Episcopal Diocese of Newark ignores potential Heather Cook 2.0 situation

By | October 13, 2022
Heather Cook’s windshield after she killed Tom Palermo in a DUI

For years, the Episcopal Church has been droning on about the need to deal with impaired clergy.  Things seemingly reached the boiling point following the Heather Cook debacle, but in reality very little has changed. And now, Anglican Watch has received troubling allegations of theft, bullying, alcoholism, and possible narcissistic personality disorder involving the Rev. William Allport, rector of St. Paul’s, Englewood NJ. The allegations raise the specter of a potential repeat of the Heather Cook situation, in which the suffragan bishop of Maryland killed cyclist Tom Palermo while driving under the influence. And so, we believe the Diocese of Newark, Bishop Carlye Hughes, and the church vestry, all of which have supervisory authority over Allport, are morally culpable for failing to address these issues in an effective manner.

Rev. William Allport

Rev. William Allport

Multiple sources report that Allport has been repeatedly intoxicated while at work, apparently favoring gin. Indeed, one source reports he keeps a bottle in a locked file cabinet. Another alleges Allport has been seen driving a church vehicle drunk in the parking lot of a nearby business.

Anglican Watch also has been told that church wardens, the vestry, and Bishop Carlye Hughes all are aware of the allegations, but continue to make excuses for Allport, including, “he says he’s not an alcoholic,” and “he’s just tired.”

Before we go further, let’s delve into the basics of addiction. Addiction is a disease of denial. Thus, asking an alcoholic if he is one is like asking Putin if he’s justified in invading Ukraine: You already know the answer, and it’s worth exactly what you paid for it. Nothing. So coming back at complainants with his denial reflects an appalling level of incompetence, cluelessness, and outright stupidity.

We’ll return to the allegations of alcoholism shortly, but in the meantime, there is an equally disturbing issue, which is allegations that Allport embezzled from his parish while serving as rector of St. Helena’s Episcopal in Boerne Texas. Allport reportedly justified his actions by saying he was attempting to feed his family — a claim that is a resounding case of BS, world without end.

In situations like that, the bishop is the clergyperson’s go-to, not the church’s funds. So, we are prepared to bet that the real issue is that Allport needed money to support an addiction. As for anyone who falls for the “feeding my family” routine, all we can say is that, at best, you are naïve in the extreme.

For the record, we find it difficult to discern a situation in which someone should be entrusted with the care of other Christians, or church assets, after allegations of theft.

At a minimum, there needs to be full disclosure and an agreement that Allport does not sign checks or handle finances. No credit card either. So, if folks at St. Paul’s aren’t fully aware of this situation, they need to be. And they need to consider whether they trust an alleged thief with their collective welfare, and if the church’s internal controls are adequate under the circumstances.

Returning to the allegations of alcoholism, the issue apparently has been bouncing around for a while. At one point, a former church employee, openly gay, tried to surface his concerns. Allport reportedly responded by trying to discredit the employee, saying his daughter didn’t feel safe around him. That’s pretty rich and typical of narcissistic efforts to discredit those who complain, and to intimidate and bully those who poke holes in their veils of narcissistic illusion. Nor is this the only allegation of bullying—we have heard numerous such allegations by church staff.

Even more troubling are allegations that Bishop Hughes and the diocese took a pass on the complaints about potential alcoholism. That raises the question: Why even have a diocese and a bishop if Hughes isn’t willing to say, “Tomorrow you leave for assessment and treatment. You will not return until you have been dry for XX days and a professional signs off on your progress. Should you relapse you will be removed from ministry immediately.” Responding with “he says he’s not an alcoholic” smacks of Heather Cook and is an appalling breach of the fiduciary obligation that church canons create for bishops, vestry members, and other church officials. It also tells us that diocesan “leaders” lack the backbone to serve with integrity. And there is something profoundly dysfunctional about a church that is so concerned with not wanting to get involved that it is willing to risk human life.

Of course, readers can already guess what happened with the church employee. He resigned from his position; Allport allegedly tells people that the employee left for a better financial opportunity, which simply isn’t true. And spare us the BS about confidentiality — we’ve been down that road with Heather Cook, and we’re not going there again. Nor are we going to play the Bishop Shannon Johnston game, which is to claim everything is confidential, shuttle Allport off for treatment, then avoid caring for those hurt by his actions by claiming everything is confidential. That is not what the canons say, it doesn’t result in healing, and it’s unethical. Just like Johnston.

