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.