9/18/2010

Don Armstrong has left the building....

The long saga of former priest Don Armstrong and the issue of whether or not he lifted $400,000 seems to be closed now.  The remaining members of Grace and St. Stephens in Colorado Springs claimed he took the money. The Diocese of Colorado claimed he did. The State of Colorado did. He didn't, until yesterday.

Yesterday he called it quits. Read about it HERE.

Over the years Armstrong has been a constant in the "troubles." Now, thankfully it is mostly over. There is still the matter of the $400,000. But ultimately there is really only relief that now the church can get on with its work of living into the Gospel, unfettered by the jarring dissonance of fiction passing as truth.

Mr. Armstrong has left the building.


40 comments:

  1. On whether Fr. Armstrong has indeed left the building... Pt1.

    Although it is with regret that I am quoting from the website of David Virtue, unfortunately the comments made by Fr. Armstrong and St. George's may not be available elsewhere... Mr. Virtue quotes from both Mr. Armstrong and St. Georges as follows:

    "'The plea to which I [Armstrong] agreed is an Alford plea which is for the purpose of accepting an offer of a plea agreement without admission of guilt, which was in this case essentially to drop twenty felony counts in exchange for a single misdemeanor." Armstrong told VOL in an e-mail from his home.'

    'This misdemeanor, which includes a restitution phase in which I am confident we will also be able to find an appropriate way forward, brings an end to my own criminal prosecution and spares both Colorado Springs congregations, St. George's Anglican and Grace Episcopal, and the Episcopal Diocese from a lengthy trial that would serve only to diminish all of our witness.'

    'Certainly we believe this sudden conclusion was Divine intervention. The Lord has blessed our congregation in so many ways, purging resentment and contempt for our persecutors from our hearts, instilling us with a renewed spirit of mission and outreach, and giving us a growing and deepening love for our Lord and one another. We have experienced a wonderful flourishing of faith under Bishops Minns and Bena in the midst of this intense and expensive persecution.'

    A parish response to Fr. Armstrong's plea agreement said this: 'Today our Rector, The Rev. Donald Armstrong, accepted a plea agreement offered by the Pueblo District Attorney which precludes the pending trial and begins to bring to conclusion this long and torturous ordeal for our congregation and the larger Christian Community.'

    'Specifically, Father Armstrong made an Alford plea, which is a special plea used when there is no admission of guilt or basis of fact for the charge, but the charge, in this case a misdemeanor, is accepted to take advantage of an offer, in this case to reduce the original 20 Felony counts to a single misdemeanor.'
    (end pt 1) EmilyH

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  2. (Armstrong Pt. 2)
    'We are grateful to Don and Jessie for their courage, strength, and witness during this time of personal persecution. Over these last years' God has blessed us greatly as individuals and as a congregation.'

    'In preparation for the now canceled trial we have become convinced even more strongly that controversies within the larger denominational church were the catalyst for the Diocese's investigation and complaint, for the purpose of silencing our bold and successful defense of orthodoxy through our parish's life, discipline, and teaching ministry.'

    'We believe that the courts are not the place to deal with theological differences, and that to have allowed this dispute to continue to be played out in the news by going to trial would have served only to diminish all Christian witness. With this plea offer now in place such further harm to the entire church in this already difficult age for Christianity will be prevented.'

    'We further believe the disparity between the magnitude of charges made against Father Armstrong by the Episcopal Diocese and the final content of the plea agreement vindicates not only Father Armstrong, but also clearly affirms our confidence that we ran an effective and well managed church in our days at the helm of Grace & St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, and continue to do so at St. George's Anglican Church.'

    'With only a restitution hearing to be held in the distant future, this essentially concludes this long and expensive attempt to silence orthodox resistance to theological innovations in the Episcopal Church. We are thankful we can now move forward under our Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, into a future productive for the Kingdom of God.'

    The Rev. Robert J. O'Neill said it brings healing to all those harmed by Armstrong's actions. 'It brings closure to a sad chapter in the life of the diocese.'"

    How Mr. Armstrong, David Virtue and St. George's could spin this outcome as positive is beyond my understanding. An Alford plea does not admit guilt and asserts innocence, but admits that sufficient evidence exists with which the prosecution could likely convince a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty. It is precisely because there is such sufficient evidence, that the plea is taken. This is in rough contrast to the comment an "Alford plea ....is a special plea used when there is no admission of guilt or basis of fact for the charge" made above.

    Although the saga of Mr. Armstrong may be over in the US courts with this plea bargain, how Bishop Minns, CANA and ACNA respond to his conviction will be telling. Will they buy into the spin presented above or will they choose a more difficult but more honest path. EmilyH

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  3. And thus begins the schismatic spin where they lie to themselves and the rest of us about their lying, thieving rector.

