Friday, May 22, 2009

Episcopal War in Colorado intensifies: Don Armstrong now indicted for embezzlement

From here.
DENVER - A grand jury has indicted a pastor accused of embezzling money from an Episcopal church in Colorado Springs before breaking from it and joining another congregation.

Police said a 20-count indictment of theft charges against the Rev. Donald Armstrong was handed down Wednesday. Armstrong is free on bail.

Details from the indictment weren't immediately available Friday.

The Pueblo County District Attorney's office took charge of the investigation because former El Paso County District Attorney John Newsome recused himself. Newsome once belonged to Armstrong's parish.

Authorities have been investigating Armstrong on allegations that he misappropriated $392,000 from the Grace Episcopal Church and St. Stephen's Parish. He has denied wrongdoing.

Armstrong headed the congregation before he and his followers broke away in 2007 to affiliate with the Convocation of Anglicans in North American.

CANA said in a written statement that the organization is praying for Armstrong, his family and his congregation.

"It is with great disappointment that I learned about the indictment of Rev. Armstrong," said Martyn Minns, a CANA missionary bishop. "While I know this is a painful time for both he and his wife, I also recognize that this is a major step in Rev. Armstrong's journey to publicly prove his innocence."

Colorado Springs police took financial documents and computers from Armstrong's former church in November. Detectives said in an affidavit that Armstrong used money from a church trust fund to pay for college tuition for two of his children.

After the search at the church in November, Armstrong's attorney Dennis Hartley said investigators would find that there was no case against his client and that an Internal Revenue Service investigation had discovered no wrongdoing.

Armstrong was defrocked in 2007 after the split with the church and an investigation by an ecclesiastic court of the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado. The diocese said Armstrong violated his ordination vows, and it accused him of financial misconduct.
Here's the Bishop of Colorado last summer in Canterbury explaining that he's all about reconciliation, not negotiation:


ettu said...

Congratulations on putting this on your website - I have yet to see it on others such as Standfirm and Titus one nine - either you are a great reporter or at least an honest one to put this story in front of your readership - I hope others do as well so it can be considered in all it's ramifications - sympathy for Don Armstrong's family and prayers for his comfort and acceptance of whatever is just and comes his way

Kevin said...

Ettu -- pushy and picky ... aren't you?

Yes, BB scooped Greg by 3 hours, I've not seen it on T19, but somehow I think you need to get a life and cut unpaid blogger some slack.

I have no clue what your agenda that you are pusing, but your post merely 1 1/2 hours after BB put it up with an accusortory tone of SF & T19 speaks poorly of you. Kendall+ especially but the SF team too should have some grace since they are not paid to do this and it is a Holiday weekend, they might ... horrors ... spend some time with family ... :-O

In prayer for everyone involved I certainly join you, even hoping the truth, no matter what it is comes out, like a kickboard held under water can't stay down long. Per the rest of your accusitory tone, think what you might, but I really think you need to get away from instant gratification and give at least 24 hours (more on Holiday weekends) before making pronouncement of more honest or even better reporter ... maybe with the Times & Post with paid staff, but seriously?

Kevin said...

My comment on the actual topic of this post ...

I'm glad Armstrong+ will have his day in a legit & objective court [sorry but little give me confidence that TEO is anything impartial or objective, based on MANY things]. This whole story been strange, there is either a case or not, and in criminal it must be beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Prayers for everyone involved in this case.

James said...

Bb, thanks so much for keeping these vids and remembering these things. I think TEC "gets away" with so much because they don't expect people to care enough or remember their previous statements. It's like Spong in a way - he "gets away" saying what he does since no one takes the time to actually look up the Biblical passages he's talking about, they just take for granted what he says.

ettu said...

Kevin - I understand your upbraiding tone and perhaps - just perhaps - it is justified ( I thought more time had elapsed) ((my fault)) I will look for my hair shirt immediately - anyway I hope you enjoy your time off - I am , seriously, impressed by BB's lengthy and often deep comments ettu

Anonymous said...

Is that a picture of the church where Armstrong's congregation had to hand back over to the real owners? Shouldn't a picture of the county court or county jail be more apt?

Unknown said...

Anon, sadly, your sentiments perhaps reveal more then you intended.


Bill said...

I have to wonder about this. An indictment implies evidence, and although this standard is sometimes not met, prosecutors have the responsibility to work through the evidence of wrongdoing against contrasting facts - before taking a case to trial. Clearly, there is a rather substantial backstory lurking around here.

Daniel Weir said...


Do you think the Bishop of Colorado would/should be angry about the litigation?

Unknown said...

Yes, I think he is. His idea of reconciliation is that all parties should agree with him. There's pain there.

I think the litigation hurts everyone, on all sides, my side too. We have incredibly brave and brilliant attorneys working hard, but it's still aggressive warfare. is justice truly served? I ask myself that question.

