4/10/2007

The realities of life in alternative Anglican lands.

A number of clergy and laypeople have decided to leave The Episcopal Church and to become members of other Anglican Communion bodies – the Church of Nigeria by way of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), the Province of the Southern Cone, the Diocese of Bolivia, the Anglican Church of the Province of Uganda or AMiA (The Anglican Mission in America) part of the Province of Rwanda and so forth.

One of the consequences of this change of venue is that those who go carry with them their own foibles, histories and agendas and the Episcopal authority of record then receives these folk knowing that there will be some pastoral issues to be faced. And that is as it should be, after all, seeking new pastoral oversight implies that pastoral oversight and counsel, Godly or otherwise, might be needed.

Two instances calling for special pastoral attention have come up recently:

The first is seemingly fairly straightforward:

Charged with sexual impropriety Fr. Samuel Pascoe, formerly rector of Grace Church, Orange Park, Florida and now of AMiA , was removed from the active ministry by AMiA bishop Thomas Johnson in early February, 2007. This exercise of Episcopal pastoral oversight was entirely appropriate and in line with what we would expect from a responsible church agent. Had he been a priest in the Diocese of Florida we would have expected an appropriate response from the Diocese of Florida.

The second presents a more complex case:

Fr. Don Armstrong, formerly rector of Grace Church and St. Stephen's, Colorado Springs, Colorado, has aligned himself with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA). The website of the parish now announces that it is part of CANA. This was a decision of the Vestry, not of the parish, and the parish is now involved in the "Forty Days of Discernment" program of CANA prior to a congregational vote to stay in the Episcopal Church or leave. The "Discernment" program is heavily weighted to the sins of The Episcopal Church and the need to seek shelter elsewhere, and during the discernment period they will be visited by Bishops Minns of CANA and Bena, late of Albany, now of CANA. Fr. Armstrong has written a remarkable letter to the Parish, which includes a Vestry paper touting the miseries of life in The Episcopal Church , "A Declaration of Anglican Fidelity," but which says nothing about his having left for CANA or about the charges against him. Instead the letter proceeds as if the congregation (i) has a real choice in the matter of the vestry's preemptive move to CANA, and (ii) the charges against him were of no matter in this process.

Fr. Armstrong has been under inhibition in the Diocese of Colorado and presentment has now been made against him for a wide range of charges involving financial mismanagement and malfeasance. He left for CANA in the midst of these charges being presented and while under discipline. He claims no longer to be under the authority of the Bishop of Colorado. It appears that the Bishop of Colorado contests the fact that Fr. Armstrong has left or that he is not under authority there. In a Living Church article Bishop O'Neill is quoted as saying,

"This action, taken by the vestry in consultation with Father Armstrong (still a priest of The Episcopal Church under inhibition by the bishop), has been taken unilaterally and has no canonical or constitutional grounding or effect. The fact is that people may leave The Episcopal Church but parishes cannot," he said. "Grace and St. Stephen's Church remains a parish of The Episcopal Diocese of Colorado and will continue to be so for any and all who desire to be members of The Episcopal Church."

Bishop O'Neill and the Diocese are proceeding with the Presentment with the understanding that Fr. Armstrong is still a priest of the Diocese. Fr. Armstrong claims not, but rather that he is now of CANA. Bishops Minns and Bena are coming to town to support the forty days of discernment, which certainly bespeaks support.

Now, if Fr. Armstrong is still a priest in The Episcopal Church, and the inhibitions placed on him hold, then in addition to the charges of conduct unbecoming the clergy there is, by virtue of his return to the Parish, the clear violation of the inhibitions placed on him. The grounds for removing him from ministry are made all the greater. If he is still a priest in The Episcopal Church his current actions only compound his problems.

If on the other hand he is a priest in the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, the ecclesial problems are now in Bishop Minns' hands. But what have we heard from Bishop Minns regarding Fr. Armstrong? There is a passing reference to what Bishop Minns might think in an article in the Colorado Springs Independent Newsweekly : "The allegations have not dissuaded CANA from embracing Armstrong and Grace parishioners, according to a source close to Mimms. "Bishop Mimms has no reservations at all about Father Armstrong," the source said. "They've had lengthy conversations about all this ... there is no basis whatsoever to these allegations against Father Armstrong." Aside from the misspelling of Minns to Mimms, the note is telling. "Bishop Minns has no reservations at all about Fr. Armstrong." I wonder if Bishop Minns has seen the charges of the presentment?

