Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Archbishop accused of abuse

Allegations date back to '80s in Winnipeg ; Head of Orthodox church takes a leave

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Winnipeg police are investigating claims a Canadian archbishop sexually abused boys when he was a priest in Winnipeg almost 30 years ago.

An American advocacy group for abuse survivors said the claims against Archbishop Seraphim (Storheim), head of the Orthodox Church in America, Archdiocese of Canada, surfaced two years ago.

Two men say they were abused in the early 1980s while they visited Winnipeg as 10-year-olds.

"I find it extremely disturbing that they have kept this a secret, I find it disturbing that they have not suspended this man from his duties and his responsibility, and taken him out of his position of power over innocent people," said Cappy Larson, the San Francisco-based co-founder of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) Orthodox, which bills itself as a resource for abuse survivors in the Orthodox churches.

The group says the matter came to the attention of the church more than 20 years ago.

"I'm very upset that there are young boys who are possibly in danger and they have done nothing to warn any of the parents or anybody in the diocese," said Larson.

"I believe that they should have done something 25 years ago, but at least these last two years, when these allegations resurfaced, this man should have been removed immediately and people should have been warned."

The archbishop, who has not been charged with any criminal offence, went on a leave of absence last week.

Bishop Irénée (Rochon) of Quebec City said he'll fill in for "however long it takes" and the church's Canada office is surprised by the allegations.

"We don't know anything. We were never contacted by anybody... nobody ever phoned us or told us anything specifically," he said.

He said the archbishop "claims he doesn't know anything about it" and is troubled by the news.

"Everybody's upset about it, the whole diocese, Archdiocese of Canada, is upset about it," he said.

An online biography of the Alberta-born Archbishop Seraphim (Storheim) says he was ordained as a priest in 1979 in New York. He 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 to Winnipeg police in the last three months.

SNAP Orthodox released a statement Tuesday that criticized church officials for what they said were "secrecy and delays," and asked people with information to contact a Winnipeg police investigator with the division in charge of sex crimes and child abuse.

A church official in New York said they have been "co-operating" with the Winnipeg police over allegations of "misconduct," after police contacted them about two weeks ago.

Archpriest Eric Tosi, OCA secretary, did not say how long the church had known about the allegations and pointed media to a prepared statement on the church's website.

"I'm very cautious, as you can imagine, I've been advised by a host of attorneys," said Tosi, in a phone interview from OCA's headquarters in Long Island.

The abuse allegedly happened while Archbishop Seraphim (Storheim) was working as a priest in Winnipeg, he said.

A statement released Sunday said the archbishop requested a leave in response to the allegations and officials were working with police to "in order to obtain the necessary information needed to bring about a proper resolution."

"We offer our heartfelt prayers to the Great Shepherd and Healer, our Lord Jesus Christ, that all parties involved in this will be blessed with God's peace, love and healing," said the statement.

A letter from the archbishop on the church's Canadian website said he was taking a leave as of Oct. 1.

"Having also seen my physician, I was informed that this leave is rather overdue," said the archbishop. It later says: "It is my intention, and hope, to maintain as much solitude and silence as possible."

A Winnipeg police spokesman confirmed there's an ongoing probe.

gabrielle.giroday@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 6, 2010 B1

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