Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

I didn't molest boys: cleric

Archbishop admits sex talk with them

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He stands accused of serious criminal allegations: molesting two young brothers while working as a parish priest in Winnipeg.

But Seraphim Storheim took the witness stand in his own defence Thursday and said the only thing he's guilty of is caring too much for a troubled family he took under his wing.

"I overstepped a sense of compassion," said Storheim, 67, who is now 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 has pleaded not guilty to sexual assault in incidents that allegedly occurred 28 years ago but were only recently reported to police.

Storheim admits he talked to the 11-year-old boys about puberty and body development, which included specific comments about ejaculation and pubic hair. He said 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 said.

But he repeatedly denied he ever touched the boys or repeatedly exposed himself to them, as they claimed on the witness stand earlier this year.

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

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."

He admits 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.

"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 of the alleged incidents. Storheim had befriended the boys' family while he served at another parish in another community and the brothers visited him separately that summer.

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

The brothers, now 39, testified when the trial began earlier this year. They both described coming 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 said Thursday the boys had many issues, stemming largely from growing up in a home without a father. He said he felt like he took on a father-type role with them, which included meting out discipline when required.

The trial is expected to continue today with more defence evidence.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 13, 2013 A6


Updated on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 7:07 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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