Well, here is the problem, Bishop Minns. IF Fr. Armstrong is part of your clergy community now you will have to decide. Has Fr. Armstrong in fact acted in ways unbecoming to what you or the Constitution and Canons of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), to which you have committed yourself, believe is appropriate for a clergy person? If he is proven to be an embezzler or thief I should think that would count.

There is serious question as to the timing of Fr. Armstrong's announcement of leaving TEC for CANA, mostly having to do with the feeling that this was an effort to sidestep the charges being brought by the Diocese of Colorado.

But if those charges are valid, they are valid in either church jurisdiction, assuming that financial malfeasance constitutes conduct unbecoming a clergyperson in both The Episcopal Church and the Church of Nigeria. If for some reason Fr. Armstrong believes those charges disappear by going to CANA, then that is saying something rather damning about his understanding of CANA as an ecclesial entity.

Bishop Minns is standing by Fr. Armstrong (as it appears from the visits he is making to the Parish), but he must also stand ready at some point to accept the possibility that the charges against Fr. Armstrong are true. In that case Bishop Minns might have to make an Episcopal decision that may run contrary to his friendship with Fr. Armstrong.

It turns out that changing venue for ministry is not a simple matter of leaving for a better land. It turns out there are rules of behavior in those other lands as well. Episcopal oversight involves accountability, something that Fr. Pascoe has faced and Fr. Armstrong may find himself facing. It will also test the authorities under which they serve.


21 comments:

  1. MARK - Bishop Minns will take his lead from the congregation on this. If the congregation is upset about the charges in any significant way, Minns will respond similarly. If they do not, he won't bat an eye. He and Armstrong are counting on this being settled out of court, without a full hearing of the facts. A presentment hearing without Armstrong present would be condemned as a kangaroo court. They will pay the fines to the IRS. And settle with diocese. The only issue is the property and they are waiting to see what happens with the AC in September to see if they'll have to come up with some money or not.

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  2. I read the full presentment against the Rev. Don Armstrong. I doubt they have been trumped up in order to harrass a faithful priest. Even if some of them were to be proven to be incorrect, there are so many, that they cannot all be wrong. In the end, the Rev. Don Armstrong, with the collusion of the leadership at his church, have acted wrongly.

    Having said that, I wonder if Nigeria, being a church more heavily weighted to the absolute authority of clergy, might think it is appropriate for a priest to do with money and property whatever they want to do. Conversely, I wonder what Nigeria's canons are regarding parish property and the ability of a priest and/or vestry to sell or encumber said property without the imprimature of the diocese.

    Regarding the "common" practice of parishes paying for the education of the children of their clergy, I've known of such cases, but it has always been treated as taxable income.

    revLois Keen

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  3. Fr. Mark. You have hit the nail so right on the head. I have pondered the difficulties in which +Minns may find himself as a result of the alleged activities of +Armstrong and his possible fiduciary malfeasance and that of his vestry. What authority does he actually have, and, more important, what power does he have to implement it? If the allegations are found to be true, as determined in a court of law (assuming that CB is correct and anything that happens in a TEC ecclesiastical court will be considered irrelevant), if he does nothing, his moral authority will be considered nil. If he does, in fact, move to inhibit +Armstrong under Nigerian canons, it can be assumed that the Grace will ignore his decision as it has done with Colorado. Regardless of the "episcopal" authority, this congregation and its rector appear to have adopted a self-defined "congregational" polity.

    +Armstrong is the second challenge to +Minn's moral leadership. The first being +Akinola's strong affirmation of the Nigerian Same Sex Marriage Act and its draconian additional measures on free speech assembly etc. He has been silent. It will be interesting to see how he now responds, assuming that he will wait 'til the case moves through the civil courts.

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  4. C.B. - I wonder how you've become aware of Martyn Minns' motives, such that you can say he is, "counting on this being settled out of court, without a full hearing of the facts."

