Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Priest testifies at abuse trial on breaking 20-year silence

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A priest of the Orthodox Church in America told court he kept quiet for more than 20 years about allegations another priest had abused two young boys in Winnipeg.

Father Steven Kostoff testified Wednesday the mother of the alleged victims of sexual assault by Seraphim Storheim told him in 1987 Storheim had wronged her boys, but he did nothing about her concerns.

"I was quite stunned, quite dumbfounded," by the allegations, Kostoff said, but added 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. He had befriended the boys' family while he served at another parish in another community.

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

Crown counsel Breta Passler wrapped up her case Wednesday.

Before the trial proceeds further, Justice Chris Mainella must decide whether the evidence given by each brother during hearings this week can be used in support of the charges against Storheim.

There is also a possibility defence counsel Jeff Gindin will make a motion that the two charges should be conducted as separate trials.

The trial resumes Friday morning.

Kostoff said the boys' mother showed him a handwritten letter allegedly penned 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 Storheim wrote he overstepped some boundaries with the boys by teaching them about adult things.

Kostoff said 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 testified, 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 the family.

"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."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 13, 2013 A11

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