Bishop Lee has defrocked his own cousin. The ramifications of that action goes beyond litigation into his own family. Think about it.

You can't do this for long without examining one's own heart - what do we do with all the slings and arrows that puncture our hearts? Maybe this is part of Rowan's vision of "glorious failure."


Daniel Weir said...


I listened to the Bishop's comments and heard a clear statement that his idea of reconciliation is people who disagree with one another staying in relationship. I think you have misread him.

Unknown said...

Is it reconciliation when when a divided husband and wife live in the same house? Is that reconciliation? Of course not. Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson lived in the same house for quite a while after their divorce, but they were not reconciled. Their marriage was finished.

Reconciliation means to restore harmony and living in the same house when there are profound disagreements and divisions does not restore harmony. That is not reconciliation.

When the disagreement becomes betrayal, which is the level of division in our current troubles, then we have to move out of pretending and get real. Both sides believe the other has betrayed the faith. That's how deep it is. Living in the same house where each party thinks the other side has betrayed them breeds a toxic environment. That this has been going on for years and years, decades tells us the level of toxicity that these troubles have brought us.

Indeed, in the Diocese of Virginia we established a Reconciliation Commission. All the parties participated. It was the opinion of the Diocese of Virginia's Reconciliation Commission that in the Diocese of Virginia we had reached a Level Five stage of conflict - the worst. Recognizing that this was true (and that process alone was very hard) and yet we did want to follow in Bishop Lee's vision of finding some way, some how to remain in as close a communion as possible, he established the committee that wrote the protocol, putting on the it his own chancellor as the chair. He included the President of the Standing Committee (who was also a candidate for bishop) and the chairman of the Reconciliation Task Force. It was serious.

They came up with a protocol that we would separate, but we would not divorce. I cannot emphasize that too much. It was a separation, not a divorce. We would remain in as close a communion as we possibly could and that process was underway when Katharine Jefferts Schori took over from Frank Griswold and intervened.

The Bishop of Colorado is still either in denial or is acting out his own sense of betrayal. I don't doubt it. His grandiose statements in the video point to it - of course there is a mess in Colorado, this stuff is being followed by the local media, and he minimizes it, which tells us how serious he really is about "reconciliation." How does he talk of reconciliation when he himself still feels betrayed?


Daniel Weir said...


Perhaps you know more about the situation in Colorado than I do, so you may be right in asserting that the Bishop is in denial. I, however, in the absence of any evidence that the conflict invoves more than one congregation, will accept the Bishop's assessment.

I disagree with your understanding of reconciliation and your assetion that people with profound disagreements about important matters cannot remain in communion. I have for years been blessed to remain in communion with people who disagreed with me about the ordination of women or pacifism or abortion. None of these are unimportant issues, but I value the diversity of convictions on these issues withn the Episcopal Church. I had hoped that the same could be true in the matter of convictions about sexuality, but some have decided that this is a communion-breaking issue. That saddens me.

Unknown said...

In Virginia we thought we could. We would separate but not divorce. There's much in me that still prays for that - but it seems that this particular issue is about practicing a lifestyle that is contrary to scripture. And in order to justify that lifestyle as not outside of biblical teaching, one has to change the meaning and authority of scriptures. Those other issues also dealt with interpretations of the scriptures - but even there, the conversation centered on the scriptures. For those of us who are evangelical and support women's ordination, we are convinced from a biblical argument. We may disagree with our traditionalist brothers and sisters, but recognize that the argument is made from the scriptures.

In order to justify full inclusion - no matter how one is living out their "manner of life" one has to set the scriptures aside and use other forms of argument. In doing so, the scriptures themselves go on the block and when we get down to it, that is the real division.

Even before the Reconciliation Task Force was authorized by Annual Council in the Diocese of Virginia, we had a group that met following a resolution (R-7) of Annual Council to talk about these very issues. That group - dubbed "R-7" - was made up of representatives and leaders from all the spectrums, all of them. They met together for seven years, formed community, practiced listening, had years of conversations, retreats, exchanging papers, praying together, taking Eucharist together, caring for each other - and after seven years came to the point where they recognized that the chasm was too wide. This wasn't women's ordination or pacificim, - though I must say abortion is another one that is difficult to pass. I think there's been actually some movement toward some consensus on that one at the local level, but has not yet reached the upper levels of the church.

I am saddened too. It may be that we have to go into the sadness for a while, to truly grieve. Again, I think much of the litigation is an avoidance of that grief. I really do.


Bill said...

I can't help but throw down on my old bud Daniel here. Notoriously passive-aggressive, Daniel seldom concedes any fact that does not support his position, and he has been known to flee the scene of an argument (e.g. the Yahoogroups Episcopal mailing list) when faced with resistance.

