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Colorado: presentment issued

Since the previous report here on CANA in Colorado there has been extensive local newspaper coverage of developments at Grace Church and St. Stephen’s Parish. You can find links to most of those stories via epiScope.

One recent story is Grace asks court to protect property from state diocese by Paul Assay in the Colorado Springs Gazette. This links to a PDF file (650K) of the presentment issued against The Reverend Donald Armstrong by the Diocese of Colorado.

Yesterday, the same reporter wrote Date set for Grace parishioners to vote on vestry’s severed ties. This includes:

MORE DETAILS ABOUT ARMSTRONG’S CHARGES PRESENTED BY DIOCESE

The Episcopal Diocese of Colorado released a copy of its charges against the Rev. Donald Armstrong on Friday, providing far greater detail of the Colorado Springs priest’s alleged misuse of funds.

Armstrong, longtime rector for Grace Church and St. Stephen’s Parish, was suspended in December while the diocese investigated whether he misapplied church money. The document released Friday — a presentment to the diocese’s ecclesiastical court — is a summary of what the investigation found. The presentment alleges:

– Armstrong used a scholarship fund, whose committee hasn’t met since 1992, to fund his own children’s education, provide an $8,800 grant for a former associate and for other unknown uses. Alleged theft: $115,387.

– The “outreach expenses” on the books that Grace Church made to the Anglican Communion Institute, Grace’s conservative think tank, never reached the institute. Instead, those payments were made to accounts called “Donald Armstrong — College Fund” or “College Fund.” Alleged theft: $146,316.

– The church paid for cell phones, personal computers and car expenses for his wife and children. Alleged theft: $130,707.

– Armstrong caused the church to underreport hundreds of thousands of dollars in income and benefits, including $261,703 for his children’s college-related expenses, $110,920 in personal expenses and $81,589 in unpaid, no-interest “loans” the church gave Armstrong. Alleged unreported income: $548,097.

– Armstrong received 14 loans from the church over 10 to 12 years, even though state law says corporations (Grace Church) can’t loan money to directors or officers. Total value of the alleged loans: $122,479.

The presentment, issued by the Diocesan Review Committee, also alleges that Armstrong misused the church’s discretionary fund account, broke the terms of his suspension, and encumbered the church with $4.5 million in debt without diocesan permission.

Jim Naughton has drawn attention to the part of the presentment (page 5) which says:

…the Anglican Communion Institute (“ACI”) is a ministry of Grace Church. While ACI is not a legal entity, it has its own checking account. The operating accounts of Grace Church and ACI were used interchangeably to pay for the operating expenses of the other….

Christopher Seitz has made this comment about the above:

This is confusing to us at ACI. ACI was formed at the January 2004 conference in Charleston, with the dissolving of SEAD, so as to assist several Primates and the work of the AC. Prior to this, there was an ‘Anglican Institute’ at Grace Church. Many of the dates in the Presentment pre-date ACI but could pertain to AI. It is unclear where the confusion is being introduced. Then again, in one newspaper account, it is made to appear that ACI was a victim of this ‘bad book-keeping.’ So until there is more public airing, things remain unclear. The way this has unfolded, the potential for confusion and hurt is maximised in a way that is tragic. C Seitz, President, ACI

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Lapinbizarre
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Lapinbizarre

It’s risky to pre-judge, but it’s possible that we’re looking at a “Gottcha!” moment here.

Leonardo Ricardo
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Leonardo Ricardo

The Reverend Armstrong preached deflecting/grandstanding herobuilding/poor me nonsense on Easter…speaking of the “Elephant” in the nave!

ruidh
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ruidh

These are very serious charges. The sheer specificity of them is going to put a great deal of pressure on Armstrong to come up with a defense. Tap dancing isn’t going to distract from these charges.

Weiwen Ng
Guest

I would like to repost a comment I found while surfing Standfirm: I believe these charges to be very serious and very well informed. Sheri Betzer is a Certified Fraud Examiner who has a good deal of experience in this area as well as having been an IRS Revenue Agent. She also trains lawyers in how to use the information obtained in a forensic review. She would not allow her name to be used in a professional capacity unless she was sure of the information she was presenting. See her bio at http://bccllp-cpa.com/deux.jsp?content=502&decider=betzerc Father Armstrong can turn his tax returns… Read more »

Davis d'Ambly
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Davis d'Ambly

These presentments are so often a laundry list of complaints sometimes including ridiculous charges – one has to wait and see if there’s anything to them before judging.

