THE Revd Donald Armstrong, former Rector of an Episcopal church in Colorado, was found guilty last week of financial misconduct by the ecclesiastical court of the diocese.
Diocesan attorneys had presented 650 pages of affidavits and documentary evidence relating to charges against Mr Armstrong, who now leads the secessionist congregation of Grace Episcopal Church. Mr Armstrong was said by the diocese to have broken a shredder in an attempt to cover his tracks (News, 18 May).
The preliminary judgment was issued on Wednesday of last week by five members of the ecclesiastical court. They unanimously found Mr Armstrong guilty of diverting $392,409 from the parish’s operating fund, and committing tax fraud by not reporting $548,000 in non-salary income (News, 12 January).
Mr Armstrong’s congregation has been at the centre of a dispute with the diocese after a majority, led by the Rector, opted in May to join the Anglican province of Nigeria. The secessionists have kept possession of the church building, and those remaining loyal to the Episcopal Church have been forced to meet elsewhere.
On other counts of misconduct, Mr Armstrong was found guilty of receiving illegal loans totalling $122,479.16 in violation of diocesan canons; unauthorised encumbrance and alienation of Grace Church’s real property; violation of the temporary inhibition placed on him; the improper use of clergy discretionary funds; and failure to maintain proper books of accounts.
The Bishop of Colorado, the Rt Revd Robert O’Neill, attended the hearing. Mr Armstrong’s attorney stated that the court case was a witch hunt because of Mr Armstrong’s conservative views. Two Colorado newspapers reported that police say they are investigating a complaint of embezzlement filed against Mr Armstrong by Colorado diocese.
The preliminary judgment marks the beginning of a 30-day period during which all parties have an opportunity to respond, after which the court will issue a final judgment. Under the canons of the Church, it is the bishop’s responsibility to impose judgment.