo: Richard Schori

Diocese of Maryland Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook remains on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation into a fatal accident in which police say she was the driver. Photo: Richard Schori

[Episcopal News Service] Diocese of Maryland Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook remains on administrative leave and The Episcopal Church’s disciplinary processes have been put in motion after her involvement in a fatal car accident in which she temporarily left the scene after striking and killing a bicyclist.

The Dec. 27 accident in northern Baltimore that killed Thomas Palermo, 41, is still being investigated by local law enforcement and no charges have been filed.

“Currently we are following the disciplinary processes of the Church, and we are providing pastoral care,” Episcopal Church public affairs officer Neva Rae Fox said Jan. 6, speaking for Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. “We hold Bishop Cook, the Diocese of Maryland and the Palermo family in our prayers.”

She added that “as per the canons, details of the process remain confidential.”

Title IV of the Canons of The Episcopal Church governs ecclesiastical discipline of clergy members. Canon 17 of Title IV outlines the disciplinary process of bishops.

Meanwhile, the diocese has released a report on certain details concerning the day’s events and the investigation in the hours and days just after the accident.

Tom Palermo, 41, was the father of Sadie, 6, and Sam, 4. He was a senior software engineer at Johns Hopkins Hospital who also made custom bike frames. Photo: Bikemore via Facebook page

Tom Palermo, 41, was the father of Sadie, 6, and Sam, 4. He was a senior software engineer at Johns Hopkins Hospital who also made custom bike frames. Photo: Bikemore via Facebook page

Palermo, the married father of two young children, was pronounced dead at a hospital near the crash scene after the accident. Palermo died from head injuries suffered in the mid-afternoon accident, said Bruce Goldfarb, spokesman for the Maryland medical examiner’s office, in an interview with the Associated Press.

The diocese’s report of the events was released after numerous diocesan clergy met in closed session Jan. 6 to discuss the incident at the request of Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton.

According to the report, Cook called the Rev. Scott Slater, Sutton’s canon to the ordinary, just before 3 p.m. Dec. 27, “telling him she thought she had hit a bicyclist and was in shock.” Slater arrived at the scene 10 minutes later to find police crime scene tape surrounding Cook’s car and her sitting in a patrol car. Slater spoke to officers about the call from Cook. He then called Sutton and diocesan chancellor Jeff Ayres and left the scene.

Baltimore police called Slater just before 5:30 p.m. to ask him to pick up Cook. He did so, bringing her to her apartment where he “focused his conversation pastorally on her, as a child of God,” praying with her before he left.

Two days later, on the evening of Dec. 29, Baltimore police asked Slater to come to the police station to make a recorded statement. He did so, the statement said, answering “every question as thoroughly and completely as he could recall, including details of his and Cook’s conversation during the car ride to her apartment.”

Slater provided no other details to clergy at the meeting “out of respect for the ongoing police investigation, for the Palermo family, and for Cook,” the statement said, adding that Slater could not discuss his and other staff members’ cooperation with the Title IV investigation due to its required confidentiality.

“Cook is now in good hands and receiving care that will hopefully help her on her journey forward,” the statement said.

Palermo was a senior software engineer at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He also made custom bike frames, according to news reports.

A memorial has been growing near the scene of the Dec. 27 accident in which bicyclist Tom Palermo died after being hit by a car driven by Diocese of Maryland Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook. Photo: Eileen M. Gilan via Bikemore Facebook page

A memorial has been growing near the scene of the Dec. 27 accident in which bicyclist Tom Palermo died after being hit by a car driven by Diocese of Maryland Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook. Photo: Eileen M. Gilan via Bikemore Facebook page

“Together with the Diocese of Maryland, I express my deep sorrow over the death of the cyclist and offer my condolences to the victim’s family. Please pray for Mr. Palermo, his family and Bishop Cook during this most difficult time,” Sutton said in a Dec. 29 statement posted on the diocesan website.