    Thanks Emily, I knew that it would begin somewhere, but I did not find it yet at Niagraville.

    This is the definition of an Alford plea;
    Also referred to as an Alford guilty plea and Alford doctrine, in the law of the United States it is a guilty plea in criminal court where the defendant does not admit the act and asserts innocence. Under the Alford plea the defendant admits that sufficient evidence exists with which the prosecution could likely convince a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Hey everybody, I am innocent, but the prosecutor has more than enough to probably convict me. But I am going to take this plea that lets me avoid trial and a likely long prison sentence, but I am really doing this for all of the rest of you. And yes, I will be required to make restitution of the funds that I stole, but I am hoping to drag this out long enough to avoid that as well.

    Keep following Jesus ya'll.

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  4. "'We believe that the courts are not the place to deal with theological differences,. . ." Well, hey, how about the criminal action of thieving? Cause that's what happened and the courts are the perfect place for dealing with that!! Theology had nothing to do with it, My Dear.

    Thanks, Mark and thanks, EmilyH.

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  5. Yes, there are some issues of fact that remain unclear -- both from the diocese and from Armstrong, as things do not add up. Why does a prosecutor with 20 felony counts accept an Alford plea at all, and reduce the charges to a single misdemeanor? Why would he offer such a thing? Armstrong cannot simply request such a thing -- it must be offered to him. If so, why?
    Curious

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  6. For Anonymous at #5. There appears to be some discrepancy between Armstrong's claim that the Alford plea was a plea to a misdemeanor and the following from the Denver Post:
    "Pueblo Special prosecutor Stephen Jones announced today that former Episcopalian priest Donald Armstrong, ex-pastor of Grace Church in Colorado Springs, has entered a "no-contest" plea to felony theft in exchange for a deferred judgement and sentence."

    http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_16105628#ixzz100NFgXSJ

    If the plea was a single count of felony theft, that might account for a plea bargain given that Armstrong may have committed the same theft over and over again...one error repeatedly made. If, by contrast, he was, as Armstrong suggests, allowed to plead to a misdemeanor, I agree an eyebrow might be raised. EmilyH
    EmilyH

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  7. I thought the implication was that an Alford plea was offered, for felony counts (1 or 20X1), and this lead to a misdemeanor charge in consequence. If so, my question remains the same -- if the counts against Armstrong were as heinous as is being maintained, then why was he offered such a reduction in return for an Alford plea? Why did the DA not go ahead and prosecute unless he was concerned about winning? Curious

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  8. How will they get their money back? When the Archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, paid off his boyfriend 450,000, he said he'd pay if off through selling his books. But he didn't have enough books to sell, so he had to beg from his friends.
    How with this guy get the money to pay back?
    How did the woman who used to be the ECUSA's national treasurer manage to pay back over 2.2 million dollars she embezzled? Whatever happened to her? And her clergyman husband?

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  9. This Alford plea sounds like a way for a lizard to give up its tail so that the rest of it doesn't get eaten. It knows its pursuer has a good grip on something, but is going to go to Plan B and salvage something out of a situation it put itself into.

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  10. LOTS of clergy who've been accused of things like pedophilia and embezzlement get out of going to prison by this.

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  11. Virtueless Dave has published this personal comment from Armstrong himself;

    "Plea agreements are always slightly messy and always a matter of give and take. Bottom line here is that they started with 20 Felony counts and we walked out of the court room with a misdemeanor, not to mention avoiding a trial in which no wins from the slug fest, and in which you risk the jury spitting the baby no matter how rock solid your case is, just because they like the prosecutor or something.

    So,on Friday a fictitious 21st felony count that had no basis in fact or history was created and added to address the original grand jury indictment and to assure proper jurisdiction. I plead no contest to that and it was differed. That was a procedural means to get to the real end, a misdemeanor. A fictitious misdemeanor was added, also without content-basis in fact or history, to which I entered an Alford plea...in other words, not an admission of any guilt but to accept the offer to reduce 20 felony counts to single misdemeanor.

    So, long story short: 20 felony counts reduced to a single misdemeanor. I still maintain my total innocence, but have avoided a lengthy trial in which everyone looses, and put an end to this religious embarrassment."

    From other reports he is in hopes of wearing them down on the restitution when in is raised at a point in the future.

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  12. Just a couple of matters to keep in mind when thinking about this news: First, there was a guilty plea to a felony, second, there appears to be an Alford plea to a misdemeanor. In both cases, the plea agreement must be accepted by the court.

