COLORADO: Diocese seeks repossession of Colorado Springs church property

November 12, 2007

Grace and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Colorado Springs and the Diocese of Colorado are requesting permission from the court to add claims for repossession of the church property and monetary damages in their legal battle, a November 10 diocesan press release, supported by Bishop Robert O'Neill, announced. "The church's property has been taken by a secessionist group led by Father Don Armstrong that left the Episcopal Church and affiliated with a Nigerian church faction (The Convocation of Anglicans in North America or CANA)," the press release said.

Armstrong, who was serving as rector of Grace and St. Stephen's Church when the diocese began an investigation into allegations against him of financial wrongdoing, was deposed from his ministry as an Episcopal priest November 1. In accordance with the canons of the Episcopal Church, O'Neill's deposition verdict was issued 30 days after the Ecclesiastical Court handed down its final judgment and sentence to depose Armstrong.

"In its response to the suit filed last spring by the secessionist group, the diocese has made it clear that its primary objective is to regain rightful possession of property now wrongfully occupied by the secessionists," the November 10 release said, acknowledging the intent of the bishop and the diocese to "pursue all necessary and appropriate legal means to regain rightful possession of the Church's property." The release called this filing "another step in that process" and noted that "Colorado law is clear that all Episcopal churches hold their property for the diocese and the Episcopal Church. 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."

The parish and diocese are requesting that, "in accordance with Colorado law, which requires that all essential persons be included in a suit...the court add as parties those individuals who have led the secessionist group in taking the property." Those individuals named in the release include Armstrong, Jon Wroblewski, Chad Friese, Robert C. Balink, Charles C. Brown, Dareleen Schaffer, Alan Crippen II, Jack Gloriod, Craig Whitney, Keith Stampher, MD, Marge Goss, Susan Spencer, Kevin Dibble, Edwin J. Montgomery, Jason Huntley, Rip Hollister, MD, Michael Barber, MD, and Emily Kline.

"Colorado law is clear that when a faction of a parish leaves the Episcopal Church it cannot take the property with it," said Clelia deMoraes, senior warden of Grace and St. Stephen's. "People need to understand that the only victims here are the people whose property was stolen."

The nearly 500 members of the congregation that have chosen to remain in the Episcopal Church have been worshipping at the First Christian Church in Colorado Springs since Armstrong and the vestry took over the church property and joined the Convocation of Anglicans in North America.

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