Sutton confirmed in that statement that Cook was driving the car that hit Palermo and said the bishop suffragan left the scene of the accident but returned 20 minutes later “to take responsibility for her actions.” The bishop said that he had placed Cook, 58, on administrative leave “because the nature of the accident could result in criminal charges.” She is receiving pay and benefits in accordance with standard denominational practice, the Jan. 6 statement said.

Sutton said he has indefinitely postponed his planned sabbatical due to the accident and its aftermath.

Sharon Tillman, the diocese’s director of communications, told Episcopal News Service in a Jan. 2 telephone interview that the diocese was told by the police that it could be as much as two months before an accident report will be available.

David Irwin, an attorney representing Cook, told ENS Jan. 2 that his client is “distraught about the death of the cyclist, naturally. She is praying for him and his family.”

The accident brought to light a 2010 traffic incident in which Cook was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and for marijuana possession.

Cook was stopped Sept. 10, 2010, by a sheriff’s deputy in Caroline County in the Eastern Shore area of Maryland when she was observed driving 29 miles per hour on the shoulder of the road in a 50 miles-per-hour zone, according to law enforcement records. Her car had a shredded front tire.

The reports of the 2010 incident said that Cook registered .27 percent blood alcohol content. The legal limit in Maryland is .08 percent. The officer said two small bags of marijuana were found in the vehicle, along with drug paraphernalia, and a bottle of wine and a bottle of liquor.

Cook pleaded guilty to drunken driving in that incident, and the prosecution of marijuana possession charge was dropped. A judge sentenced her on Oct. 25, 2010, to pay a $300 fine and supervised probation. Court records available online do not note the length or conditions of Cook’s probation. A Dec. 30 statement on the diocesan website said that during the search process that resulted in Cook being elected suffragan in 2014 she had “fully disclosed” the 2010 arrest for which she received “probation before judgment” from the court.

“After extensive discussion and discernment about the incident, and after further investigation, including [an] extensive background check and psychological investigation, it was determined that this one mistake should not bar her for consideration as a leader,” the Dec. 30 statement said.

“One of the core values of the Christian faith is forgiveness,” the statement said. “We cannot preach forgiveness without practicing forgiveness and offering people opportunity for redemption.”

The search process’s background check and psychological investigation on Cook were “no more [and] no less than what any other nominee would have gone through,” Tillman told ENS.

Cook was elected May 2, 2014, and became the diocese’s first female bishop when she was ordained and consecrated Sept. 6. Cook’s biography is here on the diocesan website.

Bicyclists prepare to begin a Jan. 1 memorial ride to the site of the fatal accident in which cyclist Tom Palermo died. Photo: Eileen M. Gilan via Bikemore Facebook page

Bicyclists prepare to begin a Jan. 1 memorial ride to the site of the fatal accident in which cyclist Tom Palermo died. Photo: Eileen M. Gilan via Bikemore Facebook page

On Dec. 31 the diocese encouraged its clergy and lay members to participate in a New Year’s Day memorial bike ride in Palermo’s honor organized by two local bicycling groups. The ride began at 3:30 p.m. at Bishop Square Park adjacent to the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation. After a moment of silence, the riders biked to the accident scene at 5700 Roland Avenue to place a white memorial bicycle, known as a “ghost bike,” in honor of Palermo.

Officials from Bikemore and Bike Maryland agreed that diocesan members could publicize and promote participation in the memorial ride, Tillman said.

“They invited our presence; they did not want us to stay away,” she said. “The cycling community in Maryland, especially in Baltimore, is very strong and they’re really in a lot of pain right now and we are grieving along with them. We wanted to be with them, but only if our presence wouldn’t make it worse.”

Diocesan officials opened the nearby diocesan center as well as the cathedral so that riders could spend time in silent reflection, get warm and use restrooms, Tillman added.

Palermo’s funeral Mass was celebrated Jan. 3 at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Towson, Maryland. Sutton called on members of the diocese to join him in a moment of silent prayer and reflection at 10 a.m. that day as Palermo’s funeral began.

Palermo’s wife, Rachel Rock Palermo; 6-year-old daughter Sadie; 4-year-old son Sam; and his parents survive him, according to a Baltimore Sun obituary. Family members have begun a fundraising effort for Palermo’s children.

