Rev. Emily C. Heath
Clergy, United Church of Christ
A few people have asked me, as a clergy person openly in longterm recovery, what my thoughts are on whether Bishop Heather Cook, the Episcopal bishop in Maryland who struck and killed a motorist and who had a history of driving under the influence, should have been serving as a bishop. Here are my thoughts.
First of all, the person we should first be remembering, and whose family we should be lifting up in prayer, is Thomas Palermo, the man who was struck and killed by Bishop Cook, and then left to die in the roadway. Mr. Palermo and his family, including his children, should be our first concern as the church.
But to turn to Bishop Cook, and the discussion of clergy and alcoholism, this is what I can say. In the aftermath of Bishop Cook’s actions, I have seen a number of posts on social media debating whether or not a person with substance abuse issues should have been elevated to bishop. In my mind, most have lacked nuance. Several things need to be taken into account.
First, there are many clergy persons in recovery from addictions. Second, there are many more who should be in recovery. Third, I don’t know to which group Bishop Cook belonged.
That said, her 2010 DUI charges were particularly disturbing. Many of us in recovery never drove drunk, but the facts of her prior case seem to indicate that substance abuse was indeed a problem. My hope is that when she was charged she saw the need to get sober. My other hope is that the Episcopal Church supported her in that endeavor.
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