Canada’s top Orthodox cleric convicted of sexually assaulting altar boy in 1980s

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew
Winnipeg archbishop Seraphim Storheim leaves Winnipeg court Friday after being found guilty of sexually assaulting one of two pre-teen boys. He is free on bail and will be sentenced later in the year.

The Canadian leader of the Orthodox Church of America got a dressing down from the Manitoba judge as he convicted the cleric of sexually assaulting an altar boy more than 30 years ago.

Archbishop Kenneth (Seraphim) Storheim had been accused of molesting twin 11-year-old boys while he was a parish priest at an Orthodox church in Winnipeg.

By the time charges were laid in 2011, Storheim had risen to become the most senior cleric in the church in Canada, holding the title of archbishop of Ottawa and Canada, the Winnipeg Free Press reported.

The Orthodox Church in America is separate from the Russian Orthodox Church in Canada. It split away from the Russian Orthodox Church following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, when communication with the mother church in Russia broke down. The church has 700 parishes, missions and institutions in Canada and the U.S.

Storheim, 67, was convicted Friday by Queens Bench Justice Chris Mainella of sexually assaulting one of the two brothers. Mainella acquitted him of molesting the other brother, saying problems with the second victim, including mental illness, affected the quality of his evidence, the Free Press said.

[ Related: Orthodox cleric's sex-assault case hears from priest ]

But in his two-hour decision Mainella, who heard the case without a jury, lit into Storheim, saying the archbishop's claims of innocence rang hollow and lacked credibility.

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

Storheim was arrested after the brothers contacted police about the abuse, which happened in the mid-1980s. The boys had been sent by their single mother to live with Storheim at the church.

One brother testified Storheim routinely walked around the rectory house nude and would sometimes lie on the floor naked, touching himself. He said Storheim once touched him and inspected his genital area as he sat naked on a bed.

The other brother testified Storheim got into bed with him and asked to be touched sexually. However, he conceded he had spent time in a psychiatric hospital, was on several medications and he had large gaps in his memory.

[ Related: Prosecutor tries to discredit former priest accused of sex abuse ]

Storheim denied anything inappropriate ever happened, CBC News reported during last fall's trial.

He testified he talked to one of the brothers about puberty, which he said was probably prompted by the mention in the Bible of bodily discharges. He said it was "one of the stupider things I've done in my life."

He also admitted holding one of the boy's pyjama bottoms up to the light to look for semen stains at the request of the boy. Crown prosecutor Breta Passier said the explanation just wasn't credible.

"This story of a young [boy] asking a priest to examine his pyjamas for the presence of semen is not believable," she said. "It stretches credulity."

Passier noted one of the brothers was able to describe Storheim's naked body in detail, down to the moles on his back and whether his penis was circumcised.

Another priest testified about a discussion he had with the boys' mother in 1987 in which she told him Storheim had "done some terrible things to my boys." The boys showed him a letter from Storheim admitting he may have overstepped by talking about adult things.

Storheim admitted in court he wrote a letter to the family saying "I probably stepped over the pastoral line," but claimed he was referring to the talk about puberty and nothing more, the Free Press said.

Storheim remains free on bail pending sentencing later this spring. He was suspended from his duties in the church after charges were laid.

The church's Holy Synod of Bishops issued a statement after the verdict saying its Synodal Commission now would resume the investigation it suspended while the criminal case was underway. It also asked followers to pray for all the parties involved.