In the Jan. 6 statement, the diocese urged congregations to designate a Sunday offering for the Palermo family fund and to continue to pray for the Palermo family and Cook.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


Comments (39)

  1. William A. Flint, PhD says:

    This is a sad situation and our prayer are certainly offered for healing. The Church’s clergy should always be held to a higher standard and we deserve a full and complete investigation into the circumstances surrounding this accident. The Roman Pontiff has said on several occasions that “there exist a higher call to accountability among those whom we call to lead us as the People of God. ”

    My comment is not posted to be negative, but positive for those who seek to undermine the processes defined for such occasions as inadequate. I think even our Clergy feel that they are held to a higher standard. As Scripture tells us: To whom much is given, much is required.

    God bless all involved in this process.

    1. John C. Kimbrough says:

      My experiences with and observations of The Episcopal Diocese of Long Island have shown me that those who commit wrongdoings who are ministers or in positions of moral and spiritual leadership and authority over others may be protected or their lapses defended in some manner…..We, as people who wish to become spiritually mature and wise and truly serve God and others as we have ben asked to and also wish to need to have leadership that is above reprehensible or criminal acts and actions…..

      1. Elaine Jenkins says:

        The Church needs to come to terms with the issue of forgiveness balanced by accountability. Being forgiven is one issue, consequences for one’s actions is another. God forgave Adam and Eve, but did give them consequences- they could no longer live in the Garden.

  2. Julia Shea says:

    While I agree that this is tragic and prayers are lifted for everyone involved I do have the following questions:

    – is the Episcopal church paying for her lawyers, and if so why?

    – why is everyone talking about how long the investigation will take? Bishop Cook is the one person who knows what happened that day. Why doesn’t she just come forward and tell her story and save everyone, especially the Palmero family, a lot of angst? After all, didn’t she recently preach a sermon about taking personal responsibility for your actions?

    – why did episcopalians all rise and march and ask for justice for Michael Brown. Why do they now only ask for prayers?

    – where is the acknowledgement that if this same incident happened with a poor black man driving that man would already be the in jail. For a denomination that prides themselves on social justice they sure seem to be taking advantage of every rich, white, religious privilege they can to protect the Bishop

    Again, this is certainly a tragedy where everyone loses and without the facts (which the Bishop could easily provide) no one should be rushing to judgement, but I hope you recognize why people feel the institutional church appears to be most hypocritical in their behavior

    1. William A. Flint, PhD says:

      When +++John Paul II+++ was asked about the priest who abused children and youth, the question was presented to him as “your Holiness, you have said that God will forgive all sins”. His reply was: “Yes, God can forgive. I will not.”

      There is a high standard held for the Clergy, which includes Bishops.

  3. Jeremy Bates says:

    Cook, like anyone else, has the right to defend herself.

    “Why doesn’t she just come forward and tell her story and save everyone, especially the Palmero family, a lot of angst?”

    Perhaps because law enforcement is investigating! Cook’s lawyer has probably told her that the time and place for her to tell her story is at deposition and in court. Not before.

    Clergy are held to a high standard. But does this standard really require clergy who face possible criminal charges to pre-indict themselves in the public press?

  4. Theodore W. Johnson says:

    What was the nature of the canonical disciplinary process following the 2010 arrest? What was its conclusion? What discipline was imposed?

    Specifically who in the Diocese of Maryland determined that information about the 2010 incident would not be made public in the search process, to the members of the electing convention, and to the bishops and standing committees consenting to the election.

    Is it possible to forgive an offense when information about its very existence has been suppressed?

    1. John C. Kimbrough says:

      I think the fact that this is a woman bishop in a denomination that is losing devotees and followers and also a young woman, and also a woman who appears to have and have had a drinking problem, well, in some respects this could be a huge slap in the face for the church as a whole and it’s liberal policies which though I endorse, could be more in line with trying to attract followers within the context of what is politically correct and tolerated instead of teaching the word of God as put forth in the Bible….

