Former Episcopal bishop Heather Cook is off to prison, but who took the financial fall?

It certainly appears, at this point, that the sad drama of former Maryland Episcopal bishop Heather Cook is over, at least the public part of this tragedy. She has been sentenced to seven years in prison for killing cyclist Thomas Palermo in a crash in which she was driving while drunk and distracted by the act of texting on her smartphone.

The Baltimore Sun report on the sentencing opens with gripping personal material about Cook and the Palermo family, and it's hard to fault the newspaper's staff for doing that.

But keep that smartphone in mind, because we will come back to it. You see, there was huge news in this story for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and the national Episcopal Church, but the Sun editors elected to bury it deep, deep, deep in the text.

I thought the following, near the top, was the most powerful passage, jumping right into the theodicy -- Where was God? -- angle of the story:

Prosecutors said Cook was far above the legal limit for alcohol and sending a text message as she drove her Subaru Forester in Roland Park on the afternoon of Dec. 27. She struck and killed Palermo, a 41-year-old software engineer and father of two young children, as he enjoyed a ride. She left the scene twice, a fact that weighed on judge Timothy J. Doory.

"Your leaving the scene at that time was more than irresponsibility, it was a decision," Doory said.

Cook, 59, pleaded guilty last month to automobile manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident and other violations.

Patricia Palermo told the court that she had asked God many times why he let her son die -- until she had a revelation.

"God didn't do this," she said. "Heather Cook killed Tom."

Readers had every right to expect some religious content in a story that ends with a fallen bishop being led off in handcuffs. While focusing on the issue of whether Cook's sentence was too short -- some expected a 10-year sentence -- the Sun team also paid close attention to the bishop's attitude.

Cook sat for most of the hearing with her face set and brow slightly furrowed. But when Palmero's mother took the stand to speak only feet away from her, she began to break down.

When Cook had her chance to speak, she drew herself slowly to her feet and asked the judge if she could turn to address the family directly. She paused for a few moments before she began.

"I am so sorry for the grief and the agony I have caused," she said. "This is my fault. I accept complete responsibility."

Then Cook turned back to Doory. "I believe God is working through this, and I accept your judgment," she told him.

So what is missing in this story? 

In an earlier post, I noted that there were some obvious subjects missing in the Sun coverage, by which I meant these subjects were obvious to anyone who lived in Baltimore (which I did at the time) and followed what was happening in local pews and pulpits.

The gaps were so obvious -- some were filled by coverage in The Washington Post -- that I compared the results to that old parable of the old lighthouse keeper. Yes, you can also use the Sherlock Holmes image of the dog that didn't bark. But here's a lighthouse flashback:

Once there was a man who lived in a lighthouse on the foggy Atlantic. This lighthouse had a gun that sounded a warning every hour. The keeper tended the beacon and kept enough shells in the gun so it could keep firing. After decades, he could sleep right through the now-routine blasts.
Then the inevitable happened. He forgot to load extra shells and, in the dead of night, the gun did not fire. This rare silence awoke the keeper, who lept from bed shouting, "What was that?"

So, again, what the silence, or near silence, in this report? Think back to that symbolic smartphone. Was this Cook's personal cell or did it belong to the diocese? And who looked the other way when Cook was elected, hiding her history of alcohol abuse? 

You see, in addition to the criminal side of this case, there were also issues of financial liability. This is a big deal since the rapidly shrinking Episcopal establishment, in this case at the local and national levels, has faced intense financial challenges (to say the least) in the past decade or so -- many of which are linked to battles in courtrooms.

Thus, in that previous post, I asked:

Are leaders at the local and national levels of the Episcopal Church trying, quietly, to decide who is legally to blame for the Cook ordination, should this end up in a courtroom with the family of Cook's DUI victim seeking damages? In other words, who is liable?
The bottom line: Who will take the final financial fall?

It appears, at this point, that Sun readers will never hear how that played out. It appears that Episcopal leaders will not, in a civil trial, face scrutiny on these issues.

At the very bottom of this long daily story there is this reference, provided by Cook's lawyer, David Irwin.

Irwin revealed in court that any civil liability in the case has also been resolved. A lawyer for the Palermo family confirmed a resolution but declined to provide details.

Doory said he hoped the sentencing could mark an ending for Cook and Palermo's family alike.

"No one need think about the legal aspects of this case again," he said.

That is a huge local story, with some national implications. 

So Cook was at fault, alone? A financial settlement was reached between Cook, as a private individual, and the Palermo family? At the very least, the diocese was not involved?

I will ask again: Why, from day one, did the Sun team show so little interest in the corporate side of this story? Let's put it this way: If this had been a Catholic bishop, would Maryland's major media source have probed -- with good cause -- this liability issue? 

Just asking.

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