By Mike Hellgren

BALTIMORE (WJZ) –The role of a high-ranking local religious leader in the death of a cyclist has stirred strong emotions and criticism of her church.

It comes as mourners are gearing up for a ride in honor of the victim.

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WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren has a closer look at the role of the church.

Maryland’s episcopal diocese was first to confirm the bishop’s involvement in the fatal accident that took the life of 41-year-old Tom Palermo — and that she initially drove away.

They also outlined how they forgave her following a particularly ugly DUI incident four years ago. But now, they’re facing backlash over the bishop.

Bishop Heather E. Cook preached about taking responsibility, but many wonder how a woman of the cloth could hit a man and drive off, if the account from her church is true.

“We live in the midst of a culture that doesn’t like to hold us accountable for consequences,” Cook said in a sermon.

They also wonder how the church could forgive her past drunk driving arrest, where police say she wore her tire down to its rim. It didn’t stop the church from elevating her to no. 2 in power.

The leadership of the Maryland diocese said you can’t preach forgiveness without practicing it.

And the church notes Cook’s evaluation came with “extensive discussion,” an “extensive background check,” and a “psychological investigation.”

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Selecting a bishop is a process that takes months and requires approval from church leaders all over the world. It starts with local elections.

Many have now targeted the Maryland diocese Facebook page, writing “Rise and repent bishop, or I’m pretty sure you’ll end up in hell.” and “The hypocrisy of your diocese is shameful.”

“It doesn’t matter this person’s rank and what they do in life, if people are not paying attention and cause the death of someone else.” Jason Wright, of Service Course Cycle Studio and is also a paramedic. “There has to be consequences to that.”

Wright, a bike mechanic, knew Palermo. He hopes the father of two’s death is not in vain.

“Tom could have been any one of us,” Wright said. “It could have been any of us riding home. it could happen to anybody and he was just in a bad spot.”

Bishop Cook has not been charged with any crime, she was however place on administrative leave. Her lawyer says it’s too early for him to comment.

The episcopal church issued a statement saying its clergy will participate in a memorial ride on Thursday for Palermo. They will wear their black clericals and church members are urged to join.

The memorial ride will pass near the crash scene in Roland Park. It starts at 3:30 p.m. outside the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation at Charles and University, near the Hopkins’ Homewood campus.

To donate a site for the family’s expenses, please click here.

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