A priest of the Orthodox Church in America told court this morning he kept quiet about allegations another priest had abused two young boys for more than 20 years.
Father Steven Kostoff said the mother of the alleged victims of sexual assault by Seraphim Storheim told him in 1987 that Storheim had wronged her boys two years earlier but he did nothing about her concerns.
"I was quite stunned, quite dumbfounded," by the allegations, Kostoff said, but added that he decided to stay quiet about the matter.
Storheim is charged with two counts of sexual assault involving two 11-year-old brothers in his home in Winnipeg during the summer of 1985. He pleaded not guilty to the charges when the trial began Monday.
Storheim was the parish priest at Holy Trinity Sobor Orthodox church on Manitoba Avenue at the time. Storheim had befriended the boys’ family while he served at another parish in another community and the boys visited him separately that summer.
Storheim today is an archbishop with the Orthodox Church in America, which has historical ties to the Russian Orthodox Church. He had been the most senior cleric of his church in Canada when the charges were laid in the fall of 2011, holding the title of Archbishop of Ottawa and Canada, but was subsequently suspended from that post pending the outcome of the criminal charges and an internal church investigation.
Kostoff said the boys’ mother showed her a handwritten letter allegedly written by Storheim, who did not admit to any sexual impropriety with her sons. Kostoff said he read the letter, adding it had an apologetic, defensive tone. At the conclusion of the letter, Kostoff said that Storheim wrote that he overstepped some boundaries with the boys by teaching them about adult things.
Kostoff said that when the boys’ mother contacted him in 1987, sexual abuse was still a taboo subject and his church did not have a policy on it. "I didn’t know quite what to do," he said, adding he decided to keep quiet, "much to my deep regret."
Kostoff said he began to feel guilty about his silence as news reports surfaced in the late 1990s about sexual abuse by priests. In October 2008, Kostoff said he felt compelled to reach out to that family to apologize for his inactions.
"Over the years, I felt very conflicted about (my silence)," Kostoff said. "I realized I owed this family. I had to call the family. I had to apologize to them."
Kostoff said he reached out to the mother’s sons, now grown men, in 2008 and 2009, calling them by phone several times to talk about the incident with Storheim.
Crown counsel Breta Passler wrapped up her case this morning.
Before the trial proceeds further, Justice Chris Mainella must decide whether the evidence given by each brother during the trial this week can be used in support of both charges against Storheim.
There is also a possibility that defence counsel Jeff Gindin will make a motion that the two charges should be conducted in separate trials.
The trial resumes Friday morning.