Cynthia
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Cynthia

I look at the huge debt incurred without permission and think back about 7 or 8 years ago when our church went with fear and trembling before the Standing Committee of the Diocese to ask permission to borrrow about a million for an overdue major renovation of our church. We have paid off most of it, and will try and retire the remaining debt with a matching campaign this year. I agree that the level of specifity makes it hard to pooh pooh them. I gather the vestries that were involved also may have some ‘splainin’ to do.

lapinbizarre
Guest
lapinbizarre

The question of $146,000 in “outreach expenses” to the Anglican Communion Institute is an interesting one, since, according to its web page, the Institute’s directors include Christopher Seitz and Ephraim Radner. Please note that I am emphatically NOT implying guilt by association in noting the connection, but I will be curious to see what public response, if any, the gentleman have to the charge.

C.B.
Guest
C.B.

ruldh – You can see how Armstrong has tried to spin the accusations already. In a March 29 Rocky Mountain News article Armstrong described the allegations against him as including the fact that “He didn’t pay taxes on the home provided by the diocese” and “He didn’t report funeral and wedding stipends as income.” Both he claimed were “Not true.” Turns out neither allegation was in the presentment. There is also Fr. Armstrong’s letter of March 30 or 31st. In it he stated: “For example, what is known as the Betzer Report [the forensic audit] suggests that I did not… Read more »

C.B.
Guest
C.B.

Simon- There appears to be some contradiction as to whether the ACI named in the presentment is really ACI as such, but rather the Anglican Institute a different entity. On T19 this morning, Chris Seitz, pres. of ACI made the following comment regarding the reference to ACI in the presentment. “This is confusing to us at ACI. ACI was formed at the January 2004 conference in Charleston, with the dissolving of SEAD, so as to assist several Primates and the work of the AC. Prior to this, there was an ‘Anglican Institute’ at Grace Church. Many of the dates in… Read more »

NP
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NP

– innocent until proven guilty……..but if proven guilty, not fit to be in office (if you accept the standards of scripture with regard to leaders, that is)

counterlight
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counterlight

Serious charges indeed. However, since corruption tends to be an equal opportunity employer, and the temptation to help one’s self to the cookie jar cuts across lines of doctinal and ideological differencce, this may not make much of an effect on the current troubles in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion.
On the other hand, a penchant for financial secrecy and closed accounts always runs a risk of chicanery.

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

CB
Thanks for bringing this to my attention, I have added it to the main article.

Doug Simonsen
Guest
Doug Simonsen

Lapinbizarre is careful not to ascribe guilt by association to the other members of ACI, and I think that’s an important point. There is NO indication in the presentment that any member of ACI, other than Fr. Armstrong, was aware that Grace Church maintained an ACI checking account and used it in the ways alleged. If there was wider ACI involvement, that will certainly come out in due course. Fr. Armstrong obviously deserves the opportunity to answer these charges before we assume his guilt. That said, it also must be clear now to everyone that the charges are both very… Read more »

EPfizH
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EPfizH

On the AI (ACI) issue… For those of you who have read the presentment and the references to the discretionary fund, you will note the $1,222.58 paid to attending an “AI” conference 5/14/99. For about 5 years, the AI (Anglican Institute) did sponsor such an annual conference. Interestingly, Rev. Frederick Barbee, who received a “grant” from the disputed “Bowton” Scholarship Trust in Jan 1997, was the Editor of the Anglican Digest between 1995-2001. The Digest was apparently part of the Anglican Institute. How the AI and the ACI relate is unclear to me. The Digest has its own website. Maybe… Read more »

ruidh
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ruidh

“innocent until proven guilty……..but if proven guilty, not fit to be in office”

Well, I think it’s still a question whether there will ever be a trial. Armstrong believes that he has “realigned” and is now a member of CANA. In his statement on Titusonenine, he says it will be settled “in the courts”. http://titusonenine.classicalanglican.net/?p=18753#comment-2033358

C.B.
Guest
C.B.

Note that Seitz says that SEAD ceased to exist in 2004. He does not say AI ceased to exist. According to an article in the AC News Service at the time, the conference in South Carolina that Seitz refers to “was sponsored by the Anglican Communion Institute, recently formed from the merger of the Colorado-based Anglican Institute and SEAD (Scholarly Engagement with Anglican Doctrine), headquartered in Charleston. Perhaps, the church auditors do not find enough evidence to suggest that AI ceased to exist, but rather that as of 2004 it merely expanded under the name ACI. I presume this will… Read more »

Leonardo Ricardo
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Leonardo Ricardo

…no matter, it appears the Nigerian buzzards are still circling at Grace Church and St. Stephen’s Parish at The Body of Christ!

ruidh
Guest
ruidh

I have one more thing to add. Armstrong also violated the canons by ignoring his suspension and returning to the pulpit. That charge, at least, seems indefensible.

