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COLORADO SPRINGS: Diocese turns up heat in lawsuit over schism

COLORADO SPRINGS: Diocese turns up heat in lawsuit over schism

By Jean Torkelson
Rocky Mountain News
http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/local/article/0,1299,DRMN_15_5745216,00.html
November 12, 2007

The Episcopal Diocese of Colorado moved Friday to sue individual parishioners who support the breakaway congregation at Grace Church and St. Stephen's Parish in Colorado Springs, according to documents filed in El Paso District Court.

The petition asks the court to add 18 people to the diocese's existing countersuit, which is seeking monetary damages as well as repossession of the church.

The targeted members include everyone on the parish's governing board as well as the church's main spokesman, Alan Crippen, and its rector of 20 years, the Rev. Don Armstrong.

The diocese's action is part of a lawsuit already under way to determine the rightful owner of the historic, multimillion-dollar church property located in the central part of the city.

The property is currently under the authority of Armstrong and about 500 followers who supported him when he broke away from the Episcopal Diocese in March to join a conservative Anglican movement.

Until now, the legal dispute hasn't named any individuals. However, according to a diocesan news release, because "Colorado law requires that all essential persons be included in a suit," the diocese "is requesting that the court add as parties those individuals who have led the secessionist group in taking the property."

The statement adds: "Time after time, in Colorado and other states, courts have ruled that while individuals can leave the church, they may not take church property with them."

Crippen, Armstrong's spokesman, said Sunday that the decision to add individuals has "escalated" the conflict, but he said members of the breakaway congregation "will not be intimidated by the bullying tactics."

In a separate action, an Episcopal church court last summer found Armstrong guilty of financial wrongdoing at the parish and requested that the Colorado Springs police pursue a criminal investigation, which is under way.

Last month, a separate, independent audit of the parish books, commissioned by the breakaway parish itself, found Armstrong innocent of any wrongdoing.

END

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