    Having the victims concur in the agreement is an important fact, but is not determinative of whether the agreement will be accepted in full.

    A felony conviction is not a trifling matter. In consideration of the (I assume) lack of a prior criminal record, restitution and community service is the typical sentence. The more interesting matter will be the terms of restitution. The full amount must be repaid, but over what period and in what amounts?

    In all, this is a sad occurrence and a serious inhibition of witness. Within the limitations of human endeavor, civil justice has been served.

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  13. The conclusion I reach is that we are caught between a hasty press story from the liberal Denver Post, which wants to spin the matter one way; and a second account from Armstrong. We simply do not have the facts in clear focus, and this because both sides still want to declare that they won/justice was done. If the 21st felony count was merely a way for the others to be moved to the side, so the prosecutor could settle via a plea, then that is quite a down-grade of the original charges. So the diocese says that Armstrong accepted a felony no contest, and yet avoids mentioning the setting aside of twenty counts in order to get this. Armstrong on his side focuses on the probation and the potential for it to clear his name in entirety. My question remains as ever the same: why if the prosecution/diocese had such a strong case, did they allow this outcome? Generosity? Worry? What?\Curious

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  14. We have had the facts in clear focus since the diocese of Colorado presented its charges against Donald Armstrong, Curious.

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  15. 'We' being those in the closed room of advocacies, a small rabbit cage, untouched by the real world, where prosecutors live and fines are paid...just as I thought. C

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  16. From comments made by Armstrong+'s attorney, it appears that the statute of limitations has come into play. For this kind of criminal case, it's 3 years in Colorado. From my recollection, many of these allegations, particularly as regards to the embezzlement of the the trust funds for Armstrong's children's education fall earlier. "Dennis Hartley, Armstrong's attorney, said today the charges were reduced to one count of misdemeanor theft, which means no jail time for Armstrong. Hartley said a restitution hearing will be held probably in January.

    Hartley said 19 of the 20 counts were dismissed due to the state statute of limitations, which is three years in criminal cases. Hartley indicated it was unlikely Armstrong will have to pay anything near the $392,000 of theft alleged by the Pueblo District Attorney's office.

    "There was a real question of what could be proved against Don Armstrong (at trial)," Hartley said.

    Armstrong agreed to the plea bargain, Hartley said, because, with 20 counts, it was a toss up how a jury would react to each one. "If you get a bad jury or bad breaks at trial, you can get an adverse verdict," Hartley said."

    http://www.gazette.com/articles/armstrong-104949-indicted-don.html#ixzz106p0JJzT


    But even the above seems to make little sense. If 19 of the 20 were dismissed because of the statute of limitations, why not fight the only remaining one if the evidence, as the comment above seems to indicate, was weak rather than plead both to a 3rd degree felony no contest and to a misdemeanor, and Alford plea, (the presumption of which is that there is the evidence to convict) EmilyH

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  17. Pt 1: Here is the report from the Colorado Springs Gazette after interview with the District Attorney. (posted 24 minutes ago)

    "Attorneys for the Rev. Donald Armstrong and the Pueblo District Attorney’s office were pleased Monday with the plea agreement in the criminal case involving the former rector of Grace and St. Stephen’s Church in Colorado Springs.

    A Fourth Judicial District grand jury indicted Armstrong in May 2009 on 20 felony counts of embezzling $392,000 from Grace Church. Armstrong on Friday pled no contest to one felony count, according to El Paso County court files. Though Armstrong in his plea doesn’t admit guilt, the court views it in a legal sense as a guilty plea.

    As part of the agreement, Armstrong admitted guilt to a new charge, misdemeanor theft, said Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut. A sentencing hearing on this charge will happen before the end of the year.

    Armstrong’s sentence could include a fine of up to $5,000 and up to 18 months in the El Paso County Jail. Misdemeanor charges are brought for thefts between $500 and $1,000.

    On the felony count, Armstrong has been placed on four-year’s probation. If violated, he will be a convicted felon and could face four to 12 years in prison, Thiebaut said. A restitution hearing will be held, probably in January, to determine how much money Armstrong must pay back to Grace Church.

    Both sides claimed victory in the plea bargain.

    “It’s about as close to a dismissal as we could get,” said Armstrong’s attorney, Dennis Hartley.

    “This was a just solution,” Thiebaut said.

    Larry Hitt, chancellor of the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado, said in a statement: “We believe Armstrong’s entry of a ‘no contest’ plea to a class 3 felony theft charge and his effective guilty pleas to a class 1 misdemeanor theft charge constitute a tacit acknowledgement of the truth of the criminal charges against him.”

