The Bishop and Diocese of Colorado have filed an answer and counterclaim in response to the complaint filed on Good Friday (April 6) concerning ownership of church property at Grace Church and St. Stephen's, the largest Episcopal parish in the state.
The vestry of the parish voted to leave the Episcopal Church and affiliate with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), a conservative "missionary effort" in the U.S. sponsored by the Anglican Church of Nigeria.
The response from the Diocese and the Bishop asserts that the real property of Grace and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church belongs to the Episcopal congregation, not the group that voted to leave, stating the "secessionist congregation has wrongfully taken steps to take possession of and exercise control over the Property," according to information posted on the diocesan web site.
Included in the court filing is information about the investigation into allegations of misconduct against the Rev. Donald Armstrong, who was inhibited in January by Bishop Robert O'Neill as part of an investigation into allegations of misappropriated church money.
According to the web site, "The counterclaim seeks a declaration as to the rightful ownership of the church property, and asserts that, when they voted to leave the Episcopal Church, the members of the former Vestry vacated their positions and that Armstrong remains a priest of the Diocese of Colorado under inhibition from his Bishop."
In the post, the Chancellor of the Diocese, Lawrence R. Hitt II, said, "It is a shame that a small, misguided group has forced this litigation by illegally taking possession of the church property. This litigation is not about theology or differences of opinion in the church, it is an effort by that break-away group to distract attention from the very serious charges of theft and misconduct against Armstrong. The charges against Armstrong will be prosecuted in a trial before the Diocese's Ecclesiastical Trial Court, according to the disciplinary process established in the Church's canons."
O'Neill removed the vestry and all other officers from Grace and St. Stephen's Church on March 26, after they voted the same day to leave the Episcopal Church and affiliate with CANA.
"The fact is that people may leave the Episcopal Church but parishes cannot," O'Neill stated at the time. "Grace and Saint Stephen's Church remains a parish of The Episcopal Diocese of Colorado and will continue to be so for any and all who desire to be members of The Episcopal Church."
Armstrong has been an outspoken opponent of some of the actions taken -- or not taken -- by the Episcopal Church. He is listed on the website of the Anglican Communion Institute as its executive director and one of its "collegial theologians." The organization has been critical of the Episcopal Church and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, and her predecessor Bishop Frank Griswold.