BALTIMORE – The Episcopal Church has begun disciplinary proceedings against a Baltimore-based bishop who fatally struck a cyclist with her car, an official in the diocese where she worked said Monday.
National church leaders launched an investigation late last week after a complaint was filed with the church, said Sharon Tillman, spokeswoman for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. The decision to move forward with an investigation was made by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and other national church leaders, Tillman said.
The purpose of the investigation is to determine whether Bishop Heather Cook violated church law.
Contacted for comment by telephone, Schori's office referred The Associated Press back to Tillman.
"It is an in-depth process that comes with a full investigation," Tillman said. "They are in the investigation stage."
According to Michael F. Rehill, a retired judge and expert in canon law, this type of proceeding is prompted by a complaint that can be made over the telephone or in writing, and can be made anonymously. Once a complaint is made, church leaders determine whether to send the complaint to an investigator appointed by the presiding bishop. Once the investigator issues a report, church leaders decide whether to recommend that the complaint be dismissed or refer the case for further action, which could include an ecclesiastical trial.
Cook was ordained as bishop suffragan, the second-ranking bishop in the Diocese of Maryland, in September. She is the first female bishop in the diocese.
On Dec. 27, Cook struck and killed Tom Palermo, 41, as he was riding his bicycle in Baltimore. Police said the driver left the scene for 20 minutes before returning. Police said Monday that they are still investigating the death.
No criminal charges have been filed against Cook, but she was placed on administrative leave on Dec. 28, Tillman said. While on leave, Cook is barred from performing duties either as a bishop or priest.
Court documents show Cook was charged with drunken driving four years ago in Caroline County, and registered .27 percent blood alcohol content during a breath test. The legal limit in Maryland is .08 percent. Cook had open bottles of wine and liquor in the car at the time of her arrest, as well as marijuana and drug paraphernalia, the documents allege. The marijuana-possession charge was dropped after Cook pleaded guilty to the drunken-driving charge. She was placed on probation.
In a statement last week, the Diocese of Maryland said Cook disclosed the charges during her vetting process.
Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton of the Diocese of Maryland called a meeting for Tuesday at the Claggett Center in Adamstown for clergy members "to process the tragic events of last week that involved a colleague," Tillman said.