In a statement released one day before the state’s attorney announced the indictment of the Suffragan Bishop of Maryland for manslaughter, Bishop Robert Ilhoff has called for Bishop Heather Cook to be resign.
Each time a bishop is consecrated, she/he is charged: “You are called…to be in all things a faithful pastor and wholesome example for the entire flock of Christ.” Earlier at his/her priestly ordination, each candidate answers, “I will,” to the following: “Will you do your best to pattern your life in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that you may be a wholesome example to your people?” Bishops and priests all fall short and are guilty of sin, like the rest of us. Despite the fact none of us is perfect, we all have a right to expect the persons the Church ordains will take responsibility for their actions, will model best practices, and will willingly accept the consequences of their actions. Over the last several days, many have heard orread Caroline+’s excellent and powerful sermon of Sunday past, many of you participated in the moving meetings after each service. A number of you participated in the January 1st bike ride to memorialize Tom Palermo. Our clergy met with the Bishop on Tuesday, and most of us continue to mull over and talk about Tom Palermo’s tragic death caused by our Bishop Suffragan, Heather Cook. It is the main topic of conversation everywhere I go and we are still reeling from its implications. None of this is made better by the fact we are still waiting for charges to be filed and do not know a number of key details.
We do know an innocent man is dead and his family grieving. We know that Heather, the driver of the car left the scene of the accident and returned later. We do not yet know other crucial details; there is much speculation. However we know enough to assume Heather will not be allowed to resume her episcopal ministry. Why? She has violated the basis for our trust in leaving the scene of the accident. All persons have a moral responsibility to stop whatever the nature of an accident. When a life hangs in the balance, that duty to stop and assist is especially crucial. We will, sadly, never know if Heather’s stopping and calling 911 would have enhanced efforts to keep Tom Palermo alive; what we do know is she ceased being “a wholesome example,” as she drove away. Can she be forgiven? Yes, by God and after repentance. Can she be trusted as a leader of the Christian Church? Sadly, “No.” This accident will haunt her the rest of her life, regardless of what other details eventually come out. The Church deposes clergy who cross boundaries of sexual morality or who embezzle money or are guilty of a variety of crimes, including “hit and run.” It’s not that these persons no longer have a ministry or God can’t use them, it’s that we can no longer trust them to model a “wholesome example” as leaders in the Church. Already, Presentment charges are being prepared by The Episcopal Church which will almost assuredly result in Heather being deposed. Of course, we should hold her in prayer and trust in time, God will be able to guide her into new ways of service. She may even be able in time to draw on her tragic story in ways which will edify others. We should all be humbled in this tragedy to realize anew how potentially dangerous each of us can become behind the wheel of a car if we are inattentive, distracted, or careless. We can be more watchful and courteous to bikers and pedestrians (as well as to other drivers). We cannot change this tragedy, but we can learn from it.