    2. Thomas J Hudson says:

      For details regarding the Bishop Search Process that took place during 2013-14, see this web site: http://bishopsearch.episcopalmaryland.org.

  5. Kathleen Murff Whiting says:

    It would be helpful to include the contact information for the fund for Mr. Palermo’s family.
    Many questions, few answers. I believe clergy must be held to a higher standard, but they do not relinquish their legal rights as citizens. I do hope that the investigation is completed in a timely manner with fairness for the driver and respect for the victim and his family. Praying for all involved.

    1. Lynette Wilson says:

      The text is linked to the website, but here’s the URL http://www.youcaring.com/tuition-fundraiser/children-of-tom-palermo/283939 just in case.

  6. Nancy Mott says:

    Oh my, I cannot imagine the grief and shock Bishop Cook must be in and will be in for years. I’m holding in my prayers this gifted and caring woman, Tom Palermo and his family, the Diocese of Maryland, and the Maryland bicycling community.

    I want to add, though, as a therapist familiar with addiction and recovery, that in my view the search committee took much too lightly the seriousness of the 2010 event, the details of which indicate serious relapse. Four years’ recovery is just not long enough — and in fairness to the candidate — to face the tests and challenges posed by episcopal responsibilities. (And surely it’s not a matter of forgiveness vs. punishment. Would one ‘forgive’ heart disease?)

    Furthermore the delegates who voted in the election for suffragan bishop deserved full disclosure of both Cook’s addiction and recovery and been given the opportunity to decide for themselves. And Heather Cook deserved no less as well.

    A further note: I fear we Episcopalians tend to take alcoholism too lightly. Are we being given a wake-up call to be more realistic and responsible in support of persons in addiction recovery? And I mean including persons in all orders of ministry. Heather Cook was not well served well. One can only pray that her gifts for ministry can be salvaged.

    1. Anne Bay says:

      I am glad you wrote what you did. I totally agree that four years recovery is no where long enough to take on a big challenge such as being a bishop. I have many friends who are recoverying in various 12 step programs, and some are treatment counselors. I asked one of them(who has almost 30 years in A.A.) their opinion on this situation and they said Heather should never have been even presented to be a bishop-from what I read she didn’t get any treatment for her alcoholism. Even if she had gone to the best treatment program and been active in her recovery, he said way too soon to take on this kind of challenge. People that are not involved in recovery do not understand what a devastating disease this is, and do not know what’s involved in maintaining sobriety and a healthy life. I agree, Alcoholism doesn’t get enough attention in the Episcopal Church. The good thing is that there is far less stigma now because there has been a lot more open talk about addiction and what it is and where to go to get treatment, and I might add that treatment is available. I had the good fortune to hear Dr. Pursch speak many times and he was not a fan of the old “tough love”-he said it’s a lot easier to help people recover who are six feet on top of the ground, than six feet under. And he was also adamant that alcoholism -addiction is a multi-faceted disease with a progressive cycle left untreated results in death. And Bishop Cook did not go back to the scene of her own volition ,according to several bikers who saw her drive away and went after her, and according to them she was gone for 45 minutes, not 20, and only returned when it was clear the bikers were taking down her license plate number. So the account is somewhat different depending on who is giving the account. I’m concerned about the church getting proper help for Bishop Cook too-if there is an alcoholism problem, she needs to be in treatment immediately, not two months from now.

    2. John C. Kimbrough says:

      Well said and written Nancy…Thank you for your insights, wisdom, understanding and compassion and God bless you also dear……

  7. Mark Ritter says:

    To me who was at fault and why, in this situation is unimportant. Her prior DUI is also not important. The outcome doesn’t change even if the cyclist was at fault. A Bishop of the church hit someone, knew it, and made the decision to leave the scene instead of stopping to help. The damage to her car windshield says it all. There could be no doubt that she hit something or someone. Returning 20 minutes later is a joke and has no value to me or to the man that was hit or to his family. I do not understand why she was not immediately arrested for hit and run. The church has an opportunity here to do the right thing. But I fear that they are hiding behind their lawyers and insurance company instead. Limiting their liability is more important than doing the right thing. Just like leaving the scene was more important than doing the right thing. Very sad.

