Friday, May 19, 2017

Unrepentant: A Tale of Two Drunk-Driving Manslaughtering Protestant Bishops

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ``Repent'' (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

This is, of course, the first of Luther's 95 Theses, and foundational document not just for us Evangelicals but for Protestants of all stripes, including (with however much hemming and hawing they claim the label) members of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA. This fact seems lost on former suffragan (or subordinate) bishop of the Baltimore, Heather Cook.

A few days after Christmas in 2014, as readers may recall, Ms Cook struck and killed a cyclist named Tom Palermo.  She was driving; he was biking.  Her blood contained more than twice the legal alcohol content.  And she was texting (although, as GR points out, we still do not know with whom).

Ms Cook appears to have been an habitual drunk.  She had been arrested for DUI (with an even higher BAC) in 2010, and her boss, Bishop Eugene Sutton, had told the Presiding Bishop that Cook seemed to be drunk at a party in her own honor, given just before her consecration in September 2014.

All this may sound depressingly familiar to Egg readers.  Two years before Cook killed Palermo, a Lutheran bishop named Bruce Burnside struck and killed a pedestrian named Maureeen Mengelt.  Burnside was also driving drunk and texting. Burnside was sentenced to ten years in prison, Cook to seven. Oh, and both bishops left the scene of their crimes.

But there is a signal difference between the two.  At his trial, Burnside pled guilty, and took responsibility for his crime. He said:
I am responsible for what happened. No one else. I have never been so sorry. Sorry is such an insufficient word for this kind of guilt. ... I do daily return to that everlasting split second. I will be a prisoner of that. I will be another kind of prisoner in a cell as well.

In contrast, Cook pled not guilty at her arraignment, which was her perfect legal right (and in fairness, she later pled guilty as part of a plea bargain). But at no time does she appear to have taken responsibility for her actions. Nor, it seems, does she now.  The Baltimore Sun reports that, at a recent parole hearing, Cook "took no responsibility" for her actions and displayed a "lack of remorse." It further reports that she
... spoke at length, calling her alcoholism a disease and describing the parole process as a "brutal irony," but never apologized to Rachel Palermo, Thomas' widow and the mother of his two children.
Palermo was sitting a few feet away in a small room.

Bear two things in mind:  (1) Cook was not likely to be paroled in any case, according to an official quoted in the story; but also (2) parole boards are known to take displays of remorse and acceptance of responsibility quite seriously in hearings like this.  Had Cook wanted to increase her chances of parole, she would have sucked it up and pulled a Burnside.

But she didn't.  Instead, she went on -- the report suggests at unusual length -- about her disease, and about the process itself. In other words, she acted against her own best interest, both legally and morally.

The only real conclusion to be drawn is that she is genuinely unrepentant.  She seems to feel that her disease killed Thomas Palermo, rather than she herself. So firm is she in this sentiment that she will not betray it, even to get herself out of prison.

We cannot begin to imagine this woman's spiritual life, nor would we choose to if we could.