Monday, January 12, 2015

Good Clergy, Part 2

Ok, so there's been an update on the story involving Rev. Heather Elizabeth Cook, suffragan of the Episcopal Church in Maryland. She was allegedly involved in the hit and run death of cyclist Thomas Palermo on December 27th in Baltimore. It took quite some time, but the police have charged Cook with vehicular manslaughter, texting while driving, and…wait for it…driving under the influence of alcohol.  

You may recall from my earlier blog on this story that Rev. Cook was arrested in 2010 for driving while intoxicated. At that time, she was given a $300 fine and "probation before judgment". She never served any jail time, nor did she lose her driver's license.  

So we now have reports that confirm much of what was in newspaper accounts earlier, and more information, including:
  • Rev. Cook hit Mr. Palermo from behind, causing damage to her passenger side windshield. Her blood alcohol level at the time of the collision was .22, nearly three times Maryland's legal limit. (The Episcopal Church of MD knew that she had been drinking before this incident but police asked them to withhold that information.)
  • She left the scene and returned more than 30 minutes later. A cyclist did follow her until she arrived at a gated community. 
  • A NFL reporter, Jason La Canfora, called 911 when he found Palermo. He did not see the police administer any sort of breathalyzer to Cook at that time.
  • In addition to the charges listed above, Cook faces several others. They're listed at the end of the article linked above.  
All I have to say is, "Are you fucking kidding me?" You didn't think that God was trying to speak to you the first time when you got barely a wrist slap the last time you got caught for a DUI? That wasn't enough of a message?

I'm truly saddened by this revelation, but I shouldn't be surprised. We can't assume that Heather Cook is an alcoholic, nor do we know if she spent any time in treatment for alcohol addiction. It's exceptionally hard to break any addiction, and alcohol is, as I understand it, one of the most challenging to overcome. 

Whether or not she was an addict, she should NOT have been driving. There's no way to know if things would have been different if she had received a stiffer penalty for her first DUI. But I'm of the opinion that she really got away with one there. She was lucky she didn't hurt or kill herself or someone else the last time. 

Yes, members of the clergy are human beings who struggle with things every other human does, like alcoholism or taking responsibility for his or her actions. Yes, she did everything she was required to do last time. And yes, Heather Cook has done a lot of good for a lot of people. But she is not above the law. If she knew she had a problem with alcohol, she should have done the best thing for everyone and not gotten behind the wheel of that 2001 Subaru. But because of her irresponsible actions, she has caused the death of an innocent person. 

Honestly, Ms. Cook is not worthy of any religious title anymore. She was looked upon with respect because of her titles, but in my opinion they should be stripped from her immediately upon conviction. She has no right to call herself a member of the clergy anymore. 

I pray for the family of Thomas Palermo, who is understandably grieving and angry that he was taken from them so senselessly. I send positive thoughts to the people of the Episcopal Church of Maryland, at having lost someone who was by all accounts a good leader. And despite my anger, I pray for Heather Cook, who will have to live with what she's done for her rest of her days, hopefully in prison as a guest of the state of Maryland.

Causing a preventable death due to your own negligence is probably one of worst things I can think of. Karmically, I'm very glad I'm not in Heather Cook's shoes. 

Good clergy starts with good people. While Heather Cook is likely a good person, she's shown through her poor judgment that she's not good enough to be clergy anymore. 

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