COLORADO SPRINGS: Orthodox Anglican Cleric Faces His Accusers. Looks to the Future
Following his sentencing last week on a single misdemeanor charge, Fr. Don Armstrong of St. George's Anglican Church, Colorado Springs, CO, agreed to sit down with Virtueonline and answer questions about the long ordeal he has had with the Episcopal Bishop of Colorado, Robert O'Neill, the accusations and charges filed against him, and the trial and final disposition of his case.
AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
By David W. Virtue
February 28, 2011
VOL: Fr. Armstrong your trial is over. You had previously entered a plea agreement which contained a single misdemeanor without content that became the basis of your sentencing. In that sentencing, you were ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $99,247. You will also have to do 400 hours of community service. Is that correct?
ARMSTRONG: Yes, that is correct. I have immeasurable respect for the judge and in all I say, I want to honor the hard work and tremendous effort he put into adjudicating this case, so I will limit my answers regarding the sentencing to the content of the judges sentencing remarks.
This $99,247 was distributed to the church over the years from a trust intended for seminary education, and although used along those lines, was not distributed solely for seminary students and was therefore not used according to the trust document. The judge determined that as rector of the parish, it was my fiduciary responsibility to assure it was used absolutely according to the trust, and although nothing criminal had been involved, none-the-less that money must now be replaced in the trust.
I was also ordered to do 400 hours of community service. I will fulfill these hours with a spirit of sacrifice and repentance that honors and fulfills the judge's intention in ordering this service.
VOL: How do feel about the judge's verdict?
ARMSTRONG: I believe the verdict made good sense and was correct. The judge read thousands of pages of documents, listened astutely to all the testimony, and his presentation to us was clear and concise. The judicial system worked I believe.
VOL: A number of liberal Episcopal bloggers and revisionists were gloating and hoping for jail time. Some hoped you would go away for life. Are you surprised?
ARMSTRONG: No. Through the Anglican Communion Institute, and my own writing and interviews, I effectively opposed their liberal and revisionist agenda, so their response is to be expected. The politics of personal destruction is the hallmark of modern liberal tyranny
VOL: Do you feel betrayed by the leaders of the ACI and the fact that a number of evangelical and orthodox folk did not stand by you?
ARMSTRONG: Not everyone has been or is carved out to be a warrior. I was thusly formed as a very young man and continue to hold those values near and dear. My attorney, who was a Marine while I was an Army Officer, reminded me Sunday that once again the Army had been pulled from the brink by a United States Marine.
VOL: The 20 felony charges were reduced to one misdemeanor. Can you explain that?
ARMSTRONG: Actually, I was offered a plea bargain that avoided all the pitfalls and disastrous potentialities of a jury trial. I pled no contest to one felony, which was entered as deferred (not a conviction) and will be erased after four years probation. Interestingly, the judge ruled that the scholarships for my children that made up the content of those twenty felony counts were rightly authorized and distributed by the parish...so I was exonerated of those felony counts. I also entered a plea for the purpose of accepting the offer to a misdemeanor which was the sole basis for my actual sentencing.
VOL: Will you have to step back as the rector of your church St. George's Anglican or will you go back with honor?
ARMSTRONG: I have served and will continue to serve with honor. My wardens and vestry, and for that matter, every member of the congregation, know that it was our unbending orthodoxy that was the genesis for this attack by the diocese on all of us, that I have been exonerated of the charges of stealing money from the parish to educate my children as the diocese claimed, and that those scholarships were rightly approved and dispersed through the parish records and by the wardens. I will remain as Rector of St. George's Anglican Church.
VOL: Has your church been totally behind you? Will this verdict mean many will leave your parish now?
ARMSTRONG: Unflinchingly they have been behind us...they have held us in prayer and care, they have funded 100% of a very expensive defense...and simply loved and supported us as hopefully we have loved them in return.
As the only traditional Anglican parish in town, with this cloud lifted, and giving glory to God in all that has happened, I believe we will flourish, that the Lord will add to our number day by day those who are being saved.
VOL: So your parish has been totally supportive all through this ordeal?
VOL: You have to do 400 hours of community service. What does that mean? What will you do?
ARMSTRONG: I would like to make the point related to community service, that our judge in this case was diligent and respectful in his duties, and I want to honor him and respect the court in my approach to this community service, that it be done sacrificially and in a spirit of repentance and contrition.
I have always done ministry, but as a priest...and only occasionally as a volunteer. This is a push to do what is spiritually healthy, to live for others without reward, and I embrace this as a wonderful opportunity.
VOL: How and where will you find the $100,000 to repay the Trust Fund? Will you have to sell your home?
ARMSTRONG: Grace Church and I owned my house together. I made half the monthly payments. They were awarded that in the property settlement in exchange for dropping their law suits against 18 parishioners, and my share of the equity was kept by the Episcopalians. I believe the court will set up a monthly payment plan designed to settle this amount, and I will adjust my life to meet that demand.
VOL: What will you do going forward?
ARMSTRONG: I will live my life as I have lived it all these years, with joy in service to God. I have two wonderful children, an unbelievable wife, and I am eager to grow the church and spread the faith. In all things I trust the Lord will use my/our efforts for his eternal purpose of drawing all things to himself, and that is what gives meaning and purpose to life, as well as strength and courage in the face of adversity.
VOL: Do you believe there is anything you need to repent of?
ARMSTRONG: Yes, I should have been more attentive to things like this trust, and perhaps a little less energized about fighting the larger church battles...I did one to the determent of the other, and am paying the price for enthusiasm in one area and failure in another. My spirit is one of humility and repentance.
VOL: What are your feelings towards Bishop O'Neill who, by any stretch of the imagination, has made your life a living hell for the last four years?
ARMSTRONG: Actually for five years that has been his goal. I have a rule. I do not let people live rent free in my heart...O'Neill was evicted five years ago. In fact, as St. Paul makes clear, we are to rejoice in our suffering because God is ever more clearly present. My faith in God and dependence on Him alone has so increased over these past five years that I consider them the best five years of my life. I also believe in praying for those who stand against me, and the Lord uses that discipline to his glory and our well being as well.
VOL: Your missionary bishop Martyn Minns has stood by you. Have you heard from him following this verdict?
ARMSTRONG: Absolutely. He is a godly man and behaves in a godly manner. There is no pit so deep that God is not there, and I am beginning to believe the same is true of Bishop Minns...oh how our parish has grown in faith since he became our bishop. You can literally feel it.
VOL: How large is your parish?
ARMSTRONG: About 500 families.
VOL: What does the future look like?
ARMSTRONG: Easter. The forensic auditor who did the investigation for the parish called me yesterday with words of encouragement and said that we as a parish had an opportunity to be a real witness to God's presence in adversity, his spirit of charity toward others, a vehicle for healing in a world of division and hate...I believe our auditor spoke for God to me yesterday.
VOL: Thank you Fr. Armstrong
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