Bp Sutton writes a Pastoral Letter to the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Diocese of Maryland is in deep pain. Words barely express the depth of our shock and despair over the events and revelations of the past two weeks in the aftermath of the tragic collision involving Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook, which resulted in the death of a cyclist, Thomas Palermo, on Saturday, December 27. She is now in jail, facing charges of manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident resulting in a death, driving under the influence of alcohol, and texting while driving.

There are still too many questions for which there are no easy answers, and we are filled with anger, bitterness, pain and tears. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the Palermo family in their bereavement and for ourselves as a diocese in mourning. And we continue to pray for our sister Heather in this time of her tremendous grief and sorrow, knowing the Episcopal Church’s “Title IV” disciplinary process is underway to consider consequences for her actions as well as review the process that resulted in her election.

But what now? What do we do with our grief?

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Alcohol/Drinking, Alcoholism, Episcopal Church (TEC), Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, TEC Bishops, Theology

5 comments on “Bp Sutton writes a Pastoral Letter to the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland

  1. MichaelA says:

    This article started so well, and then turned rather odious. Bishop Sutton writes:
    [blockquote] “5.After discussing this tragedy with some of my bishop colleagues for over an hour and being held up in prayer by them, one said, “Eugene, I am the child of an alcoholic and I’ve spent many years dealing with that and coming to understand the hold that alcohol has on someone who is addicted to it. I want to tell you that the Diocese of Maryland is not responsible for the terrible accident that killed that bicyclist. You are not responsible for that; Heather Cook is. It’s not your fault.” [/blockquote]
    In one sense that is true, and no-one is in any doubt that Ms Cook is facing the full force of legal consequences for her actions. Every charge that could be laid against her has been laid.

    But what Bishop Sutton is really doing here is attempting to deflect attention away from his diocesan hierarchy and himself, and its not a pretty sight. The context is that many Episcopalians on several blogs (conservative and liberal) have been asking why Diocesan officials earlier this year withheld information about Ms Cook’s 2010 drink-driving charge from the voters who elected her. That previous incident was pretty serious – blood alcohol of .27.

    Of course Ms Cook is responsible for her own actions, and will face the consequences of them. But Bishop Sutton knows that very real questions are being asked now about previous actions by him and/or his staff, and his apparent attempt to deflect that responsibility also onto Ms Cook only invites contempt.

    Bishop Sutton’s next words are extraordinary in their hubris:
    [blockquote] “Later, praying before the Icon of Christ the Pantocrater [sic], I gazed into those piercing eyes of our Lord, asking: What is Christ wanting to say to me? And what did I want to say to him? After what seemed like an eternity, I was finally able to gaze into his eyes and say: “Lord, it’s not your fault”.” [/blockquote]
    I bet Christ Pantocrator is pretty relieved to hear that Bishop Sutton has absolved him.

    No sane person would think that this was Christ’s fault, however many Episcopalians have suggested that it is the fault of Bishop Sutton or his staff that a person with a known severe alcohol issue had been chosen as a bishop in the first place.

  2. Sarah1 says:

    RE: “I want to tell you that the Diocese of Maryland is not responsible for the terrible accident that killed that bicyclist.”

    That is true.

    You are, however, responsible, along with the chair of the search committee, for knowing the details of Bishop Cook’s prior DUI, allowing her to move forward in the bishop election process, and withholding that all-important information from the electing delegates of the convention.

    That is what you are responsible for. It’s not “the process” or “HIPPA” or anything else that is responsible for that. It is you, and the chair of the bishop search committee.

  3. Katherine says:

    “Lord, it’s not your fault”??? Good Lord, if I may say so.

    We don’t know what efforts at treatment Heather Cook had made prior to this horrible incident. We don’t know if the elevation to bishop placed additional stress on her recovery, if it was underway. What I can say, based on the testimonies of many recovering alcoholics that I have read in relation to this tragedy, is that a person in the early stages of recovery from a serious drinking problem is not a good candidate for a higher level of responsibility and visibility, whatever the person’s other experience and characteristics.

  4. Hursley says:

    I do not know what Bp. Sutton was trying to say, but what he ended up seeming to say was (as others have noted) that he was taking Christ-the-Ruler-of-the-Universe “off the hook,” so to speak, in this case.


    As with other of his letters and statements, this one leaves me to conclude that this bishop is not a very accomplished communicator and likely not very skilled in spiritual matters. I have felt again and again that the desire coming from the Diocese is to forgive and forget in a way conjuring up Bonhoeffer’s concept of “cheap grace.” Sadly, it seems that as elsewhere in TEC, the qualifications for bishop in Maryland have to do with factors other than substance, humility, or the capacity to lead based on the Gospel.

  5. sophy0075 says:

    The “not your fault” language came from a TEC lawyer. Sorry, but saying it ain’t so doesn’t make it so. The rules and procedures governing the selection of a bishop come from 815 and the Diocese of Maryland. Only if 815 and/or the Diocese of Maryland could show that Bp Sutton failed to follow the procedures and that failure led to the selection of Ms Cook would either the national organization or the diocese be able to avoid liability. And frankly, do you think that a jury listening to such an argument would care? Or would even pay attention to a judge’s direction that they do so?

    No, this is just legal posturing. When I practiced law, I saw a fair amount of this post hoc attempting to improve one’s position. It usually doesn’t work.