On December 27, 2014, The Rt. Rev. Heather Cook, then suffragan bishop for the Diocese of Maryland, struck and killed Tom Palermo, a cyclist and married father of two in a DUI. Following the accident, Cook fled the scene, and passed by it again later that day without stopping. When police officials were finally able to interview Cook, her blood alcohol level was .22, almost three times the legal limit.
Cook had previously been arrested for DUI, after she was found driving with a shredded tire, covered in vomit, and in possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. At the time she served as Canon to the Ordinary (bishop’s assistant) in the diocese.
Subsequent to the second DUI, Cook reached an accord with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in which she was removed from the priesthood.
While we intend to write further about the various failings of the church that led to Cook’s consecration and the continuing failure to fix them, with the upcoming meeting of the executive council we want to address another issue, which is the church’s failure to deal in a Christlike manner with this issue.
In the case of former church treasurer Ellen Cooke, convicted of stealing millions from the Episcopal Church, she is known to have received spiritual support from the church while in jail. Informed sources suggest this may have been an arduous process, saying “I think [the counselor] learned a good bit more than she wanted to know.”
Flash forward, and Heather Cook is sitting in jail on the Eastern Shore, a few miles from the executive committee meeting being held at Linthicum MD. And while the Presiding Bishop’s office claims it was providing spiritual care for Cook, Anglican Watch has found no records in support of this claim. Nor did anyone from the executive committee visit Cook.
We also note that Bishop Chilton Knudsen, an allegedly recovering alcoholic, claims to have visited Heather Cook in prison:
Bishop Chilton Knudsen, 72, who was chosen to replace Cook in the Maryland Diocese, said she has met with her predecessor “on my own volition” and because “I also want Heather to know that not everybody in the Episcopal Church has it out for her.”
Leaving aside the irony of Knuden’s remark about people having it out for Cook due to her disease of alcoholism, Anglican Watch editor has personal experience with her and found her to be spectacularly unimpressive. Not only does Knudsen routinely ignore church canons, but Anglican Watch has received credible allegations that she has ignored mandatory child abuse reporting laws, covering up at least one egregious case of child abuse.
Make no mistake — Anglican Watch regards Cook’s conduct as reprehensible and appalling. Indeed, editor Eric Bonetti lost several family members to a drunk driver in a horrific accident that made national headlines. Yet Jesus called on the church to visit prisoners, and the early church did so, often at great risk to themselves.
That raises the question: How did Cook go from rising superstar one day to persona non grata the next? And how is that Christian?
Anglican Watch has reached out through various sources in an effort to interview Cook.