C.B.
Guest
C.B.

Simon – There is now a rather lengthy exchange on T19 between myself and C. Seitz, with Martin Reynolds help, which culminates with this statement from Seitz: I have tried to say this several times. ACI is effectively the work of six or so unpaid, overworked, overtravelled colleagues. ACI is the writing and thinking from university and parish academics that goes up on a web-site [paid for by Grace Church] or in publications of various kinds. There are no salaries. Conferences in the past years (since 2004) were handled as at SEAD (fees), or as guests of a host (Diocese… Read more »

Thomas+
Guest

One defense that has been floated is that “church accounting is sloppy in general” or that not many churches know how to prepare a W2/1099. I find such argument utterly disingenuous. First, having been a priest that has served over 30 years mostly in small mission congregations, I can vouch that using volunteer accountants and other well-intentioned folk is always a challenge. However, I managed to attend seminars by Canon Geisler on tax issues for clergy. I have read the materials prepared by the CPF, and I have bought with my own scarce bucks the handbooks produced by other churches.… Read more »

Robert
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Robert

According to the Diocese of South Carolina, “Sead and the Anglican Institute merged to form the Anglican Communion Institute” which was working on “behalf of Archbishops Drexel Gomez, Peter Akinola and Greg Venebles” by October of 2003. The South Carolina Diocese website reference for that claim is here: http://www.dioceseofsc.org/news/future_of_church.htm
The South Carolina Diocese background explanation regarding the formation of the ACI contradicts the Seitz claim on Titus One Nine. It gets curiouser and curiouser.

C.B.
Guest
C.B.

Rev. Armstrong on the T19 thread stated in defense of his actions: “Firstly, to be clear, the diocesan investigators understand very little about the church as a financial entity. I hardly think they understand anything about trusts, clergy taxes and housing allowances, let alone the workings of parish ministries either–so anything you get from the presentment charges is difficult for even us at Grace Church to understand.” Apparently, Armstrong thinks that the expert forensic auditor and the elite outside law firm engaged by the diocese are a couple of know-nothings when it comes to trusts and clergy taxes. I guess… Read more »

Laurence Roberts
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Laurence Roberts

If ‘ACI’ is just a website and a handful of people, should it really be calling itself ‘Anglican Communion Institute’ at all? Does not this title itself tend towards misleading, if not down right deception? Blazoning its fancy coat of arms and the name of the previous Archbishop of Canterbury one is meant to to take it for something prestigious, big, impressive — and perhaps (almost) offical. Not to mention the references to other big cheeses of the anglican firmament (Gomez, Akinola etc)….. So we have just another website hyped-up to mislead. All ready to replace the real AC website,… Read more »

Awdry Ely
Guest

This is so often the problem with websites – they hype up and appear to be a large institution behind them.

In this case it does seem that accounting and financial statements should reveal the truth – the charges appear grave. It will also become clear whether the books were written for clarity or to be obscure.

Lapinbizarre
Guest
Lapinbizarre

The point that Lawrence Roberts makes in his first paragraph (“If ‘ACI’ is just a website and a handful of people, should it really be calling itself ‘Anglican Communion Institute’ at all?”) is a good one. The ACI page listing its board of directors (http://www.anglicancommunioninstitute.org/collegium.htm) is crammed with recognizable names, but it seems clear that the names – Carey et al – are mainly, if not completely, window dressing. Toto has pulled aside the curtain to reveal Oz, the Great and Terrible, and he bears a more-than-passing resemblance to Don Armstrong. C.B. was an exceedingly busy person yesterday. Thanks C.B.… Read more »

C.B.
Guest
C.B.

