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US cleric on probation over children’s funds

03 March 2011

by a staff reporter

A cleric in Colorado has been sentenced to four years’ probation for the misuse of funds from his church in order to pay his chil­dren’s college bills.

A district judge, Gregory Werner, upheld a plea bargain that gave the Revd Donald Armstrong, a former Rector of Grace and St Stephen’s, Colorado Springs, two concurrent probation terms for no-contest pleas over his misuse of money from a church scholarship fund, the Bowton Trust.

The judge ordered Mr Arm­strong to pay $99,247 in restitution to Grace church for money that went from the trust to pay for his children’s college-related expenses. Judge Werner rejected, however, a request by a special prosecutor to order Mr Armstrong to repay the church an additional $191,753 in church funds that were also spent on his children’s education. He cited testimony from three former church officials that they knew of a deal whereby the church paid the tuition in lieu of giving Mr Arm­strong a pay rise for several years.

Judge Werner also ordered Mr Armstrong to do 400 hours of com­munity service, and banned him from managing the finances of any church or group.

Lay leaders of the church believe that more than $1 million is still missing or unaccounted for from Mr Armstrong’s term as Rector.

Allegations of misuse of funds first surfaced in 2006. An ecclesias­tical court of the diocese found Mr Armstrong guilty of financial mis­conduct, including diverting $392,409 from parish funds, and committing tax fraud by not reporting $548,000 in non-salary income. He was said by the diocese to have broken a shredder in a des­perate attempt to cover his tracks (News, 17 August 2007; 5 June 2009).

Mr Armstrong was deposed as a priest, and now leads the congrega­tion of St George’s, in the Convoca­tion of Anglicans in North America.

Mr Armstrong gave an interview to the traditionalist website Virtue Online this week, in which he in­sisted that he had been “exonerated” over the scholarships. It was his “unbending orthodoxy that was the genesis for this attack by the diocese”, he said.

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