Does this transfer to the behavior of bishops ? Well, among the facts that Daniel does not face is that Armstrong's parish is by no means the only one in Colorado that left the Episcopal Church. There were indeed departures to AMiA, after that organization stood up. Indeed, Colorado somewhat preceded Virginia and Florida in the progression of the schism. These are facts, and Daniel simply cannot deny them.

Other than the utter injustice of the ADV lawsuits, the situation in Virginia is substantially less toxic than Colorado or Florida or anywhere else that schism has occured in any noticeable measure. There is anger here, but there could be at least some degree of reconciliation if the national church would just leave us alone to mind our business as Bishop Lee and others had promised. Faithfulness is not a matter of passing loyalty tests and property law is no proper means to try to keep a church together. Bishops need to be held accountable for what they do, and what they fail to do. I've been saying this for years; nothing seems to change except for the worse.

Daniel Weir said...

Hearing from Mr. Riggs again was unexpected, but his applying to me the label passive-aggressive was not. It was boredom over that kind of discussion that, in part, led me to leave the Yahoo group. I do find it odd that someone who has never expressed any signs of friendship or respect for me should refer to me as "my old bud..."

Personal stuff aside, Mr. Riggs contention that all that ECUSA leaders had to do was leave traditional parishes alone does not match with the facts, at least in the diocese where I serve. The decision of the members and clergy of one parish to leave was not made because they were not being left alone. They left because their deeply held convictions made it impossible for them to remain in ECUSA. I concede that the facts on the ground may be very different in other dioceses, but I believe that in many cases the departures were not because traditionalists were being mistreated by their bishops, but because their convictions made it impossibel for them to remain in ECUSA.

Josh Thomas said...

Yesterday Don Armstrong pleaded no contest in criminal court to the theft, after promising that he'd be exonerated for all the world to see.

He wasn't persecuted; he was prosecuted.

Anonymous said...

Given the attention you paid to this case and Martin Minn's comment:
"It is with great disappointment that I learned about the indictment of Rev. Armstrong," said Martyn Minns, a CANA missionary bishop. "While I know this is a painful time for both he and his wife, I also recognize that this is a major step in Rev. Armstrong's journey to publicly prove his innocence." , it would be appropriate for you to post the result. Armstrong has submitted an Alford plea and a no contest plea. In the Alford, he denies guilt but admits he would likely be found guilty based on the evidence. Since much of the critique waged by his supporters and conservatives was that he was being persecuted for his theological views rather than being first tried by an ecclesiastical court for misuse of church funds and subsequently tried by a civil court for theft, a criminal act over which an ecclesiastical court has no jurisdiction, his pleas give credence to the claim that his inhibition and deposition by an ecclesiastical court was not because of his theological views but because the evidence of his misuse/(3rd degree felony theft) of funds.

Anonymous said...

From Fr. Don Armstrong's Plea Agreement Case No. 09-CR-1950:

“1. The defendant pleads nolo contendre to count Number Fifteen of the Indictment which charges a violation of C.R.S. 18-4-401(1), (4), as amended (a class three felony), in that the defendant committed the offense of Theft-Series ($15,000 or More).

“The factual basis for this plea will be the factual basis contained in the Indictment.

The defendant will further enter an Alford plea pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 91 S.Ct. 160, 27 L.Ed.2d 162 (1970), as to an added Count Twenty-One, Theft ($500-$1,000), C.R.S. 18-4-401(1)(2)(b.5) (a class one misdemeanor). There is no factual basis to support this charge, however, the defendant is entering a plea to this charge to obtain the benefit of a plea arrangement in which he is receiving a deferred sentence to a felony”

From the Colorado Supreme Court, People v. Darlington, 105 P.3d 230:
“We have held that, for the purpose of a criminal case, a plea of nolo contendere is fully equivalent to a plea of guilty. See People v. Birdsong, 958 P.2d 1124, 1127 (Colo. 1998); Jones v. District Court of County of Routt, 196 Colo. 261, 264, 584 P.2d 81, 84 (Colo. 1978); People v. Carpenter, 709 P.2d 72, 73 (Colo. App. 1985). The sole distinction we have made between a guilty plea and a plea of nolo contendere is that the latter gives the defendant the advantage of not being estopped from denying her fault in a civil action based upon the same facts. Jones, 196 Colo. at 264, 584 P.2d at 83. Where the defendant knowingly, voluntarily, and understandingly pleads nolo contendere she may be punished just as if she had entered a plea of guilty. See Alford, 400 U.S. at 36 n.8; People v. Meier, 133 Colo. 338, 340, 296 P.2d 232, 233 (1956); Young, 53 Colo. at 253, 125 P. at 118. Therefore, there is no distinction between a plea of nolo contendere and a plea of guilty for sentencing purposes. People v. Canino, 181 Colo. 207, 210, 508 P.2d 1273, 1274 (1973).”