    Have you spoken to him? Perhaps you can enlighten us as to your sources, so that readers can decide whether your remarks are uninformed speculation.

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  5. Bishop Minns's actions in regard to Nigeria's SSMPA demonstrate to me that he has no sense of ethics. I am not confident that, IF Armstrong is found guilty, Minns will remove him. In that situation, I'd bet on Minns ignoring the charges.

    I'd be glad to be proven wrong, though.

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  6. Mark - as a point of information I would like to draw your attention to a very informative and revealing set of exchanges involving Armstrong and C, Seitz, president of ACI, on TI9 yesterday. (Seitz begins by identifying himself as "ACI").

    http://titusonenine.classicalanglican.net/?p=18753#comments

    It appears that Seitz has had little involvement in the running of ACI, and little knowledge concerning the extent of its activities.

    Of interest, those activities include raising funds to support Anglican students in "third world" provinces.

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  7. Phil - I presume you are not tone deaf. But nevertheless let me be precise in case you are. The entire entry is speculation.

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  8. I am baffled as to why CANA would want to accept a priest who has such serious charges alleged against him. But the question of jurisdiction is an interesting one.

    The process by which another church receives a priest is, of course, up to them. The options for leaving the jurisdiction of TEC, on the other hand, are clearly laid out in the canons:

    1. Under Canon III.9.6(e), by requesting permission from the Bishop Diocesan to temporarily officiate in a another church in communion with TEC, and being granted a certification of “good standing.”
    2. When not under investigation or presentment, by voluntary renunciation of Holy Orders under Canon III.9.8 or III.9.9.
    3. Under Canon IV.8.1, by renunciation of orders and deposition.
    4. By a Trial Court’s sentence of deposition under Canon IV.12.

    If Fr. Armstrong intends his move to CANA to be permanent, #1 above does not apply. Since he apparently did not initiate a voluntary renunciation of orders BEFORE coming under investigation or presentment, he cannot be released from the jurisdiction of TEC, except by voluntarily accepting deposition, until the charges are either dropped or adjudicated.

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  9. Another interesting point is that Fr Armstrong has not gotten much support from other conservative clergy in Colorado. The Communion Laity and Clergy (CLC), a group of conservative clergy in Colorado has indicated that they think that the church trial should go ahead. It is significant that Fr Armstrong was a founder of the CLC and one of the signers of the statement was Fr Radner
    http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/local/article/0,1299,DRMN_15_5462448,00.html

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  10. C.B. - the more I read of this - on all websites - the more I think we need to stop speculating. Neither side really appears to be covering itself in glory.

    This is like the Anna Nicole case: something that should only be of concern to the principals themselves, and which I think would profit the rest of us to switch off.

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  11. With respect to CLC's stance regarding the present, Rev. Armstrong made the following remark on T19:

    “The CLC is a group about which I could cast a good deal of doubt–but I think conservatives having these sorts of debates among themselves only serves the devils purposes.”

    It would appear based upon this response that Rev. Armstrong is under considerable pressure from several sides.

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  12. That link to the Rocky Mountain News article did not come through.
    Go to
    http://www.rockymountainnews.com/
    and simply search using key words such as armstrong and grace
    The article is called Rector could be Investigated dated April 4.

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  13. Phil - I can understand your concerns, but internet blogs are for the sharing of opinions, ideas, and information. When I am on Stand Firm I do very little speculating. Speak only from experience and share only informed insight. It has been made clear to me that that is what is wanted from progressives there. Other sites, which are more welcoming to progressives, allow us to vent and speculate as a means of airing our views, provided it is clear that is what is going on. All subjects brought up by the blogger, including the painfully messy ones, are fair game. Unless, Mark tells me otherwise. Peace.

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  14. C.B. -- in light of your excellent work in revealing the strains between the Revs. Donald Armstrong and Christopher Seitz over the status of ACI, I think it's interesting that in his April 10 letter to the members of Grace Church and St. Stephen's, Armstrong refers to ACI as "our own Anglican Communion Institute." From my reading of the thread on this at T19, I don't get the impression that President Seitz would agree with this characterization of ACI as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Grace Church.

