3/28/2007

Subject to Accountability: The Rev. Don Armstrong and the terror. (revised)

The Rev. David Anderson, of American Anglican Council and now CANA fame, is no stranger to the use of strong language in defense of what he thinks, nor is he afraid to make pronouncements on matters quite outside his increasingly marginal position in the churches. Still, he has chutzpah.

Readers may remember that under his leadership, the AAC singlehandedly proclaimed that "…the 21 recent Virginia inhibitions are null and void and declared them lifted." That's nice. Of course the AAC has no business making such declarations and anyone who thinks they have such authority is quite mistaken.

He has just weighed in on the difficult and sad case of the Rev. Don Armstrong and Grace Church, Colorado Springs. The Rev. Don Armstrong, you will recall, was being investigated for possible misuse of finances by the Diocese of Colorado. He was inhibited and now it appears that he too has flown the coop to CANA land. The Bishop has determined that the Church is still part of the Diocese, only most of the congregation has left.

It remains to be seen if a priest under inhibition could possibly be said to have "transferred" in any reasonable sense to another province. Such a priest could not make such a move within the Episcopal Church without permission and release from the bishop issuing the inhibition. But no matter, these are not normal times, and CANA has no respect for the canons of this Church.

According to The Free Republic, Here is what Maestro Anderson, master of the strong phrase, has to say about the Bishop of Colorado, the inhibition, and the effort to retain control of Grace Church:

"This is all about terror - the ability of the church and bishops with deep pockets to terrorize mom and pop (members) in their churches."

Just so we are clear: Don Armstrong and Grace Church are no "mom and pop" members or churches, or whatever. Fr. Armstrong has been a central player in the Anglican Communion Institute, and the rector of a large parish. His troubles, which are many, derive not from his being some poor benighted and terrorized local, but from his being a sizable player in various realignment efforts.

The effort to make Fr. Armstrong out to be a victim of harassment, much less terror, is very wide of the mark. However, it matters little now. Fr. Armstrong is reported to already have left for CANA. Now the only way forward in the investigation is to eiher drop the matter or, if the investigation shows malfeasance, to let it work its way through criminal and civil procedures. Fr. Armstrong is mostly subject to accountability for his own behaviors, as are we all. That his may involved financial dealings is now clear. His actions also to include leaving this church without permission to join another whose activity in this Province clearly indicate a profound break in communion with us. That may finally involved the matter of abandonment of the ministry of this church.

REVISED: Today the Colorado Springs Gazette posted the letter from the diocese and the specifics of the charges against Fr. Armstrong. They are considerable. Read them HERE.

These are not matters of harassment or terrorism. These are matters of accountability.

We must also be clear that this is a work in progress: Fr. Armstrong has now been charged. He is reported to have left the building. There seems to be a period of "discernment" going on in the Parish, after which there may be a formal occasion for voting to leave and go to CANA. But the reports out now seem to make it a done deal.

Things in the parish seem to have gotten pretty far along towards separation. There is some indication that this Sunday, The Sunday of the Passion, will involve a confrontation between the Diocese and the Congregation and its Priest. I rather hope not. This is the sort of thing perhaps best put off until Low Sunday, when we were wondering just what we were going to do that would make Church interesting. The confrontation appears likely at some time in the near future, but one would think it could wait two weeks.

What is next in all this? Hard to say. But it will no doubt result in greater clarity on many areas of accountability and perhaps some peace for Fr. Armstrong, the Bishop, and perhaps many more of us. As we sneak up on Good Friday, all our accountabilities find their focus.


13 comments:

  1. I appears a presentment is forthcoming, and the nature of the charges involve very large sums. See the letter from the Bishop of Colorado.

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  2. Mark,

    David Anderson is the president of the AAC...Don Armstrong+ is the president of the ACI (Drs Radner, Seitz et al). Big difference.

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  3. Tobias... the link is in the body of the text.
    Anne: Say more. I know the difference and I don't think the post does. There is at least one connection between the two: both clergy now are members of the Church of Nigeria.
    BTW, I presume you are the bigger of the two... cute kid. Nice picture.

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  4. tobias says presentment appears forthcoming. But if Armstrong has left the church - the only thing that will be presented are the charges. There will be no hearing, no airing of evidence unless it is done without Armstrong's participation. Is that correct? Is that likely? I am concerned for two reasons. One, without a look at all the charges and supporting evidence, the case will forever be clouded(which may be what Armstrong intends), but also if the charges can be substantiated then it casts a very dim light on Minns' judgment and CANA. I light that might give even some conservatives pause.