    1. William A. Flint, PhD says:

      I understand your statements and agree. The one question that has not been addressed is whether the suffragan bishop was in route to or from a church function or event or was she on her own time? In order words was she driving while executing her official duties or was this down time? The liability issues for the Church may well depend on the answer to that question. My heart goes out to the children who have lost their father and the wife who has lost her husband. As well as the police officers task to investigate this case. I pray that the district attorney will not allow the status of the suffragan bishop be a determining factor in the execution of his duties to seek justice. There is no excuse that would be acceptable to a hit and run scenario for this case. We are in agreement.

      1. William A. Flint, PhD says:

        AP reports: The second-highest leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland will be charged with vehicular manslaughter, drunken driving and other counts stemming from a hit-and-run crash that killed a bicyclist on a sunny Saturday afternoon, Baltimore’s top prosecutor said Friday.

        An arrest warrant also will be issued for Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook, 58, whose blood-alcohol level tested at .22 after the wreck, nearly triple Maryland’s legal limit for driving, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said at a news conference.

    2. John C. Kimbrough says:

      Well – stated Mark…..

  8. Thomas Andrews says:

    Google “Children of Tom Polermo” for the website of a fund for the support of their education.

  9. Austin H Turney says:

    With the facts as they appear, surely Bishop Cook should resign her episcopacy. Whether and how she should continue to exercise her priesthood must result from extensive prayer and counseling. We have seen too many cases in the church in which a temporary recovery has been followed by relapse with damage to other human relationships and to the church.

  10. Tod Roulette says:

    This is a tragic and life changing event for both parties, but as an African American Episcopalian I see this through a racialized lens and one that is overtly class privileged. I sadly wonder if this had been a black clergy and he had left how the Episcopal authorities would have handled the reaction of the clergy in question. I also cannot help but wonder if a black clergy with the same prior record of drunken driving would have ever be ‘forgiven’ and risen to the ranks of Suffragan Bishop. White privilege exists structurally-even in religious institutions.

    I am simply pointing this heavily conjectured scenario to give insight into how a person of color sees the same life events and news unfold. The hurt in this case is real, it doesn’t matter that both parties are Caucasian, I am praying for both. But, it behooves us as Christians and as a denomination to critically think about what our actions say and signal to the wider world and impact individuals.

    1. William A. Flint, PhD says:

      I agree. We should always be mindful of the lens through which we view the events of our world. I was in middle school when the civil rights movement started. My grandmother taught me to respect all people and as a white teenager in Mississippi that was a bar set high to achieve. I was fortunate to have had such good role models. It had a profound impact on me then and now. I pray that we will someday truly overcome.

    2. Frank Brown says:

      This incident is not even remotely about race, and to try to make it so is counter-factual and not grounded in reality. The incident itself is bad enough; to make up a non-existent black-white issue and then trot out the standard Marxist terminology is race-baiting and shameful.

      Back to reality: Bishop Cook should resign.

      1. Tod Roulette says:

        To denigrate my own feelings as an African American and the questions I had and fears I anticipate as a person of color as you have done by calling it ‘race-baiting’ is the exact problem I hoped to highlight, Frank Brown. I acknowledged that the incident had nothing to do with race, but as a person of color I’m afraid if the Bishop had been of color it would have been completely about race. Your response sadly shows that as Christians and Americans we have not overcome the issue of race. You could not even delicately appreciate my reality as a person of color that white men in clergy outfits would ever give Bishop Cook the ‘passes’ she has been given–were she not a white person. The fact that as a person of color that is my reality based experience and you have indelicately squashed it and accused of something suspicious as ‘race-baiting’ ignores the larger point–my opinion as a person of color. Until white males stop doing the exact thing you just did, nothing will change and justice will never be realized.

        1. Brother Andrew Colquhoun, OHC says:

          Thank you, and well said.

