The Episcopal bishop of Maryland has summoned all the clergy of the Diocese of Maryland to a Tuesday morning meeting in Frederick County after a high-ranking church official was involved in a crash in Baltimore that killed bicyclist Thomas Palermo, a married father of two.
Church spokeswoman Sharon Tillman confirmed Sunday that Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton has called church clergy to a meeting at the Claggett Center near Buckeystown. She said the meeting was closed to the public to "allow clergy time to process the tragic events of the past week that involved a colleague."
Tillman said, "This is about the clergy and how they are processing the tragic events of last week. Heather Cook's future is not in the clergy's hands; it depends on the police report and state's attorney's office."
Police are continuing to investigate the 2:40 p.m. Dec. 27 crash on the 5700 block of Roland Ave. Episcopal officials have identified the driver of the car as Bishop Suffragan Heather Elizabeth Cook, the second-ranking official in the Diocese of Maryland. Cook initially drove away from the scene but returned a short time later, according to the diocese and witnesses at the scene. Another bicyclist followed her to a gated apartment complex. No charges have been filed.
Cook, who has been placed on administrative leave, is "barred from performing any duties of a bishop or a priest," Tillman said.
Palermo's death has galvanized many in Baltimore in recent weeks, prompting hundreds to attend a memorial bike ride earlier in the week and Sutton to ask all church members to engage in "silent prayer and reflection" on Saturday.
Cook's attorney, David Irwin, said he has yet to receive any police or accident report, and couldn't comment on the details of the case. Irwin also declined to comment on the meeting.
"She's distraught about the tragedy of the death of the cyclist," Irwin said of Cook. "It's a horribly sad situation."
Irwin said Cook is declining to comment.
The acting dean of the diocese told about 100 worshipers at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Baltimore on Sunday that he was shaken by the crash.
"During this Christmas season in particular, it has been very hard to hold onto the joy," said the Rev. Rob Boulter, who delivered Sunday's sermon. "I [became] aware of Thomas Palermo being killed. ... It shook me. It really shook me."
"The Palermo family is totally devastated," Boulter added. "No Christmas will ever be the same for them."
Church officials on Sunday passed out a statement from Sutton that said Cook has been placed on administrative leave. In the statement, Sutton said he would "meet shortly with the Standing Committee to discuss ways we can move forward."
During Boulter's sermon, he used the tragedy to tell churchgoers to rely on God even in their darkest times. "God doesn't take away the darkness. But God through Jesus shines a light into the darkness," he said. "It feels very dark indeed."
Boulter said he was heartened by last week's 3-mile bike ride for Palermo that started at the church and traveled to the site of the crash. Hundreds of cyclists rode to the site of the accident Thursday to remember Palermo and to send a message to the wider community about the vulnerability of riders on city streets.
"I saw glimmers of light before the memorial bike ride Thursday for Tom Palermo," Boulter said. "Glimmers of light shining in the darkness. Hundreds of people gathered here at the cathedral just to show their concern and love for that man."
Cook, who has spent 20 years as an Episcopal priest, was charged in 2010 in Caroline County with driving under the influence of alcohol. She pleaded guilty, received probation before judgment and was ordered to pay a $300 fine.
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Police continue to investigate what caused the fatal crash involving Palermo. Detectives believe a Subaru station wagon was traveling southbound when it struck the bicyclist.
Before being elevated to a position as a high-ranking bishop, Cook was subjected to a background check regarding the drunken-driving incident, but church officials determined the incident shouldn't exclude her. Cook was also subjected to a psychological investigation at that time, according to the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.
"One of the core values of the Christian faith is forgiveness. We cannot preach forgiveness without practicing forgiveness and offering people opportunity for redemption," the diocese said in a statement. "We, too, are all filled with questions for which there are still no answers, and we are all filled with anger, bitterness, pain and tears."