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  15. Doug, I think Minns is not concerned with Fr. Armstrong's troubles. He only sees the possibility of picking up another free plum which is Grace Church. If Fr. Armstrong proves troublesome in the future, he will apply the CANA to him.
    (pun intended)

    cheers

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  16. C.B. - I agree with you, and, as far as I'm concerned, you can speculate away on conservative sites (not that it's up to me). Communities are stronger for having dissenting views, and I'm happy you're there. It's just that this particular situation in Colorado seems to be getting ugly on both sides, and I'm not sure (though I thought differently at first) that it sheds any light on our larger troubles.

    BTW, your distinction between sites friendly to you and others applies to me, too, which should go a long way toward explaining perceived differences in what I might say in one place versus another.

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  17. doug - Seitz's position in that exchange was very hard to completely decipher. Was he actually clueless regarding the origins of ACI. Under the circumstance it does not seem possible. Did he have no input into how ACI was being portrayed as legal entity with a Board of Directors and a "memberhip" of hundred? Was he truly unaware of all the additional fund raising and distributions that Armstrong was performing in the name on the behalf of ACI? Did he not know that it was listed as a ministry of Grace Church on Grace Church's website? It's sound incredible, but it seems to be what he was saying, or hoping we would believe. In another forum, perhaps he would acknowledge all of the above.

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  18. Mark - you wrote: "Charged with sexual impropriety Fr. Samuel Pascoe, formerly rector of Grace Church, Orange Park, Florida and now of AMiA , was removed from the active ministry by AMiA bishop Thomas Johnson in early February, 2007. This exercise of Episcopal pastoral oversight was entirely appropriate and in line with what we would expect from a responsible church agent. Had he been a priest in the Diocese of Florida we would have expected an appropriate response from the Diocese of Florida"
    Perhaps you would care to comment on how our Episcopal Bishops dealt with the sexual impropriety of Bp. Bennison's brother or is it that you adhere to the philosophy that the enemy of my enemy is my friend?
    Dan

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  19. c.b. -- I completely agree that we can't be sure who really knew what, or when. But Seitz has obviously been trying to distance himself and ACI from Grace Church. My point was meant to be that Armstrong does not seem inclined to cut Seitz any slack on this, which I find interesting. Instead, he is reasserting how very closely connected they are.

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  20. Phil - The light the Armstrong situation may shed on our larger troubles is to show us the true character of some of the men involved in promoting division (and unrest)within TEC. What it is they are after, why and how they have gone about getting it. It is not to paint the entire "reasserter" contingency with the same broad brush, but to perhaps illuminate how and why that contingency has been lead down a particle path, and perhaps show that other paths have been and still are available should reasserters wish to follow them.

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  21. I believe that the most egregious charge against Fr. Armstrong is that of violating the temporary inhibition imposed on him under Canon IV.1.2. He was forbidden to have any contact with members of the staff, vestry, or congregation of his parish or to discuss the allegations against him with anyone other than his attorneys, advisors, and family. He followed the procedures to request a modification of the inhibition, which was denied. Yet he blatantly violated the inhibition, evidently personally engineering his parish vestry's "departure" from The Episcopal Church and even appearing at a vestry meeting attended by an attorney from the diocese and discussing the charges against himself.

    These actions are the basis for Count 4 of the presentment: Violation of ordination vows and Conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy. There appears to be no dispute that the facts support this charge.

    Such conduct directly undermines the integrity of the process of ecclesiastical discipline. It is little better than an indicted gang-leader arranging for the intimidation or murder of witnesses. It should not be countenanced by anyone in any supervisory capacity in any church -- specifically Bishop Minns.

    The willingness of Fr. Armstrong to engage in obstruction of justice demonstrates that the internal disciplinary system of The Episcopal Church is insufficient to deal with the problem, because the most it could do would be to depose Fr. Armstrong -- a consequence evidently irrelevant to him. Bp. Minns, however, as Fr. Mark notes, will eventually have to deal with this issue in his own ecclesiastical sphere, not only as a matter of moral authority but as a matter of CANA's own ecclesiastical polity.

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