September 22nd, 2010, 9:12 am · 19 Comments · posted by
The battle between a defrocked minister and his former church has moved from the pews to the courts and now into the realm of spin.
A statement posted Saturday on the website of the Rev. Donald Armstrong’s church about his plea agreement prompted Episcopal leaders to counter what they consider his misleading statements.
Rev. Donald Armstrong
On Monday Larry Hitt, attorney for the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado, released a full explanation of the plea agreement. On Tuesday, the Rev. Steve Zimmerman, priest of Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, said in a memo that St. George’s statement is not accurate.
Armstrong was set to go to trial in October in 4th Judicial District Court on charges that he stole more than $300,000 from Grace and St. Stephen’s downtown between 1999 and 2006.
But in a plea bargain Friday with the Pueblo District Attorney’s Office, Armstrong pleaded “no contest” to one count of felony theft and entered an Alford plea on misdemeanor theft, which legally is an admittance of guilt.
Armstrong is on probation for four years on the felony count, court documents show, and there will be a restitution hearing to determine how much money he must pay back to Grace and St. Stephen’s. He’ll be sentenced before Dec. 31 on the misdemeanor charge.
Almost none of that was mentioned in the statement posted on the website of St. George’s Anglican Church, the Colorado Springs parish Armstrong founded after being defrocked by the Episcopal Church in 2007.
The statement acknowledges the Alford plea but not the felony count. It mentions the restitution hearing for the felony theft, but not that Armstrong will be sentenced on the misdemeanor.
What also bothered Episcopal leaders is that St. George’s response doesn’t acknowledge any wrongdoing by Armstrong. Instead, it resurrects the argument that the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado manufactured the theft allegations.
As of Wednesday, St. George’s statement had not changed its online interpretation of the plea agreement.
Read my story on the plea agreement here.