    Armstrong, 61, was accused of using church and trust money to fund his two children’s education while rector of Grace and St. Stephen’s between July 1999 and March 2006. The allegations led the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado to place Armstrong on leave in December 2006. He was defrocked the following year.

    In May 2007, the Colorado Springs police began its criminal investigation of Armstrong, resulting in a Fourth Judicial District grand jury returning a 20-count indictment of felony theft charges against him two years later.

    The criminal trial was supposed to begin in October, but several weeks ago the DA’s office initiated talks to reach a plea agreement.
    EmilyH

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  18. "None so blind ....", Curious.

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  19. A further note....from the Colorado Springs Gazette after interviewing the District Attorney posted at its website at about 3 o'clock Mountain time:

    "As part of the agreement, Armstrong admitted guilt to a new charge, misdemeanor theft, said Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut. A sentencing hearing on this charge will happen before the end of the year.
    Armstrong’s sentence could include a fine of up to $5,000 and up to 18 months in the El Paso County Jail. Misdemeanor charges are brought for thefts between $500 and $1,000.
    On the felony count, Armstrong has been placed on four-year’s probation. If violated, he will be a convicted felon and could face four to 12 years in prison, Thiebaut said. A restitution hearing will be held, probably in January, to determine how much money Armstrong must pay back to Grace Church." http://www.gazette.com/articles/armstrong-104949-indicted-don.html

    EmilyH

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  20. Scanned text of the plea agreement filed September 17 with the El Passo Co District and County Courts. Further observations, Curious?

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  21. Mr Lapin--let's see if I get this right. Don Armstrong is charged by the diocese of embezzling 400K and after spending 2M to prove that, he is charged with stealing 15K, and is on probation, and if successfully completed, his record is clean. Do I think the Diocese spent the money wisely? Do I think Don Armstrong is suffering? No. I think he is relieved and is thrilled to death. Already the Diocese is saying 'we were not involved in the prosecution.' What an immoral waste of money. The open question is why the DA threw in the towel. That I don't know. Maybe we'll find out. C

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  22. I should also add. I have no interest in defending Don Armstrong and from what I read, he misused funds. What I find offensive and immoral is the use of so much money by the diocese to hunt him down, rather than to settle this outside of court. And all for what? A minor disciplining of Don Armstrong. That's what 2M got them. How will the diocese recover the funds from this? They won't. It's lost. C

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  23. Curious, money spent to prosecute Mr. Armstrong was that of the state of Colorado and the relevant county. This was not an ecclesial trial, but a criminal. The parish and the diocese were the victims, not the plaintiffs.

    One can only hope that after this criminal result, the departing folks won't make it necessary to spend money to regain Episcopal Church facilities.

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  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  25. "I have no interest in defending Don Armstrong." H-ll you don't, Curious! By your own admission, you think he should have been allowed to walk from TEC, free of any criminal, civil or ecclesiastical sanctions for his actions and that the entire matter should have been "settle[d] out of court" - that settlement based, given your apparent belief that the Episcopal diocese should have engaged in NO litigation whatever in this matter, entirely on the charity of Mr Armstrong, a man who, you seem to have failed to notice, believes firmly in the principle that charity begins at home.

    As things stand, the diocese has recovered Grace Church - guess you missed the bit where Armstrong attempted to steal the church after it came to light that he had "misused" funds - or should the disposition of the church's physical property also have been dependent on Mr Armstrong's good-will? Not forgetting the parish's assets, including the much-misused Bowton Trust. The actions of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities have also left the architect of these doings a convicted felon. Or maybe you think that the world would be a better place had he remained in charge of the church and its assets; a priest in good standing, ministering to its flock.

    Out of curiosity, what breach of trust do you feel would be great enough to merit the expenditure of a diocese's funds to deal with a wayward cleric? Theft is clearly no problem to you.

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  26. Rabbit, keep your hair on. BTW, find one statement I made where I said Armstrong should go free. My ire is at Co Diocese. And Marshall, please do any basic check on how much money the Diocese spent. It is upwards of 2M as I said. They hired lawyers and they cost money and it dragged on because the case was not as straightforward as they expected. Rabbit--you asked what I thought and I told you. I think Armstrong all but won. That may frustrate your ability to rejoice, but that is my view. C

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  27. Wasn't the 2m for the civil action concerning the 17m property? Sounds like a good if unfortunate deal.

    Don't know what the ecclesiastical trial cost... anything?

    The criminal action is the State vs Armstrong, and the sentence may include restitution of the money stolen from the parish.

    Ire at the Diocese is misplaced.

