COLORADO SPRINGS: Liberal Bishop Pulls Out Stops to Silence Orthodox Priest
The Bishop of Colorado, Rob O'Neill, wants the orthodox rector of thelargest parish in his diocese, Fr. Don Armstrong, deposed and tossedout of his diocese and, if possible, The Episcopal Church (TEC).
Thisweek marks a full year that the bishop, his attorneys and accountantshave had this prominent conservative parish and its rector under a$200,000 microscope trying to find financial misconduct; reminding oneof the saying: show me the man and I'll find you the crime.
Asif that weren't enough to throttle the voice of Grace Church'soutspoken rector, the bishop has also inhibited him severely, banninghim from church property or any parish communication, that he is simplyunable to mount a defense. This so frustrated one of his attorneys thatthe attorney withdrew from the case.
The vestry itself was onlygiven any substantive report of the accusations this past Thursdayevening, one year and a day after the bishop began his investigation.Ironically, Martin Nussbaum, the presenting attorney, advised thevestry of its need to sit down with Armstrong to determine what hadbeen done to fulfill its own fiduciary responsibilities, but when askedif that was against the inhibition, Nussbaum had to admit that thebishop had simply precluded either the rector or the vestry from beingable defend themselves from the bishop's own threats or to fulfilltheir roles.
The battle moved into open hostility on Dec. 27,2006, when O'Neill suddenly removed Armstrong from his parish of 20years and put him on paid administrative leave. The tactics and tyrannyof the bishop and Diocesan Standing Committee can only be described asGestapo-like as the bishop has not found one shred of evidence thatlinks Armstrong with grand larceny or even financial malfeasance.
Fr.Armstrong is reported to be under ecclesial rectory arrest, totallyisolated from his friends, staff, and congregation. His laptop computerand cell phone were ordered by the bishop to be returned to the parish.It would seem that fairness and problem solving were never thegoal--silencing an effective and conservative voice has always been thebishop's objective.
The Standing Committee's attorney, under theguise of exploring possible presentment charges against the parishrector has, VOL has learned, been harassing staff, threatening vestrymembers with personal suit, and pestering parishioners with phone callsat their homes and work, sending multiple certified letters demandinginterviews, getting people off by themselves, putting them under somesort of ecclesial oath, and trying to extract statements that can bespun against their rector.
Under godly admonition, the assistantrector has been told to turn over his cell phone records as theinvestigators desperately try to catch Fr. Armstrong violating hisinhibition by talking to staff, clergy or parishioners.
In themean time, a small contingent of parish liberals have been distractingthe vestry with a barrage of petty issues, even using the untimelydeath of the parish Sunday school director for their own disruptivepurposes.
As if this were a Trollope novel going from bizarreto insane, the interim head of the Sunday school has just postedinappropriate remarks about Hillary Clinton's thong on a religiouswebsite.
And a deceased husband stood up at the annual parishmeeting, three days after his wife's funeral, to use his sympathy cardto attack the rector and vestry.
Recently, O'Neill closed twoparishes in Colorado Springs, - Holy Spirit and St. Francis - GraceChurch is close to being the next if the bishop does not somehow becomea pastor trying to find a way forward with healing for all---a novelidea for a man whose gospel is inclusivity and reconciliation for all.
Noone believes that this is anything but a witch-hunt aimed at Armstrongwho as executive director of the Anglican Communion Institute, thehighly effective theological think tank, has been critical of thebishop's pro-gay theology. Press coverage in Colorado has also seenthis conflict as nothing more than a political attack by Colorado'sopportunistic bishop trying to win favor with Episcopal leaders at thechurch's headquarters in New York City.
Jean Torkelson, of theRocky Mountain News, has reported in her columns that Armstrong'ssupporters say the restrictions are designed to silence the priestoutrage over the bishop's and National Church's breaks with traditionalteachings on sexuality and scriptural authority.
"This is allabout terror - the ability of the church and bishops with deep pocketsto terrorize mom and pop (members) in their churches," said the Rev.David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council (ACC), anadvocacy network of traditional Episcopalians.
While thenational Church has provided funds to fight breakaway parishes in otherstates, no money has been given to the Colorado diocese to fightArmstrong, a spokeswoman for the diocese has said.
But thisleaves questions. How could a diocese with a $79,000 shortfall for 2007afford $200,000 to hire attorneys, forensic auditors, and investigatorsto attack Armstrong?
To help finance Armstrong's legal fees,parishioners have started a defense fund and begun selling bumperstickers that say, "Free Father Armstrong."
Armstrong has neverbelieved that leaving the Episcopal Church was an option, ratherstaying and fighting for renewal and revival. He and the ACI believethat adherence to the Windsor Report and Camp Allen Principles are thebasis for the future hope of a well ordered and disciplined Communion.
ButArmstrong is not the first orthodox priest to be silenced and removedfrom his parish on flimsy grounds; he will certainly not be the last.In the Diocese of Connecticut, the liberal Bishop Drew Smith froze theparish bank accounts and removed the personal computers of St. John'sin Bristol, simultaneously ousting the church's longtime rector, theRev. Mark Hansen. That action by Smith led to a national outcryprovoking a legal counteroffensive.
"These cases are perhaps the leading cases in the world on this subject," one attorney observed.
Theprecedent of using the civil courts to bring revisionist bishops tojustice for their persecution of orthodox priests has already beenestablished. Despite four motions to dismiss the case (all of which helost), Pennsylvania Bishop Charles Bennison will face a jury trial forhis fraudulent persecution of Fr. David Moyer.
It is unlikelythat the House of Bishops will call O'Neill's hand in his gross abuseof power; they have steadfastly refused to touch Jack Spong, (Newark),Charles Bennison (Pennsylvania) or Orris Walker (Long Island). Theirhistory is one of sitting silently by as TEC implements its program ofecclesial cleansing.
Armstrong's future is uncertain. The fightis shaping up into a battle of the mega-lawyers, as Torkelson observed.What the courts will do with a sensitive church/state issue remains tobe seen.
In a note of irony, the liberal rector at Good Shepherdin North Colorado Springs recently announced that he is returning toCalifornia leaving his new start up congregation with only 40worshippers on a Sunday, while a nearby AMiA new start parish isattracting 160!
In the meantime, all powerful revisionistbishops have the authority and backing of the national church to goafter defenseless parish priests on virtually any sort of trumped upcharge (one Grace parishioner complained to Bishop O'Neill), and areign of terror can begin that has the potential to ruin not only agodly rector, but leave parishioners disillusioned and fleeing. In theend everyone loses.
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