Dear Bishop Sutton,
You have suffered a terrible tragedy in your diocese, one that I believe was caused by illness and serious errors in judgement rather than by evil intent. My prayers are with all of you at this difficult time.
I write to tell you my appreciation for how you appear to have handled the publicity of information around this and your pastoral response to all involved.
It saddened me terribly to see the response by your predecessor who felt it appropriate to make a public statement exactly one day before the legal authorities made their public statement. It was a statement in which he felt it appropriate to pass judgement without the benefit of all of the evidence, violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which affords everyone the presumption of innocence, and predetermining the outcome of the Title IV charges. While the Palermo family themselves respected the police investigation and did not comment, admitting they did not yet know all of the facts, why would a bishop of the Episcopal Church feel free to make such premature public statements?
While the evidence that has since been presented clearly implies that Bishop Cook is guilty of the crimes she has been charged with, we do hold that everyone has a right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. And that proof, whether in the courts of this country or in the courts of this church can only come after a thorough investigation has been completed.
Even if Bishop Ihloff had been privy to information that had not yet been released about the investigation, the charges themselves are still not proof of guilt. Furthermore, whether he has chosen to pre-judge another or if his words came from such confidential knowledge, perhaps his ability “to model a ‘wholesome example’” should be brought into question as well. Both condemnation of another without proof and speaking publicly about information that was confidential at the time violates “the basis of our trust” in the episcopacy.
While I agree that we all have a moral responsibility never to leave the scene of an accident, I, personally, am not willing to pass judgement on someone who may well have been in a state of shock (even if she had not been drinking or texting at the time) and may have acted irrationally for reasons unknown to us. We must wait for all of the evidence to be made known.
I am also appalled by comments I have seen both in response to Ihloff’s blog and on your Facebook page. The comments are so reminiscent of the mob mentality of “Crucify her! Crucify her!” that I despair of our Christian response to tragedy. If Bishop Cook is found guilty, she should be deposed and serve the sentence that is imposed upon her but let us wait until those decisions have been made. Regardless of the outcome, a man has been killed and a family and community have been devastated. Nothing will ever change that, nor will it change the fact that Bishop Cook’s own life and family have been destroyed. We should be praying for peace and healing, not vengeance.
As my friend and colleague, the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, has commented elsewhere, now is the time to remember our baptismal vows. We have committed to “strive for justice and peace among ALL people” and “to respect the dignity of EVERY human being.”
None of us can take the moral high ground without having lived in another’s skin. All we can do is seek justice, require accountability, pray and care for all who have been harmed, and leave the rest to God.
Thank you Bishop Sutton.
Peace and Blessings,
On Maundy Thursday we celebrate the last supper and reenact Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples. It reminds us of our call to be servants to each other, to share in community with the breaking of bread together, to offer our bodies and blood for the sake of others. While it’s always harder to think of these things in relation to “the least of these,” whether they be those with whom we disagree or those we don’t particularly like, it can still be enlightening to think of how much we would willingly do this for those we love. And that reminds us that God truly loves us all and that Jesus willingly did this for all of us whom he loved. For me, there is an extra special blessedness about this day because it reminds us of that love in a way that is so tangible in our own lives today – it is a time to seek and serve Christ in all persons. It is a day that truly celebrates the incarnation of God, serving our physical needs of touch, of feeding others and being fed. It is a not a day to glorify the betrayal and violence (that we face tomorrow), but rather a day in which we can feel and taste and see the love of Christ in this world now. We can help to heal the world with a word, a touch, an unspoken prayer. Although we are not yet looking to the future resurrection, in this moment we know the blessings of serving each other, breaking bread together and sharing our bodies and blood for each other. And still, because we do have the hope of resurrection, we can also know that those we have loved and touched and held so dear have also worked to heal our world – they have washed our feet, broken bread with us and shared their bodies and blood for our sake.