  11. Selena Smith says:

    Sympathy to the bicyclist’s family and much sadness in this tragedy. Administrative leave, confidential disciplinary process & pastoral care under Title IV is mentioned in the reporting. Does forgiveness become a casualty in that present disciplinary process? From the comments above, a double standard is being questioned in comparing a white woman to a male person of color. Is there due process for clergy anymore, or has that been put aside?

  12. Nigel Taber-Hamilton says:

    Bp. Cook has said she will take responsibility for her actions. This is only right and appropriate, not something to be lauded. She should be held to the highest standards of moral behavior. But then, shouldn’t every baptized person be held to the highest of standards? Surely the comparison being made is a false one if those called by the baptized to a particular office (in this case as a bishop) are treated differently than the other ministries conferred on each of us at baptism. To hold a bishop to a higher standard than other Christians is to violate what St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12.

    1. William A. Flint, PhD says:

      Not that Episcopalians would quote Scripture as proof text and if we get to that slippy slop then the Gospel trumps Paul with “To whom much is given, much is required.” The baptized, many include infants who grow to confirmation and then to adulthood. The Episcopal Church has used the Sacrament of Baptism to justify a number of things, but the ad vocation of personal and corporate responsibility as in community or common life is not one of them. If those whom we ordained are not held to a high standard then what is the purpose of “holy” orders?

      1. John C. Kimbrough says:

        Well said…….

  13. John C. Kimbrough says:

    Having been sexually molested and abused by an Episcopalian minister (The Reverend David T. Atwater of Grace Church in Brooklyn, New York) at the age of 13, I am not surprised by any kind of misbehavior or criminal conduct on the part of people in these positions…..However my intention is not to point a condemning finger at anyone and all….. We are all imperfect people and we all have the ability to be more tomorrow then we were and have been today. But, does the Episcopalian Church and it’s dioceses have the ability to look at those who lead other people in a discerning manner so that innocent young boys who wish to serve God and others are not sexually abused and cyclists are not run over and killed………..

    1. Elaine Jenkins says:

      John, I am saddened to hear of your experience. It is a common one in the Episcopal and other churches. There is a difference between being imperfect and taking advantage of your position to manipulate, control and hurt other human beings, especially children. I worked in juvenile corrections and know the struggles of children that have been sexually abused by people they were supposed to be able to trust. I applaud your courage for speaking the truth and sharing your story. I know there are others out there. There are some from the church I attended as a child. It needs to stop, victims need to be supported and clergy who hurt others need to be held accountable. I think the movement to do so will need to come from the laity. It is the prophetic voice the church so desperately needs.

  14. The Rev Jane W Van Zandt says:

    I’m not sure how this has become a racial issue, as I read other comments. “Taking advantage of every rich, white, religious privilege….to protect the bishop”? I don’t see that. There are processes, legally and within the Church, which must be followed. It is easy for us, who are not the bishop, or the Palermo family, to come to our own conclusions. We are not judge and jury. My heart goes out to the Palermo family and friends, and to the bishop. We might well take a step back, and wait. And pray.

    1. The Rev. Gerardo Romo-Garcia says:

      Rev. Jane, I agree with you, this is a case of it’s own, bringing up other issues just distracts the focus. We need to prioritize. In here the Victims are the Palermo family, regardless the outcome of the investigation, they deserve our compassion, our prayers, and our financial support if possible. In second place is the bishop who also needs prayers, regardless the outcome of the investigation, and DO NOT forget the People of God, who suffers with all this mess. Any other issue, though important, has not relevance in this case, at least for now.

  15. Phil Reinheiner says:

    It appears she has some significant substance abuse issues. Resignation and extensive rehab might be appropriate to begin. Extensive litigation and investigation are sure to continue. There are many victims here and lives have been changed (and one sadly ended).

    1. John C. Kimbrough says:

      There is much about this whole incident that continues to both disturb and sadden me, one of course being the death of a man who certainly seems to have been a great asset to his family, community and workplace. In other words he was serving God and his family and his fellow man as he had been asked and instructed to and he may not have been religious or gone to church at all. On the other hand, why does a woman at the age of 58 have what appears to be both a alcohol and substance abuse problem and what was she doing in being a bishop of the church??????

