Episcopal leader suspected Cook was drunk days before ordination

Episcopal leader suspected Cook was drunk days before ordination
Bishop Heather Cook, the second-ranking official in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. The left image was provided by the Episcopal Church with a press release. The right is her booking photo.

The leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland suspected that Rev. Heather Elizabeth Cook — now facing charges in the December death of local bicyclist Thomas Palermo — was intoxicated at a dinner two days before she was installed as bishop last year, the diocese said.

Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton, head of the Maryland diocese, and Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, took Cook to a Baltimore restaurant Sept. 4 as a gesture of welcome, a diocesan spokeswoman said Tuesday.


As Sutton observed Cook's behavior that night, the diocese says in a timeline posted on its website this week, he became concerned she was drunk, and conveyed his suspicions to Schori afterward.

Schori told Sutton she would look into the matter, the timeline entry says.

"Bishop Sutton suspects that Cook is inebriated during pre-consecration dinner and conveys concern to Presiding Bishop. Presiding Bishop indicates she will discuss with Cook," the entry reads.

Two days after the dinner, Schori led the ceremony at which Cook was consecrated, or installed as a bishop.

The Episcopal Church of the United States has declined to comment on the case, citing its ongoing investigation. Sutton has declined to comment beyond the online timeline and other diocesan communications.

Cook, 58, is charged with manslaughter and other offenses in the Dec. 27 death of Palermo, a 41-year-old father of two young children, as he rode his bicylce on Roland Avenue in North Roland Park. She is accused of driving drunk and texting at the time of the colission.

The crash has raised questions about the process by which the church elected Cook the No. 2 bishop in the Maryland diocese after she had been arrested in 2010 on a DUI charge

Diocesan officials say the search committee that vetted Cook knew about the DUI charge, but they chose to leave it up to Cook to disclose the incident to the church members who would vote on her candidacy.

Sources familiar with the process have said she did so only in vague terms, alluding to a "difficult period" in her life.

The timeline entry is the first indication that diocese officials had seen Cook intoxicated. The entry goes on to say that Bishop Clay Matthews met with Cook in October, but the details of the meeting are confidential because they're part of an ongoing church investigation.

Diocesan spokeswoman Sharon Tillman said no one from the Maryland diocese shared Sutton's concerns directly with Cook because once Sutton had reported his suspicions to Schori, the matter was the responsibility of the church's national governing body.

The diocese had already performed its due diligence in electing Cook, Tillman said, which left any concerns about her behavior in the jurisdiction of the national church.

"[Sutton] did exactly what he was required and expected of him according to the Episcopal Church," Tillman said.

She said the Maryland diocese didn't share information about the dinner earlier because it was trying to ensure the accuracy of the facts.


Tillman said the diocese is trying to be transparent with the facts it has. She said the diocese "has had no access to anything having to do with the [church's] investigation" — a process that could take months to complete.

"What is posted in the timeline are the facts as we know them," she said. "How they relate to the full story is what we don't know."