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Former archbishop sentenced to jail for molesting altar boy in Winnipeg

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WINNIPEG - A former Orthodox priest is appealing his conviction for molesting an altar boy almost 30 years ago after being sentenced to eight months in jail for the crime.

Seraphim Storheim showed no emotion Wednesday as he was given jail time for sexually assaulting a boy who came to visit him in Winnipeg in 1985.

He appeared more troubled when he removed two wooden crosses from beneath his black sweater before being taken into custody by sheriffs following the sentencing.

"The conduct of the accused was a deplorable and gross breach of trust," Justice Christopher Mainella said in court as a handful of Storheim's supporters listened anxiously.

"The sexual assault has caused permanent emotional trauma to the child who is now 40-years-old, who lives with the effect of the accused behaviour to this day and will live with that emotional trauma well after the expiry of the court's sentence."

At the time of the offence, Storheim was a priest in the Orthodox Church in America but he later rose to archbishop — the church's highest-ranking cleric in Canada.

Storheim was placed on leave when he was arrested in 2010 and retired following his conviction.

Following the sentencing, some of Storheim's supporters were in tears, hugging each other outside the courtroom.

"I'd better not," said one of his supporters when asked to comment on the sentence. "I don't feel so good."

The sexual assault occurred when a boy Storheim had met in London, Ont., came to visit to further his Christian education.

The man testified that during that visit Storheim would routinely walk around naked and would sometimes lie on the floor naked and touch himself.

On another occasion the man testified that Storheim touched him and inspected his groin as he sat naked on a bed.

Storheim, now 68, denied anything inappropriate took place.

He testified he talked to the boy about puberty, which he said was prompted by the mention of bodily discharges in the Bible.

Storheim admitted to holding up one of the boy's pyjama bottoms to the light to look for semen stains but said he was asked to do so by the boy.

That is not a credible explanation, Mainella said.

"I concluded in my decision that the accused’s motive for this sexual touching was his personal gratification, not his stated purpose at the time of sexual education," Mainella said in his written decision, which he did not read out in court. "Sexual education does not require mutual nudity or the touching of genitalia."

"The accused’s conduct was nothing short of deplorable," he wrote. "The family was devout and the accused took advantage of that."

The Crown had asked for a 12-month jail sentence, arguing Storheim abused a position of trust, but the defence argued for no jail time.

Storheim's lawyer, Jeff Gindin, said his client is appealing both the conviction and the jail sentence.

Storheim is to apply for bail on July 17.

"There will be plenty" of grounds for appeal, Gindin said.

Mainella, who now sits on the Court of Appeal, made mistakes when determining the credibility of the witnesses and Storheim himself, Gindin said.

At best, Gindin said Storheim should have received a conditional sentence.

"He's not a danger to the community," Gindin said. "On the scale of sexual assaults ... this would be towards the lower end."

Storheim has suffered enough through the publicity of the case, he added.

"Everyone knows about the case and he's suffered a great deal just from being charged and convicted," Gindin said. "He lost his whole life."

The Orthodox Church in America has 700 parishes, missions and other institutions across North America. It is separate from other Orthodox churches such as the Greek Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

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