Episcopal Diocese asks bishop for resignation following fatal bike crash

Episcopal leaders call for bishop's resignation after fatal bike crash

Episcopal leaders have asked the bishop accused in a fatal collision with a bicyclist in Baltimore last month to resign her position in the church.

The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland made the request Monday in a letter to Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook.

The eight-member panel told Cook it had "agreed unanimously that you are no longer able to function effectively in the position of Bishop Suffragan given recent events.

"Therefore, we respectfully call for your immediate resignation from the position."

Cook, 58, the second-ranking bishop in the diocese, was arrested this month and charged with manslaughter, driving under the influence of alcohol, texting while driving and other offenses in the death Dec. 27 of Thomas Palermo in North Roland Park.

Palermo, 41, was a software engineer at Johns Hopkins Hospital and built and maintained bicycles on the side. His death has galvanized the local cycling community, which has long called for safety improvements on city streets.

Cook's lawyer, David Irwin, said she had "received the letter and discussed it briefly" with him. He declined to comment further.

Asked if Cook would speak with a reporter, Irwin said, "Not if she follows my advice."

A spokeswoman for the Maryland diocese said the diocese was "grateful" the committee asked Cook to resign.

This "will allow us to focus on improving our search process, bringing about changes in how we minister to people with addictions, and collaborate with the cycling community to make Maryland safer," the spokeswoman, Sharon Tillman, said in a statement Wednesday.

She said Cook had not responded.

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said Cook's blood alcohol level was 0.22 percent — more than twice the legal limit in Maryland — and that she was text-messaging at the time of the collision.

Police and witnesses said Cook left the scene along Roland Avenue before returning. She has been released on bail.

Cook, who was elected bishop suffragan of the Maryland diocese last year, was charged in 2010 with driving under the influence of alcohol in Caroline County. She pleaded guilty, received probation before judgment and was ordered to pay a fine of $300.

The diocese has said it would review the process by which Cook was elected bishop suffragan despite that guilty plea.

The Standing Committee, composed of four clergy members and four lay members, investigates disciplinary cases and advises the diocesan bishop. The panel's decision on Cook came before the conclusion of a disciplinary process that officials had said could go on for months.

"It seemed like the right time," said the Rev. Gregg Morris, the associate rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City and a committee member.

The Right Rev. Robert W. Ihloff, a former Episcopal bishop of Maryland, said he had been expecting the decision. He said he approved of the request, and hoped Cook would comply.

"I think there's no future for her in the life of the Episcopal Church as a bishop," said Ihloff, the interim rector of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Baltimore. "She's not to be trusted as a leader. … I think resigning would be the most graceful thing for her to do."

Tillman said the diocese has made no plans as to how or when it would replace Cook.

"That is a question for the future," she said.

Palermo was on the minds of many who attended a presentation of the city's newly revised Bicycle Master Plan Wednesday at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

"Safety is and should be paramount," said Caitlin Doolin, the city's bicycle and pedestrian planner, during a presentation of the plans. "I'm sure it's on everyone's minds, especially now."

Kurt Schiller, 60, a cyclist from Upper Fells Point, said the city should build bike lanes that are separated from vehicular traffic by physical barriers. Palermo was in a marked but unseparated bike lane when he was struck.

"It was just horrendous," Schiller said. "He was in a very well-marked bike lane, but things can still happen."

Jed Weeks, president of Bikemore, said the advocacy group is pushing the city to replace the painted lanes in the master plan with barriers. Otherwise, he said, the group endorses the plan.

"We just want to take it a little bit further, in light of recent events," he said.

Weeks also praised the diocese for its response to the crash, including the request that Cook resign.

"It's good to see the church take proactive steps," he said. "They've been a good community member throughout the process."

The Standing Committee told Cook it "arrived at this decision after significant and prayerful discernment, and with due and proper consideration for the best interests of the diocese and its people."

The panel added: "We continue to hold you in our prayers."

Baltimore Sun reporters Colin Campbell and Jonathan Pitts contributed to this article.

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