The Diocese of Colorado's ecclesiastical court has determined that The Rev. Donald Armstrong guilty on a variety of counts. ENS reports, "The preliminary judgment was made public August 8 by the five members of the Ecclesiastical Court who unanimously found Armstrong guilty of diverting $392,409 from the parish's operating fund and committing tax fraud by not reporting $548,000 in non-salary income and benefits to state and federal tax authorities.
On other counts of misconduct, Armstrong has been found guilty of receiving illegal loans totaling $122,479.16 in violation of Diocesan Canons; unauthorized encumbrance and alienation of Grace Church's real property; violation of the temporary inhibition placed on Armstrong; the improper use of clergy discretionary funds; and failure to maintain proper books of account."
The variety of counts on which judgment was made include several – committing tax fraud, receiving illegal loans, encumbrance and alienation of Grace Church's real property, diversion of funds – that have implications in secular civil or criminal judicial systems. I suppose tax fraud itself is not an ecclesial offense. Tax fraud is arguably conduct unbecoming a clergy person, and that is an ecclesial offense. But it is a criminal offense.
I have suggested in an earlier posting that Christians suing Christians is in itself not remarkable or necessarily immoral behavior. It could be argued that judgment in an ecclesiastical court is preferable. What happens when matters criminal come up in ecclesiastical court? The question here is, is there any obligation on the part of lawyers or the ecclesiastical court itself to report its investigative findings or judgments to state or federal authorities? At the same time, I wonder if any evidence in ecclesiastical court would or could have standing in criminal investigations.
We know that evidence that suggests a child is not safe with a particular adult – battering, mistreatment, sexual advance, etc – must be reported to civil authorities. So if in the conduct of an ecclesiastical trial such matters came to light, the court would be bound, I would think, to deliver the evidence to those authorities. Must the ecclesiastical court in this case also reveal its evidence of criminal action to the state, or is it enough that it is in the record and the state is free to follow up if it wishes?
While I find it odd to be referring to the Thirty-Nine Articles for a bit of Anglican information on the relation between state and ecclesiastical courts, the reading of article XXXVII in its original form is perhaps edifying:
"The King's Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other his Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all Estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign Jurisdiction. Where we attribute to the King's Majesty the chief government, by which Titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended; we give not our Princes the ministering either of God's Word, or of the Sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen do most plainly testify; but that only prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evil-doers.
The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England.
The Laws of the Realm may punish Christian men with death, for heinous and grievous offences.
It is lawful for Christian men, at the commandment of the Magistrate, to wear weapons, and serve in the wars."
This should provide an interesting point regarding the overlap between the workings of ecclesiastical and civil proceedings.
The Rev. Donald Armstrong has not participated in this trial and I gather makes the claim that he is no longer a member of The Episcopal Church or the Diocese of Colorado and therefore the court has no jurisdiction over him. The Diocese of Colorado to the contrary holds that he has not been released from oversight by the Bishop of Colorado and that the Bishop has inhibited him. So the verdict will be ignored by Fr. Armstrong but will be grounds for possible deposition. Perhaps Fr. Armstrong believes he is beyond the reach of the laws of this Church. Perhaps he is.
It will be harder for him to escape the reach of the civil authorities.
Fr. Armstrong has claimed he has been hounded and harassed. The ecclesiastical court proceedings suggest otherwise. What now?