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Storheim testifies in sexual assault trial

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Orthodox Archbishop Seraphim Storheim has taken the witness stand in his own defence to deny allegations he molested two young brothers.

Storheim, 67, began testifying Thursday morning. He has pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting the boys 28 years ago in Winnipeg. The allegations were only recently reported to police, resulting in criminal charges.

"I felt compassion for this particular family. So I paid more attention to that family, trying to support and encourage them," Storheim said in direct examination from his lawyer, Jeff Gindin.

He admits talking to the 11-year-old boys about puberty and body development, but denies their claims he fondled them and repeatedly exposed himself.

"If there’s any touching it was certainly by accident," said Storheim.

He told court he was "flabbergasted" when the children’s mother accused him of wrongdoing, saying, "I sent the boys to be taught scripture and not dirty stuff."

Years later, he admits writing a letter of apology to the family in which he said "I probably stepped over a pastoral line." But he claims those remarks were for the talk about puberty and nothing more sinister.

"I always try to make amends for something I’ve done wrong or thought to have done wrong," he said. "I wanted to make sure I conveyed my apologies to her and asked for forgiveness."

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 is now 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.

The brothers, who are now 39, testified when the trial began earlier this year. They both described coming to Winnipeg at Storheim's invitation and at his own expense, though at separate times. Each brother said Storheim routinely walked around the house naked and invited each boy to touch his genitals.

Crown attorney Breta Passler will begin cross-examination of Storheim on Thursday afternoon.

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