Nor is this the only allegation of questionable veracity on Allport’s part.  Anglican Watch has learned that he may have falsely claimed that a large donation to the church music program was solicited by the church’s director of music. While we have been unable to verify this claim, we believe it to be true and profoundly troubling. It is common for parishioners to make large, restricted donations to ministries that are important to them, and when this happens it should not result in criticism of the church employee involved. Period.

Other sources tell us Allport seemingly suffers from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), displaying the self-aggrandizing, manipulative, machiavellian behaviors typical of NPD. While we cannot independently verify this, NPD is profoundly damaging to any organization, and the vestry and the diocese are headed for disaster if they ignore the issue. We note that even Allport’s self-decreed title, “Rector and Senior Clergyperson,” smacks of potential NPD. It’s not like this is a church with 30 priests, so spare us. Nor is the church well governed; as things stand it is struggling to hold on. So instead of worrying about his title, Allport would be wise to focus on doing his job and doing it well. And that includes meaningful evangelization — which isn’t going to happen with him sitting in his office with the door closed.

Similarly, the complaints within the parish about a lack of pastoral care, documented in a vestry letter from November 28, 2021, suggest NPD; it should be inherent in any priest’s calling to want to care for those in his parish and surrounding community. Nor should it require vestry action to make this happen. Any vestry that needs to push a rector to provide pastoral care is like a hospital that has to push a doctor to provide medical care. It should just be normative. And if the vestry isn’t paying attention to the dynamics behind this issue, it’s acting as an enabler for a toxic situation.

Anglican Watch is working on further coverage of additional allegations involving Allport. In the meantime, we have contacted both Allport and the diocese for comment but have received no response as of press time.

We also remind the inevitable lawyers: These are all allegations and nothing has been proven in a court of law. Nor have we received confirmation or denial from Allport or the diocese. We find the allegations to be credible, however, and believe those hurt by Allport. We also are aware that some involved have suffered acutely due to this situation. And our experience is that few sit silent when they have nothing to hide. So, if Allport has a different story to tell, we ask him to use the comment form below.

So, how do St. Paul’s, the Diocese of Newark and Bishop Hughes deal with the fact that they have caused human suffering via their inaction? What will they say if Allport indeed is an alcoholic and winds up killing someone? Moreover, we note that the Church Pension Group, which is the church’s insurance carrier and settled a previous lawsuit involving Allport’s behavior, is fully aware of the underlying allegations.

For the record, if someone is injured or killed by Allport in a DUI or similar situation, this article documents that the church, its vestry, and the diocese all know about the allegations and took no meaningful action. Same goes for potential financial misconduct. And we will gladly testify, under oath, that the Episcopal church knowingly turned a blind eye to these matters.

The current situation is appalling, outrageous, and anything but Christian. It needs to stop and it needs to stop now.

And we call on Bishop Hughes to get some backbone, clean up the hot mess that is the Diocese of Newark, and deal immediately with these allegations. We also expect transparency over possible prior disciplinary action involving allegations of theft by Allport. We expect swift action to investigate allegations of substance abuse, with a plan to care for all involved and to deal with the matter openly. If Bishop Hughes doesn’t want to get involved, then she needs to get out. Now. She gets paid to do a job, and we expect her to do it.

If Hughes doesn’t know how to clean up the great stinking crock of goo that is the diocese, she can contact us. Several staff members have change management experience and it’s not exactly rocket science. Hint: It starts with accountability. We will gladly help pro bono.

As to the parish vestry, we say this: You are idiots if you make excuses for this guy. What are you going to say if he kills someone in a DUI? If Hughes won’t get off her lazy backside to address this issue, you need to stop being asshats and do it. Under the canons, you are fiduciaries, responsible for the welfare of the parish and its people. So put your money where your mouth is, grow a spine, and deal with this issue. And you have every right to demand support from Hughes and her minions.

Again, spare us the confidentiality argument. Church members have a right to know. And members of the community have a right to expect the church to deal with issues of this sort.

We’re watching.

The featured image is former Episcopal Bishop Heather Cook’s windshield after she struck and killed cyclist Tom Palermo in a DUI. Many knew of her alcoholism years before she killed Palermo. But like the Diocese of Newark and Bishop Carlye Hughes, no one wanted to deal with the issue. Oh, and for the record, we are confident that Bishop Sutton of Maryland knew of Cook’s issues.

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TEC in a nutshell.

By the way, we missed one group, which is people looking for a new church home, To these folks I say you will be very disappointed if you choose to become involved in a church like this where people act as enablers for such profoundly damaging behavior.

If anything does happen due to Allport’s drinking, the blood of the victim is on +Hughes hands, and that of the church vestry.