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Wednesday, December 31, 2014
The bishop and the cyclist
The Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, one Heather Cook, was said to have been the driver of the car which killed a bicyclist in the Roland Park section of Baltimore, MD on Saturday afternoon.
The deceased man, Tom Palermo, a 41 year old married father of two young children, was an avid cyclist, apparently out for a mid afternoon 'recreational ride'.
Apparently, the bishop left the scene of the accident - some say for 20 minutes, others say 45 minutes - but did return to "take responsibility for her actions."
Some reports say her car was weaving in traffic before she hit the cyclist. Other reports say she was texting. Still other reports say that the only reason she returned to the accident was because several other cyclists followed her to her home.
In 2010, while working as a priest for the Bishop of Easton, MD, Bishop Cook was charged with a DUI, her Breathalyzer test was .27 (legal limit in Maryland is .08) and she had drug paraphernalia in the car. She received "probation before judgment," went to rehab and eventually returned to work.
She was vigorously and fully vetted by the Diocese of Maryland before she was elected.
Thus far, there is absolutely no reported evidence of alcohol or drug use by the bishop in this fatality.
Let me say that again: Thus far, there is absolutely no reported evidence of alcohol or drug use by the bishop in this fatality. There may be evidence to the contrary, but so far, nothing has been reported. The investigation is on-going, including blood analysis and computer generated reconstruction of the accident.
I say that because as stunning as this news story is, I have been absolutely sickened by the comments left on social media sites. By Episcopalians. Who are Christian. Laity and ordained.
The conjecture and supposition, presumption and assumption - not to mention abundant evidence of very active imaginations - have been second only to the mean-spirit in which they are written.
Years ago, a woman in recovery and I were discussing sexism in the church and she said, "Honey, I have no doubt that you've had a rough time as a woman in this church, but you haven't seen the ugly side of sexism and misogyny until you've seen how women who are alcoholic are treated - even in 12-Step Programs. Men who are drunks are seen as pathetic people who need shelter and some help. Women who are drunks are disgusting, are shown no mercy and sent to jail."
I've thought of that conversation often as I've read headlines which scream things like, "First Woman Bishop Kills Doting Father of Two." And, "Bishop with previous DUI kills Cyclist."
Misogyny coupled with anti-clericalism is a pretty ugly sight to behold, no matter how subtle.
It's been simply awful. All of it. All.Of.It.
So, let us be very clear here:
Leaving the scene of an accident is a felony.
Whatever else she did or didn't do, she has admitted to leaving the scene of an accident. Doesn't matter that she returned. She left. She is already a felon awaiting conviction.
Whether or not she will also be charged and convicted with vehicular homicide (pending the results of the investigation), she was directly involved with the death of a young man with young children.
Nothing changes that.
She will have to live with that fact for the rest of her life. If your imagination needs some exercise, try to imagine that for yourself.
The record reflects that, since her ordination in 1987, she has been a good priest with lots of skills and talents, creativity and imagination - good enough to be elected as Bishop Suffragan despite being thoroughly and vigorously vetted by the diocese.
I can't imagine the personal, spiritual and psychological hell she (and her family) must be going through, knowing that her actions resulted in the death of another human being (My God!), knowing she's probably going to go to jail (Sweet Jesus!), will probably be asked to resign as bishop and just may, in fact, lose her orders (Come, Holy Spirit!).
I also can't imagine the unbearable grief the deceased man's family must be feeling. I hope and pray they are getting the spiritual, emotional and psychological support they need at this time.
My prayers are with the Palermo family - including a wife and two children - as well as prayers for compassion for Bishop Cook, which must be provided side by side with accountability and forgiveness.
Now - right now, in these dark days - is time for the community to gather and rally and provide help and support for both of these families, for whom - in the twinkling of an eye and the gentle beat of the human heart - life was changed and transformed and will never again be the same.
It's just so tragic, on so many levels, for so many people.
No one comes out a winner in these situations.
So, why the mean-spirit and conjecture and 'trial by media'?
I don't get it.
Not for Christians.
Not for Episcopalians.
What a huge test of our baptismal promises - especially "striving for justice AND peace among ALL people" and "respecting the dignity of EVERY human being" - which includes the deceased and the bishop.
Suddenly, those promises don't sound quite so rote or simple, do they?
And, the Anglican Via Media (Middle Way) seems a dangerous place to be, doesn't it? There you are, right out there in the middle of the road. Neither left nor right, passenger or passing, nor in the cyclist lane. Nope. Right smack in the middle.
In the days and weeks ahead, as evidence is examined and the slow, creaking wheels of the justice system work their way to find The Truth and judgement is rendered, let us strive to keep in mind our baptismal vows.
Because, the truth is, it is for times such as these that they were written.