Based upon Seitz’s and Armstrong’s comments on T19 and those on Stand Firm by people more familiar with ACI, my impression is that Seitz, while president, really was not handling any of the financial matters or administrative workings. All that was being done out of Grace Church, by Armstrong and his wife. Seitz was not even aware of some of the representations on the website concerning ACI’s vast membership. These are talented think tank men, with strong convictions, but seeming little worldly know how. My guess is that Armstrong was orchestrating its public face. Grace Church funded the website. It… Read more »

Columba Gilliss
Guest
Columba Gilliss

Quite apart from any action in ecclesiastical court, have fraud or other charges been filed in civil court?
Meanwhile, did anyone at the diocese review the parochial reports and audits all congregations are required to file annually?
Columba Gilliss

John N Wall
Guest
John N Wall

Sounds to me like truly serious charges of financial impropriety have been filed. One does not make such charges lightly, without grounds. One sign of the gravity of these charges is the almost comically desperate efforts now underway by Seitz on T19 to distance himself and the so-called “ACI” from Armstrong and Grace Church. Given the substantial sums involved, I would think that secular authorities would want to investigate as well, for the possible filing of criminal charges. As the congregation of Grace Church considers its future, I strongly suggest they consider the moral character of the leadership that is… Read more »

C.B.
Guest
C.B.

What to make of the following statement by Don Armstrong on T19: “The ACI/AI has granted scholarships for a number of theological and educational ventures over the years, but those funds are separate from the working money given for ACI. In other words I raised money specifically for the purpose of supporting these other various educational ventures–which included clergy and lay continuing education, seminary education expenses for third world students, writing projects and the like.” Apparently, from Seitz’s comments, he was not aware of such activities in the name of ACI. One can only wonder what “third world” Anglican province(s)… Read more »

ruidh
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ruidh

“One defense that has been floated is that “church accounting is sloppy in general” or that not many churches know how to prepare a W2/1099.”

There’s bad accounting and then there’s accounting to disguise fraud. I might expect some bad accounting from a small parish, but not one the size of Grace, Colorado Springs. A parish with that kind of budget should have no accounting issues. I don’t expect fraud from neither small nor large parishes.

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

I am sorry I see that I was quite misinformed about this, as item 74 of the t19 correspondence makes abundantly clear:- ‘Judging by the terrible way that Ephraim Radner was received at the HOB — verified by the reports of various fulminating bishops — and judging by the angry comments about the ACI from various progressive activists and blogs, it will be interesting to see what progressives are not the “enemies” of the ACI. Prior to some progressives’ startled recognition that the ACI appears to have influence, they could afford to ignore the organization or, at best, condescend to… Read more »

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

‘One thing that I find interesting is that the Episcopal Church actually punishes success, perhaps because success points out mediocrity. I have always wondered why people do not ask successful rectors how they do it, as opposed to suspecting they have done something wrong–but then the Episcopal Church is dying, isn’t it?’ (Don Armstrong) Speaking as a (complete) failure myself, “how do you do it Don Armstrong ?” Having posted my question on t19 I await an answer with interest. Though I fear I shall never be able to master his methods.(However, I DO have considerable experience of Snakes &… Read more »

daibhead
Guest
daibhead

The CLC, a group of conservative clergy in Colorado has issued a statement supporting going forward with a church trial. It is interesting to note that Fr Armstrong is one of the founders of the CLC and Fr Radner signed the statement.
http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/local/article/0,1299,DRMN_15_5462448,00.hef=“http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/local/article/0,1299,DRMN_15_5462448,00.html

C.B.
Guest
C.B.

Laurence Roberts – That commenter on T19 was Sarah Hey, a regular contributor to Stand Firm. She quickly jumped in in order to reframe the issue so that reasserters don’t become distracted by the details and get disillusioned. She is relentless (in a good way) and quite talented.

Raspberry Rabbit
Guest

The issue of the ‘flow of money’ in and out of, for example, Dromantine and Dar Es Salaam has been perennially mysterious. There has been much secrecy and the question is frequently asked about the degree of disclosure required since the foundations and trusts that have been doing the disbursing are, in fact, charities and one ought to be able to ‘follow the money’. Notwithstanding the heartache of all of this for the principals (and I fear that the very loyal vestry of Grace Church may find themselves in some rather warm water and not just their rector) it will… Read more »

Dennis
Guest

interesting that the StandFirm types are now all in a fuss because an anonymous priest from some southern diocese has reported that his bishop states that the HOB is considering RICO lawsuits against the breakaway types. With what looks like an organized conspiracy to break up the Episcopal Church finally being seen by the bishops it could be that David Booth Beers has decided that RICO could shut these folks down the way it was used to pull down the radical antiabortion campaigners in the mid-90s. Now, if all that is behind the breakaway types who are trying to pull… Read more »

Doug Simonsen
Guest
Doug Simonsen

Don Armstrong’s April 10 letter to members of Grace Church and St. Stephens is here: http://www.graceandststephens.org/news/articles/Fr%20Armstrong%20letter%20to%20parish%2004_10_07.pdf

R
Guest
R

Did anyone else notice the consistently incorrect usage of “Rev.” without a definite article in the presentment? In official church writing produced by the Diocese of Colorado, this is sloppy.