    --Informed

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  28. Oh... and btw, how much did the losing side in the action to walk off with the parish plant spend, only to be defeated? And where did that money come from?

    -- Informed

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  29. I believe we know as cold fact what the Diocese of Colorado spent. They reported it. It was in the context of reporting a major shortfall. If it was not 2M, it was very close. I am happy to be corrected.
    Just think what could have happened if the Diocese agreed to negotiate this, determine which chapter/vestery members approved, worked out a settlement?
    My hunch--and I have no way to confirm this--is that the DA realized he'd have to bring charges against those who signed the check and approved of this, and the costs to make that stick would have been astronomical. I repeat, misuse of trust funds is misuse, and it happens probably more often than we know. What is immoral is spending 2M to get an outcome and a) not getting it, and b) not seeking another way forward. Churches in the diocese ought to be incandescent, as ultimately, it comes out of their pockets. C

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  30. Curious, the Diocese did get what they wanted, in the action against the Parish. Wasn't the property returned?

    The criminal action isn't from the Diocese.

    And why don't you lament all the $$$ Armstrong spent in defense of his now uncontested crime; a felony -- not as you thot and he said (lying) a misdemeanor?

    -Informed

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  31. 2M spent is 2M spent. If you want to amortize that by focussing on the property, that is for your conscience. If I were a parish in the Diocese, I would see the entire thing as costly and unecessary and improperly handled. A waste of money that could have been used on something else.
    Just stay with the entire notion for a minute. The Diocese of Colorado spent 2 Million dollars to keep a parish it already had.
    -- Informed.

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  32. Curious,
    Now you change it. You just can't be wrong, can you? We'll see if your predictions about Dan's consents are more accurate than your reading of the Denver Post verses Volume On Loan.
    And you don't even sign off with the same name. How curious.

    --The real Informed

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  33. Changed what? 2M is 2M. It is all of a piece. Is this in any serious doubt. The Diocese of Colorado spent 2M to wrest a parish away from Armstrong and failed to resolve the issue short of this. Then it handed over the charges to a civil court and what did they get? Nothing. A felony probation state of affairs. One could only hope that the judge sentences Armstrong to pay all the money back. That might be a way to claw back 15% of all they spent. -- 'Reallyyyy' Informed

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  34. Still waiting, Curious, for an answer to the question, what breach of trust do you feel would be great enough to merit the expenditure of a diocese's funds.

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  35. Rabbit--is the question (I don't remember it, but glad to help) -- what cause should warrant the investment of 2M, drawn from monies given by parishes in the diocese? If that is it, I think it would be hard to say: not settling via negotiation and spending 2 M to keep a parish, more than of half of whose parishioners left with their rector, would not be my answer. C

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  36. So what would be your answer, Oh Evasive One?

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  37. Curious,

    While contemplating a response that has an answer to Lapin’s question; please consider that negotiation requires at least two parties who are willing to settle the matter. When a party be unwilling to make a compromise, no settlement is possible. (Believe me; I learned this in hard tuition). The secular courts are the only alternative when a clergy is beyond the reach of the ecclesial courts. I don’t think the problem is that negotiation wasn’t tried, or that it failed. I’m not sure negotiation and settlement was possible.

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  38. "Pass", as someone-or-other once said?

    "seashori" - rather a nice verification word.

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  39. How very odd! You need to get something else to do, Rabbit. My answer is, 2m to retain a parish, see it divided, and get the result being reported (now that the dust has settled) today on CEN -- if I were a parish in CO I'd be incandescent. Just think how far that money would go in Haiti, where $25 a month keeps a student in school. Instead, a battle got superheated because Armstrong got under the Bishop's skin to the tune of spending 2m to get rid of him, retain a building an a part of the congregation, and end up with 19 felony counts dismissed. What more is there to say? I am on to other things, thankfully, and you should be too. C

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  40. So long as you're busily, if less than inventively, muddying the waters to re-frame the Armstrong case, I don't have better things to do, Curious.

    Still no answer. So let's go through this again - $2 million spent to the recoup $17 million in church property that Armstrong attempted to alienate. Foolish, unwarranted expenditure in your book?

    The parish "divided", as you put it, under Armstrong's direction, as the diocesan courts moved on charges of financial impropriety. There is strong appearance, based on the time frame involved, that Armstrong's move to CANA was motivated primarily by his need to evade the consequences of the charges the diocese was preparing against him, creating the possibility that hiding under CANA's wing would shield him from these. But for the Colorado justice system this might have worked.

    To recap - $2 million spent; $17 million recovered. Tell us again how this was money and effort wasted.

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