The case of the DUI bishop is, in one sense, over -- in that Bishop Heather Elizabeth Cook is no longer a leader in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. In fact, she is no longer an Episcopal bishop at all, nor is she an Episcopal priest or deacon.
That shoe has dropped and has been covered pretty clearly in the newspaper that lands (for several more weeks) in my front yard near the Baltimore Beltway. But what about the rest of the story?
You see, the timeline that looms behind the story of the rise and tragic fall of Cook -- charged with criminal negligent manslaughter, using a texting device while driving, leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in death and three charges of drunken driving -- reveals that this is actually two or three stories unfolding at the same time. There is more to this than the dominoes that began falling in her career after her car struck bicyclist Thomas Palermo.
First of all, there is the issue of her election as bishop, including the "what did they know and when did they know it" facts about her documented struggles with addiction to drugs and alcohol. Then there is the impact of this case -- financial, legal and professional -- on either the leaders of the local diocese, the national church, or both.
However, if you read The Baltimore Sun coverage of Cook's case, it's hard to know what is going on at the diocese and national levels. Meanwhile, The Washington Post coverage has included developments at all levels -- personal, diocesan and national. Remember this scoop when the Post caught details in a newly released Cook timeline document that were missed by the Sun?
So what is going on here? Why isn't the Sun staff interested in crucial LOCAL details about the fallout from this tragedy? Once again, it appears that the nearby Post has quietly scooped the local paper that should be all over this story. Details in a moment.
The most recent Sun report simply documents Cook's fall, as such:
Cook, 58, has resigned as bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Maryland, the diocese said. ...
A few hours later, the national church issued an accord banning Cook from acting as an ordained person, a ruling that marked the end of a disciplinary investigation the church has been conducting since just after the Dec. 27 crash that killed Thomas Palermo, 41, a married father of two from Baltimore.
"Heather has been deposed from all ordination — as a bishop, as a deacon, as a priest. She no longer has standing in the church," said the Rt. Rev. Robert Ihloff, former bishop of the Diocese of Maryland.
By accepting a June court date, Cook last month entered a plea of not guilty on all 13 charges against her. Ihloff, who has been critical of how the diocese handled the aftermath of the accident, said the outcome brings relief to a church that has been torn and frustrated by the case, now more than four months old.
Maryland Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton accepted all of this, as did U.S. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. And what was learned? Has there been any new evidence of fallout from this event?
The Sun report simply notes:
In the aftermath of the fatal accident, it was revealed that a search committee for the diocese had known Cook had been arrested on the Eastern Shore for drunken driving in 2010 but never shared that information with the men and women who voted on her candidacy. Police said that Cook's blood-alcohol level at the time of her arrest was more than three times the legal limit.
The revelation sparked outrage inside and outside the church as well as widespread debate over how the church selects its leaders.
The national church will address how it chooses bishops at its general convention in Salt Lake City this summer.
Ah, yes. The upcoming meetings in Utah. That's when the national Episcopal church will also select its new leader? The Post report digs into that fact, a bit, since the Cook story has -- as mentioned earlier -- diocesan and national angles, as well.
Note the major, factual development about the top Maryland bishop that is missing in the local, Sun report, but included in the Post:
Sutton, a popular leader in the denomination, had been talked about as a possible candidate to become presiding bishop when Katharine Jefferts Schori ends her nine-year term this fall, and some speculate that controversy over the handling of Cook has affected his career path. Four nominees to replace Jefferts Schori were announced Friday and Sutton’s name was not among them. Had he been elected this year, he would have been the Episcopal Church’s first African-American presiding bishop.
Yes, it would have been good to have replaced "some speculate" with actual quotes from real Episcopal insiders. Truth be told, Sutton's name has been in the presiding bishop mix for quite some time now and everybody knew it.
Now, he didn't make the list of nominees -- which has been announced to the public. That is important news, in Baltimore. But there is more.
In fact, the list includes another Baltimore angle, which -- unless I have missed it somehow -- has not been reported in The Sun. There is, you see, an African-American in the list of nominees -- The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry -- and note one interesting fact about him:
Curry was the rector of St. James’ Episcopal Church, Baltimore, Maryland, when he was elected on February 11, 2000, to be the 11th bishop of North Carolina. He was ordained and consecrated on June 17, 2000.
So we have a story linked to the Cook case with at least two major Baltimore angles -- the fact that Sutton is not in the list, as long predicted, and that a bishop with strong Baltimore ties is among the nominees to lead the national church.
Did the Sun editors know about this announcement? The religion-beat specialists at The Post did. Shouldn't the actual local newspaper nail the local angles on this kind of local story?
PHOTO: Episcopal Diocese of Maryland