Margaret
Guest
Margaret

Re the allegation repeatedly made above that the church does not have good accounting systems, I wonder how that stacks up with the following information. “It is important for you all to know that even the bishop’s own audit found no money missing, and a preliminary review by the vestry’s audit committee found that all checks were signed by the wardens and recorded in our accounting system according to practices and procedures in place at the time. In addition to having been subjected to our annual outside audit, our annual financial reports to the congregation have also reflected accurately our… Read more »

NP
Guest
NP

Seems like some here have already got all the facts and feel able to come to judgment on the vicar in question. Even if the man is guilty of fraud and is dismissed from CANA etc, please do not be too pleased about one man’s sin and the damage it may cause to his reputation because it will not derail the determination of those many faithful Anglicans working for the continuation of a church in the US fully in communion and agreement with the AC, upholding its creeds and resolutions. One man may be a sinner – this will not… Read more »

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

‘Sin is behovely’. ‘Love was his meaning.’ ‘I saw that the wrath was not in God, but in ourselves’. (Loving widsom of the heart — from Mother Julian of Norwich.) ‘O Felix Culpa !’ ‘O Happy Sin !’ (Holy Saturday liturgy) Sin and unskill ‘occur’ in the historical dimension (isn’t that what ‘Good Friday’ ‘says’ ?). In the Ultimate dimension, there can ‘be’ no Sin (isn’t this what ‘Easter’ ‘says’…. ) As far as I know, the phrase ‘Good Friday’ is a special gift of the English and the English language. Welsh for instance has ‘Friday of the Crucifixion’ –… Read more »

Frank
Guest
Frank

In reply to Margaret above re. lax accounting methods, no annual independent audits were performed for the years 2004, 2005 and 2006. Below from ‘Grace Tidings’, the church newsletter and signed by the senior warden. “An independent audit is performed by a local auditing firm each year and reported to the Diocese. This year, the audit will cover the years 2006, 2005, and 2004 to catch us up on years where it was difficult or impossible to do the audits.” He does not state why it was ‘difficult or impossible to do the audits.’ If the books are in good… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

‘And yet they call that Friday good’

(is this Auden ?)

T.S. Eliot

I don’t have my Collected Poems handy – I think from the Four Quartets.

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“this will not in any way discredit the biblical case of the Network and the Primates for genuine repentance from TEC should it wish to remain part of the AC after Sept 30.” NP, Innocent until proven guilty. Yet, if proven guilty, a big if, why would this not cast doubt in your mind as to the propriety of his actions WRT TEC? I ask because my thinking of “the gay issue” is guided by the actions of the various players. I do indeed see a kind of arrogance in the left, but nothing to compare with the actions of… Read more »

Martin Reynolds
Guest

C.B.
“writing projects and the like”
interested me more!

What authors or similar such people have received “scholarships” from Grace?

Perhaps we will find out ……

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

Thanks Cynthia. Must be getting old(er) !

Evocative phrase.

my thanks

NP
Guest
NP

Hi Ford If the man is guilty, it would not change my view because I had not heard of this chap until this week! Most importantly, my views are not really based on following any vicar or bishop’s views but are based on what scripture says and what its intended meaning was, applied to our situations today. We are to weigh what anybody says to see if it is true or not in the light of scripture, as you know. You see bad behaviour on both sides. So do I! This is not a surprise given people are involved! But… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

But NP, not everybody shares your Bibliolatry. As to what Paul would say WRT VGR, you don’t really know either. You ARE basing your opinion on what certain vicars and bishops tell you, in opposition to what other vicars and bishops tell you. Your criterion for the truth of their statements is “it’s in the Bible.” But you know that Christianity is not based on the Bible, but on Christ, that ours is a Tradition, and the Bible explains, but does not define that Tradition. Tell me, NP, do you need to have a clear Law to follow because obedience… Read more »

Martin Reynolds
Guest

The claim that the Anglican Communion Institute is “six guys and a website” seems to have become “five guys and a blog”.

The statement on Don Armstrong leaving TEC and Ephraim Radner’s recent fierce attack on the American House of Bishops have been posted on Titus 1.9 but have not appeared on the (former?) website operated by Grace Church.

choirboyfromhell
Guest
choirboyfromhell

“Bibliolatry”-you’ve got me in stitches, Ford Elms!