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Archbishop found guilty of sex assault

Altar boy spent time at house

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It came down to a credibility contest between an accused child molester and his alleged victims. And in the end, the Orthodox archbishop was found to have none.

Seraphim Storheim, 68, was convicted Friday of sexually assaulting a young altar boy while working in a Winnipeg church nearly 30 years ago.

Queen's Bench Justice Chris Mainella blasted Storheim in handing down the verdict, saying his claims of innocence rang hollow.

"He loves to parse words and concepts," Mainella said. "Other times he would provide nonsensical answers. I reject his evidence entirely."

'He loves to parse words and concepts. Other times he would provide nonsensical answers. I reject his evidence entirely'

-- Queen's Bench Justice Chris Mainella of Storheim

Storheim did win a partial victory, as Mainella convicted him of molesting just one of two twin brothers who claimed they were attacked. Mainella cited issues with the other alleged victim, including mental illness and alcohol addiction, which clouded his memory and impacted the quality of evidence he was able to provide.

Still, the result was a damning indictment of Storheim, who will be sentenced later this spring. His lawyer plans to seek a non-custodial sentence, while it's unclear what the Crown will be asking for.

Storheim was the parish priest at Holy Trinity Sobor Orthodox Church on Manitoba Avenue at the time of the incidents in 1985. Storheim had befriended the boys' family while he served at another parish in another community and the brothers visited him separately that summer.

The brothers, now 40, told court last year how they came to Winnipeg at Storheim's invitation and expense, though at separate times. Each brother said Storheim routinely walked around the house naked and invited each boy to touch his genitals.

Storheim had taken the witness stand in his own defence, claiming the only thing he was guilty of was caring too much and taking on a father-type role with the boys.

Storheim did admit he talked to the 11-year-old twin boys about puberty and body development, which included specific comments about ejaculation and pubic hair. He claimed the topic only came up during Bible study when the boys began asking questions. He said he regrets not quickly changing the subject.

"I would say it (the discussion) is one of the stupider things I've done in my life," he testified.

But he repeatedly denied he ever touched the boys or repeatedly exposed himself to them. He said any touching that occurred was "certainly by accident." Storheim conceded it's possible the boys might have seen him walking around in the nude during sleepovers at his home, but added, "there was never an intentional display."

"I overstepped a sense of compassion," said Storheim, an archbishop with the Orthodox Church in America, which has historical ties to the Russian Orthodox Church. "I felt compassion for this particular family, so I paid more attention to that family trying to support and encourage them."

Storheim admitted writing a letter of apology to the family years later 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.

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."

Mainella called the letter a "key piece of evidence" and suggested it showed a guilty mind.

"This goes beyond a mere misguided discussion about puberty," he said.

Storheim 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 he was subsequently suspended from that post pending the outcome of the criminal charges and an internal church investigation.

www.mikeoncrime.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 25, 2014 A4

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