National Episcopal Church Leader Says Group Is In “Denial” About Alcohol and Drug Abuse Among Clergy

Bishop Suffragan Heather Elizabeth Cook is the second-ranking official in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. The 58-year old is charged with hitting and killing bicyclist Thomas Palermo on Dec. 27, 2014. (Handout photo courtesy Episcopal Church, Chip Lee/Crystal River Media)
Bishop Suffragan Heather Elizabeth Cook is the second-ranking official in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. The 58-year old is charged with hitting and killing bicyclist Thomas Palermo on Dec. 27, 2014. (Handout photo courtesy Episcopal Church, Chip Lee/Crystal River Media)

A high-ranking official in the Episcopal Church is calling on the denomination to “repent for our role” in the death of bicyclist Thomas Palermo by examining “systemic denial” about alcohol and drug abuse, and reforming the process by which bishops are elected.

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, a leader in the national church’s governing body, said the election last year of Heather Elizabeth Cook as the second-ranking bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland in spite of her 2010 conviction for drunken driving is the latest example of why many believe the process is flawed.

Cook, 58, was indicted in Baltimore this month on 13 charges in the death of Palermo, a 41-year-old married father of two young children. She is accused of hitting Palermo with her car Dec. 27 as she was texting and driving drunk along Roland Avenue. The charges include automobile manslaughter, driving under the influence of alcohol and leaving the scene of an accident. She is free on bail while awaiting trial.

Cook was charged in Caroline County in 2010 for driving under the influence and given probation before judgment, which would allow her to clear her criminal record by completing her probation.

Leaders in the Maryland diocese asked Cook last month to resign her position in the church, and on Tuesday, the national Episcopal Church formally restricted her from acting as a member of the clergy.

“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,” Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in the order.

Jennings is president of the House of Deputies, one of the two chambers that make up the church’s governing body. The 900-member group must concur with the House of Bishops to adopt new rules governing the church.

“In the weeks since Mr. Palermo was killed, many people in the church have struggled to understand better how our systemic denial about alcohol and other drug abuse in the church may have contributed to Bishop Cook’s election and confirmation as a bishop even as she seemed to be struggling with addiction,” Jennings wrote in a statement released this week. “Many Episcopalians are asking what people in positions of authority in the church knew about her history of addiction and driving while under the influence of alcohol.”

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SOURCE: The Baltimore Sun
Doug Donovan

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