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Breakaway Priest Convicted of Theft; Rebuts Charges

Breakaway Priest Convicted of Theft; Rebuts Charges

A breakaway Anglican leader was convicted of financial misconduct – charges that he says are false.

An ecclesiastical court of the Diocese of Colorado made the ruling on Wednesday, charging the Rev. Don Armstrong, former rector of Grace and St. Stephen's Church in Colorado Springs, of failing to maintain church financial records and stealing nearly $400,000 among other things.

"The charges are bogus," said Armstrong, according to VirtueOnline, a voice for global Orthodox Anglicanism.

"This was no surprise to us and frankly of no interest either. This is just all The Episcopal Church has left, with no theology to debate those of us who have made a case for tradition, they have to resort to kangaroo courts ginned up in their quickly failing club house," he told VirtueOnline.

Alan Crippen, spokesman for Armstrong, said the Episcopal Diocese does not have authority over Armstrong.

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Armstrong and the majority of the Colorado Springs parish voted earlier this year to split from the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado in dissension over actions by The Episcopal Church, particularly the 2003 consecration of an openly gay bishop. The breakaway group joined CANA (Convocation of Anglicans in North America) – a splinter group and offshoot of the Church of Nigeria. Since then, the relationship between the breakaway parish – one of the oldest in the Diocese – has been one of adversity, said Crippen, according to The Gazette.

Arguing that he is now a CANA priest, Armstrong said the charge by the Diocese of Colorado that he misused hundreds of thousands of dollars in parish funds is an act of revenge by the diocese and its bishop, the Rt. Rev. Rob O'Neil.

As rector of now Grace CANA Church, Armstrong said the accusations made by O'Neil are being fully investigated by the vestry board of his church at his request so that he can "reclaim my good name that the Episcopal Diocese and Bishop of Colorado have slandered," according to VirtueOnline. Its findings are expected by next month.

The ecclesiastical court, comprised of three clergy and two lay members of the Colorado diocese, had been reviewing evidence since a three-hour court hearing held July 31. In addition to charges of diverting funds to his family and committing tax fraud, the hearing had also found Armstrong guilty of receiving illegal loans, causing the church to be encumbered with deeds of trust totaling $4.5 million without approval, failing to maintain proper accounting books, and violating the temporary inhibition placed on Armstrong. The CANA priest did not attend the trial.

Both Armstrong and the Diocese have 30 days to respond before the court recommends a sentence. O'Neil will pronounce sentence which could range from verbal admonishment to defrocking the breakaway pastor, but the Colorado bishop cannot make the sentence any more stringent than what the court recommends.

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