Updated with the official reaction of St. George’s CANA added below.
A charismatic founder of the Anglican Communion Institute and current priest in good standing in ACNA is pleading no contest to felony theft from The Episcopal Church.
The Rev. Don Arrnstrong had long contended he would be proven innocent of charges. The charges first came to light while Armstrong was still a part of the Episcopal Church. Armstrong had claimed the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado had trumped up the charges and the true nature of the dispute was rooted in theological differences. Martyn Minns and Peter Akinola immediately accepted Armstrong and his congregation into CANA even while threat of state criminal prosecution hung over Armstrong.
In 2007 George Conger reported that Armstrong had been “exhonorated” (sic) by an “independent” auditor hired by his church. Conger further reported,
Bishop Martyn Minns of CANA welcomed the news, adding however, that he was distressed by the way the diocese prosecuted its case, “especially by their use of ecclesiastical procedures to silence Fr. Armstrong and then accuse him of criminal behavior.”
Minns is in Lagos this week for the meeting of the Church of Nigeria standing committee.
Pueblo Special prosecutor Stephen Jones announced today that former Episcopalian priest Donald Armstrong, ex-pastor of Grace Church in Colorado Springs, has entered a “no-contest” plea to felony theft in exchange for a deferred judgement and sentence. Armstrong, 61, indicted by a 4th Judicial District grand jury in 2009 on 20 counts of felony theft, was accused of embezzling almost $300,000 from church and trust funds over eight years to pay for his two children’s college.
Armstrong and his loyal congregation already had lost a civil trial last year to determine who owned Grace Church and St. Stephen’s Parish, a historic downtown property valued at about $17 million.
An Ecceliastical Trial Court in 2007 removed him as an Episcopal priest of the diocese after finding him guilty of stealing a total of $392,000 from parish-controlled coffers. Armstrong denied the charges and stayed put in the Grace Church building. After a civil court judge ordered him to give it back to the diocese, Armstrong and his breakaway congregation moved to a new building they called St. George’s Anglican Church.
If convicted of all 20 felony counts Armstrong could have faced a life time in prison. The IRS will be interested in Armstrong’s no contest plea.
From the diocese:
Armstrong, former rector of Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Colorado Springs, was found guilty of theft and other misconduct by an Ecclesiastical Trial Court in 2007 and was removed as a priest of the church. After extensive independent external investigations and a formal disciplinary process, the church court found him guilty of stealing approximately $400,000 from Grace and St.Stephen’s. The day that he was formally charged with that theft and other wrongdoing Armstrong and a group of followers unlawfully took possession of Grace Church and all its assets. After nearly two years of litigation a court ruled that the property belonged to the Diocese of Colorado and returned it to The Episcopal Church.
Larry Hitt, the Chancellor of the diocese, said that “We believe that Armstrong’s entry of a ‘no
contest’ plea to a class 3 felony theft charge (deferred judgment and sentence) and his effective guilty plea to a class 1 misdemeanor theft charge constitute a tacit acknowledgment of the truth of the criminal charges against him. We hope that today’s action will contribute to a final resolution of these regrettable events. We pray for healing for all affected by his actions, including Armstrong and his family. We also hope that he will be sentenced to make full restitution of the money he took from the church.”
Read it all.
… Father Armstrong made an Alford plea, which is a special plea used when there is no admission of guilt or basis of fact for the charge, but the charge, in this case a misdemeanor, is accepted to take advantage of an offer, in this case to reduce the original 20 Felony counts to a single misdemeanor.
We are grateful to Don and Jessie for their courage, strength, and witness during this time of personal persecution. …
In preparation for the now canceled trial we have become convinced even more strongly that controversies within the larger denominational church were the catalyst for the Diocese’s investigation and complaint, for the purpose of silencing our bold and successful defense of orthodoxy through our parish’s life, discipline, and teaching ministry.
We believe that the courts are not the place to deal with theological differences, and that to have allowed this dispute to continue to be played out in the news by going to trial would have served only to diminish all Christian witness. …
We further believe the disparity between the magnitude of charges made against Father Armstrong by the Episcopal Diocese and the final content of the plea agreement vindicates not only Father Armstrong, but also clearly affirms our confidence that we ran an effective and well managed church in our days at the helm of Grace & St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, and continue to do so at St. George’s Anglican Church.
With only a restitution hearing to be held in the distant future, this essentially concludes this long and expensive attempt to silence orthodox resistance to theological innovations in the Episcopal Church. We are thankful we can now move forward under our Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, into a future productive for the Kingdom of God.
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