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  5. It would appear that Anderson is a bit confused as to whom has the deep pockets.

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  6. c.b., in these wild and wacky times I'm not sure what might come out of all this, apart from criminal proceedings if the allegations of tax fraud are accurate. Part of the confusion comes from the legality of Don's "transfer" to CANA. Normally canons require letters dimissory to effect such a transfer, attesting the transferring priest to be in good standing with no overhanging allegations. If Don wishes to renounce his orders (in a "voluntary submission to discipline" or otherwise) that's a different matter. The whole thing is a cloud of unknowing -- the bad kind.

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  7. C.B.

    Based on my reading of the charges, there are still issues that might well involve the civil authorities, particularly involving tax matters. CANA will not be able to offer safe haven from these.

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  8. I have argued elsewhere that liberals and conservatives alike should be able to agree that this is a situation where we need to allow time for the facts to come out before we pass judgement on either the allegations against Fr. Armstrong or the methods of Bp. O'Neill.

    It is disappointing, then, to find that Fr. Armstrong has decided to remove himself from Bp. O'Neill's authority, rather than using the opportunity to present his defence against the charges specified in the presentment.

    I would still maintain that we don't know enough to pass judgement. But I do have to admit that Fr. Armstrong's apparent refusal to allow the charges to be ajudicated is not a move that will build confidence in his innocence.

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  9. oddly enough, I find myself agreeing with +Doug. Armstrong is innocent until proven guilty. his timing in leaving the church was a bad PR move at best, but we still need to wait for the decision of the trial.

    and before that decision comes, we should all remember that, as my priest said, schadenfreude is good for nobody's soul.

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  10. "there are still issues that might well involve the civil authorities, particularly involving tax matters"
    And Fr. Armstrong is so anxious about the validity of such charges that he asked the IRS to audit his federal tax returns for compliance!
    Can you say hatchet job?
    Dan

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  11. This can be bad in two ways. Fr. Armstrong wrote his parish to give "his" side. He notes that the actual report accusing him of Tax Fraud has not looked at his taxes. Here is the appropriate part of his letter: "For example, what is known as the Betzer Report suggests that I did not declare the value of my church provided housing and fees for weddings and funerals on my taxes, but that assumption is footnoted indicating that they did not have access to my taxes to confirm their accusation."
    You can read the whole letter at:
    http://titusonenine.classicalanglican.net/?p=18557#comments

    If Fr. Armstrong is lying then he should be punished and I would hope that Mimms will discipline him. If Bishop O'Neill is lying (or leading a massively trumped up charge) then I would hope that the HOB would discipline him.

    I do not put it past any clergy to be trapped by false financial dealing. My wife was the treasurer when the parish priest got caught with his hand in the cookie jar and it is unpleasant. I also know that the way this has been handled for the past year has been very bad and looked very bad in the eyes of the reasserters. Hopefully we will know the answer soon enough.

    YBIC,
    Phil Snyder

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  12. I can say "hatchet job" is an hysterical over-reaction.

    If the good Father stayed, he'd have had his day to face the presentment charges, but he left. That just leaves questions, and we'll all have to live with that.

    He'll likely get a chance to have his day over the tax issue. And, he is presumed innocent in that matter until proven guilty. Only time will tell.

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  13. Hatchet job?

    Where have I heard that before?

    Oh yeah, when a certain Colorado Springs megachurch CEO was accused of consorting with a rentboy and snorting crank, a number of important people, including one Donald Armstrong, rushed forward and angrily declared that The Gays were attempting to destroy this Godly man because he had fought so effectively against their evil agenda.

    Then it turned out that the good reverend really did have a thing for hookers and crystal.

    There is no way for us to know whether Armstrong is guilty or not, a situation that he has ensured by jumping ship, but it is simply foolish to argue that he must be innocent because he is "orthodox."

    The previous rector at my parish, who was so "orthodox" that he made the Southern Baptists seem broadminded and reasonable by comparison, turned out to have been looting the place for years. Predictably, when he got caught, he claimed persecution. Many people left the parish, some because they believed him and others because they were disgusted at having been robbed for so long by a pious hypocrite.

    As I said, all this sounds very familiar.

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