  16. Mary Roehrich says:

    Search Committees have a balancing act between decent reticence about their findings and public disclosure of troubling facts about the candidates they consider. In this case their reticence was not wise. In many cases it isn’t. We want to be generous and forgiving but our responsibility in selecting our leaders is to the larger community not to the candidate. The DUI was a red flag that should have been saluted. I suspect that failed episcopates, rectorships, etc. have all had indications that search committees and electors should have caught. I hope this incident is a horrible example that will alert such committees to the dangers of ignoring past problems. It is a shame that man had to die to bring this point home.

  17. Elaine Jenkins says:

    I am heartened by this conversation about accountability for clergy misconduct both in and out of a church setting. Somehow, clergy are placed on pedestals and seen as special and given a pass because of their position. Victims are left in the dust and clergy moves to new jobs in new dioceses where, concerns about their behaviors are not disclosed. I think part of this comes from the idea that clergy are “set apart” and have difficult jobs. The reality is that there are professions that are as or more difficult than clergy. These professions are regulated by professional and state licensing boards that monitor member’s behavior and consequence, support and restore their status in the profession if needed. The church has no such mechanism. Perhaps there should be one so that misconduct will be dealt with in an open and transparent manner. Healthy clergy equal healthy churches. It is not good for anyone to conceal misconduct.

  18. The Rev. Pamela J. Breakey says:

    A few years before I retired, I hit a Rottweiler on my Sunday morning drive to church. One second the dog was not there, the next second she was. That left me with a profound sense of the responsibility we all have when driving. I know that if it had been a person rather than a dog, I would still have hit and killed them. All that said, I cannot imagine doing anything other than pulling to the side of the road, pulling myself together briefly, and returning to the injured, whether it be dog or human. I agree with others who have said that we do not take substance abuse seriously enough but I would add that we do not take driving seriously enough either! With a bit of instruction, we turn teenagers loose in huge metal machines full of distractions and then are surprised when they die. In my dotage, I value life and health more than when I was younger, and it seems to me that we have lost perspective about much.
    The Palermo family, the Diocese of Maryland and the Rt. Rev. Cook are all in my prayers.

  19. Allan Watts says:

    @ Nancy Mott: “gifted and caring” people do not get into a vehicle and drive drunk, nor do they leave the scene of an accident in which it is clear that someone has been grievously injured. Her windshield was caved in on the passenger side and she thought she “might” have hit someone. But nevertheless she drove off. Alcoholics are indeed sick but AA teaches that we must take responsibility for acts — and accept the consequences.

    I am saying this as a recovering alcoholic with almost twenty years of sobriety. All alcoholics think that they are privileged, that the ordinary rules do not apply to them. In other words they are self-involved narcissists who have no regard for anyone or anything else when they are drunk. I would almost go as far as saying that we are virtual sociopaths when under the influence.

    A case in point: I used to drive down Denver city streets at 60-70 MPH, running red lights. It never occurred to me that I was putting myself or anyone else at risk. Bad enough but here is the telling point: I seethed with indignation when another driver tried to make a citizen’s arrest when I was driving drunk. How dare he! Well I got rid of him; he quit chasing me when I deliberately turned the wrong way up a one-way street. I don’t mean to get all autobiographical on you, but my life as a drunk is pretty illustrative of the alcoholic mind-set: Total disregard for other people.

    The bottom line is this: Bishop Cook deserves every bad thing that is going to happen to her, things like prison, a hefty civil settlement and deposition from Holy Orders. Sure we need to pray for her. She is hurting and in pain but I am praying that the Lord will give her the gifts of insight and repentance.

    The Diocese of Maryland is negligent here too. The Polermo’s attorney will have a field day when he deposes and interrogates the screening committee for giving Bishop Cook a pass and then doubled down by not telling the electing convention about what to any reasonable, rational person would consider a big red flag.

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