[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori announced May 1 that she and Episcopal Diocese of Maryland Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook have reached an agreement that deprives her of her status as an ordained person in The Episcopal Church; moreover, that announcement came on the same day that Cook resigned her diocesan post.
Cook is scheduled to go on trial in June for allegedly causing the Dec. 27 car-bicycle accident in Baltimore that killed bicyclist Thomas Palermo. The simultaneous May 1 announcements do not involve the legal proceedings against Cook, but they do end all ecclesiastical disciplinary matters pending against her.
Maryland Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton had placed Cook on administrative leave shortly after the accident. Jefferts Schori restricted her ministry on Feb. 10
The statement from the Office of the Presiding Bishop is here and below.
“Pursuant to Title IV of the Canons of The Episcopal Church, the Presiding Bishop and Bishop Cook have reached an Accord. Under the terms of the Accord, Bishop Cook will receive a Sentence of Deposition, pursuant to which she shall be ‘deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority of God’s word and sacraments conferred at ordination.’
“As such, Cook will no longer function as an ordained person in The Episcopal Church.
“The Accord resolves all ecclesiastical disciplinary matters involving Cook.
“This Accord is separate from any resolution of employment matters involving Cook and the Diocese of Maryland as well as from criminal matters pending in the secular courts.”
The statement from the Diocese of Maryland is here and below.
“The Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton and the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland today announced the acceptance of the resignation of Heather E. Cook as bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. This means that Cook is no longer employed by the diocese. The acceptance of Cook’s resignation is independent of any Title IV disciplinary action taken by the Episcopal Church.”
In late January, the Maryland Standing Committee and Sutton asked Cook to resign as an employee of the diocese.
A Baltimore grand jury indicted Cook Feb. 4 on 13 counts for allegedly causing the Dec. 27 car-bicycle accident.
Five of the charges listed in the indictment by a Baltimore City grand jury come in addition to those Cook has faced since being charged Jan. 9 with four criminal offenses and four traffic violations.
The grand jury had added charges of driving while under the influence of alcohol per se (a “per se” DUI charge involves drivers whose blood alcohol limit is above the .08% legal limit and can be charged with drunk driving even if their ability to drive does not appear to be impaired), driving under the impairment of alcohol, texting while driving, reckless driving and negligent driving.
The original Jan. 9 criminal charges included manslaughter by vehicle, criminal negligent manslaughter by vehicle, homicide by driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol per se and homicide by driving a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol.
The traffic charges filed on Jan. 9 included failing to remain at an accident resulting in death, failing to remain at the scene of an accident resulting in serious bodily injury, using a text messaging device while driving causing an accident with death or serious injury, and driving under the influence of alcohol. The grand jury added to the two failure-to-stop offenses a charge of failure to stop the vehicle as close as possible to the scene of an accident.
The failing to remain at an accident resulting in serious bodily injury and the failing to remain at an accident resulting in death are both felony charges.
Cook appeared in court on the charges for the first time April 2 during an arraignment in Baltimore Circuit Court, according to court records. Because she accepted a trial date (June 4) “there’s an inferential plea of not guilty to all the charges,” David Irwin, one of Cook’s attorneys, told reporters outside the courthouse after the arraignment.
Irwin told Episcopal News Service on May 1 that there was been no resolution to the legal charges against Cook. “We hope to make progress in resolving the case, but we’re still involved in the discovery process and in the evaluation process,” he said, referring to the pre-trial process
in which both sides exchange information about the witnesses and evidence they’ll present at trial.
Cook faces a combined maximum penalty of at least 39 years in prison and a $39,000 fine, depending on whether her 2010 arrest and subsequent “probation before judgment” sentence is considered a first offense for any sentence she might receive if she were convicted of the charges of driving under the influence of alcohol and/or driving while under the influence of alcohol per se.
Cook, who is free on $2.5 million bail, “is still in treatment,” according to Irwin. She has been living in a drug and alcohol treatment facility since shortly after the accident.
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.