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Archbishop takes leave of absence as Winnipeg police investigate sex abuse claims

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Winnipeg police are investigating claims of sexual abuse that surfaced after about 30 years against a former Winnipeg priest who’s now a high-ranking Canadian archbishop.

An American advocacy group for abuse survivors said the claims against Archbishop Seraphim (Storheim), the Canadian head of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), Archdiocese of Canada, started surfacing two years ago. The group said they involve two now-adult men who allege the abuse happened in the early 1980s, while the two visited Winnipeg.

The Orthodox Church in America (OCA) says in a news release that Archbishop Seraphim of Ottawa, the head of the church's Canadian archdiocese, asked for and was granted a three-month leave as of last Friday.

The archbishop, 64, had posted a letter on the archdiocese's website last week suggesting the reason for his leave was health issues.

"Having also seen my physician, I was informed that this leave is rather overdue," he wrote. "It is my intention and hope to maintain as much solitude and silence as possible."

But the subsequent release from the church, posted Friday on their website, stated otherwise.

"I have blessed the church's office for review of sexual misconduct allegations to work in conjunction with the Canadian police authorities," said Metropolitan Jonah, speaking on behalf of the church.

He said the church would comply with its policies and procedures "in order to obtain the necessary information needed to bring about a proper resolution."

An online biography of the Alberta-born Archbishop Seraphim (Storheim) says he was ordained as a priest in 1979 in New York, and later worked as rector of the Holy Trinity Sobor in Winnipeg from 1984 to 1987, before becoming a bishop in Edmonton. Larson said the organization forwarded information they’d received to the Winnipeg police about three months ago.

SNAP Orthodox released a statement Tuesday that criticized church officials for what they said were delays in coming forward with complaints and asked people with information to contact an investigator with Division 41, the division in charge of sex crimes and child abuse investigations. In a letter posted on SNAP Orthodox’s website, the organization said the alleged abuse involved two boys who were 10 years old and allegedly came to the attention of the church more than 20 years ago.

A Winnipeg police spokesman confirmed there’s an ongoing investigation.

Storheim has not been charged with any criminal offences.

Gabrielle.giroday@freepress.mb.ca with files from The Canadian Press

History

Updated on Tuesday, October 5, 2010 at 9:45 PM CDT: adds that archbishop steps down

10:28 PM: adds more info

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