Out of Grace: Of shredders, emails, deeds, and precedent

The Rocky Mountain News is reporting “as the Episcopal Diocese (of Colorado) closed in on alleged financial wrongdoings, the Rev. Don Armstrong was shredding documents and records so furiously that a shredding machine broke down (pdf), according to a countersuit filed Thursday.”

The paper’s report provides further insight into the competing claims the diocese and the secessionist congregation over the Grace and St. Stephens property:

The Armstrong camp argues that it’s free to join CANA because the parish is a separate non-profit corporation founded 14 years before the Episcopal Diocese. Also, it has held its own title to the property since the land was donated to the church in the 1870s by Colorado Springs founder, General William Palmer.

They regard it as relevant that the parish is incorporated under name which doesn’t include the word “Episcopal.”

In its counterclaim, the Episcopal Diocese said that the parish and the congregation used the name Episcopal regularly over the years, dating back to the mid-1800s when the first Episcopalian settlers came to Colorado.

What’s more, the diocese maintains that while a local parish corporation may hold the title to the property,the parish’s purpose has always remained constant — to further the mission of the diocese and the Episcopal Church, said the diocese’s attorney, Martin Nussbaum.

“This is absolutely settled law in Colorado,” Nussbaum said.

The diocese is citing a 1986 Colorado Supreme Court decision which said an Episcopal parish in Denver had to return its property to the diocese. The parish, St. Mary’s, tried to keep its property after it broke away from the Episcopal Church in the 1970s after it voted to ordain women.

The paper also reports on “aggressive emails”:

The diocese quotes from a purported March 26 e-mail from Armstrong to vestry head Jon Wroblewski as they were preparing to break away. Referring to Episcopal Bishop Rob O’Neill, the e-mail said: “He has no army and no keys and no authority — possession is 9/10s of the law and I have the microphone.”

Wroblewski sent the e-mail on to other vestry members adding his own message: “Prepare for battle. Ramming speed.” Wroblewski acknowledged his e-mail today.

At the time Armstrong was not to be in communication with the congregation pending the diocese’s review of allegations of financial wrongdoing.

The entire Rocky Mountain News article is available here. There’s more at Faith at Altitude.

UPDATE: The motion for summary judgment filed by the diocese on Thursday is here (pdf). One extract:

Colorado law requires the Court to determine the ownership and control of church property by applying the “neutral principles” methodology described in The Bishop and Diocese of Colorado v. Mote, 716 P.2d 85, 103 (Colo. 1986). Mote held that when a faction within an Episcopal parish seeks to secede from the Episcopal Church and attach, instead, to another denomination in the Anglican tradition, the property is held in trust not for the local church but for the general church. See also Church of God of Madison v. Noel, 318 S.E.2d 920, 924 (W. Va. 1984 (secessionist “members have every right to withdraw from doctrinal unity and membership with the general church, but they cannot take general church property with them”).


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