Removal of Priest Protested
Parishioners 'Upset' by Action of Episcopal Diocese, Attorney Says

By Jean Torkelson
Rocky Mountain News [Denver CO]
January 11, 2007,1299,DRMN_15_5270961,00.html

The attorney for Episcopal priest Don Armstrong plans to raise concerns with the diocese over harsh restrictions imposed on his client while it investigates an allegation of possible misapplication of funds.

"Persons in the parish are extremely upset about the action taken here," said Denver attorney Daniel Sears, adding that he will raise the concerns "at a time we deem appropriate."

He said that many parishioners of Armstrong's 2,400-member Colorado Springs church have contacted him to protest their rector's removal, which was announced during church services on New Year's Eve.

Armstrong, 57, is an outspoken conservative and critic of positions taken in recent years by the Episcopal Church, most notably giving homosexual unions parity with traditional marriage.

He has been forbidden by Bishop Rob O'Neill to appear as a priest or conduct worship services. In addition, he can't speak about the case or have contact with anyone at Grace and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, the parish he has led for 19 years and made a national center for the conservative Anglican movement.

The restrictions, called inhibitions, are based on canon law and remain in effect for three months while the investigation is ongoing.

"We think the terms of the inhibitions are unnecessary for the exploration of the issues," Sears said.

Armstrong's camp is conducting its own investigation into the allegation. Once that's completed, Armstrong could consider exercising his right under church law to have his case heard by a diocesan review board.

In blogs and on Web sites, conservative Episcopalians are seizing on the diocese's own wording as a sign the allegations are bogus.

"Misapplication of funds - what the hell does that mean?" asked David Virtue, creator of a popular orthodox Anglican Web page,

In his view, the allegation means that Armstrong likely directed his parish's discretionary funds to conservative causes, just as liberal pastors direct funds to liberal causes.

The Episcopal Diocese will not discuss the case beyond the statements already issued last week, said spokeswoman Beckett Stokes.

Retired Colorado Episcopal Bishop Jerry Winterrowd said he used inhibitions "innumerable times" during his decadelong tenure. He said removing a priest from active duty and forbidding parish contact is standard practice in such cases.

Winterrowd said he hopes Armstrong's case will be quickly resolved.

"The Episcopal Church has done a good job defining a process where justice is maintained and where the person is presumed innocent until proven guilty," Winterrowd said.

He praised O'Neill as a strong leader who has kept the diocese together in tumultuous times.

"I'm proud of him," Winterrowd said.

In an interview last month, Armstrong dismissed a rumor that he was targeted for investigation as mere sniping by detractors. Nationally, the Episcopal Church USA is being rent by a widening chasm between conservatives and liberals over the church's official acceptance of an openly gay bishop and same-sex unions.

Sears said that Armstrong authorized a review of the parish's financial records by the diocese last spring. But it was only during a Dec. 27 meeting with O'Neill and the diocese's chancellor, Larry Hitt, that Armstrong was told that he was the target of the inquiry based on one individual's accusation.

During worship services four days later, parishioners were told the news.

Armstrong's banishment comes at a critical time for the country's Episcopalians, who belong to one of 38 provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

In February, the Anglican primates - the head bishops from each province - will meet to discuss the future of the American church in light of its unorthodox stands.

In 2000, between 800 and 1,000 conservatives from nine Colorado parishes left the Episcopal Church to join the Anglican Mission in America, a national movement of traditionalists. or 303-954-5055


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