Orthodox cleric's sex-assault case hears from priest

Archbishop Kenneth (Seraphim) Storheim, left, and a supporter leave the Winnipeg courthouse on Monday, following the first day of testimony in his sex-assault case. (Karen Pauls/CBC)

An Orthodox priest who testified in a sex-assault case against Kenneth (Seraphim) Storheim, who is now the top Canadian cleric in the Orthodox Church in America, said his moral principles drove him to contact the family of the two alleged victims.

However, it took Rev. Steven Kostoff, who was the family's parish priest in London, Ont., 21 years to make that call, court was told in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

Storheim has pleaded not guilty to two counts of sexual assault involving two brothers, who at the time were pre-teen members of the church, more than 25 years ago. Neither complainant can be identified under a publication ban.

Storheim was a priest in Winnipeg at the time of the alleged assaults. He had also worked as a parish priest in Alberta, North Carolina, London, Ont., and other areas before becoming an auxiliary bishop in Edmonton in 1987.

He was then elevated to archbishop — the highest-ranking position in the Canadian diocese of the Orthodox Church in America — 20 years later.

Storheim was arrested in 2010 after the brothers went to the police.

Both men told court earlier this week that they were sent by their single mother at different times in 1985 to live and work with Storheim at a church in Winnipeg. They were both pre-teens at the time.

One of the brothers testified on Tuesday said Storheim would routinely walk naked around the small house attached to the church and would sometimes lie on the floor naked and touch himself.

On another occasion, the man testified, Storheim touched him and inspected his groin as he sat naked on a bed.

The man's brother told court Monday that Storheim got into bed with him and asked to be touched sexually. The brother admitted to large gaps in his memory and couldn't provide many specifics. He said he is on several medications and has spent time in a psychiatric hospital.

On Wednesday, Kostoff testified that he was told two years later about allegations of inappropriate behaviour involving Storheim.

It was at a dinner with the boys' family in 1987 that their mother told him Storheim had "done something terrible to my boys," Kostoff told the court, adding that he was "stunned" and "dumbfounded" by what he had heard.

Kostoff said he spoke with the boys and was shown a letter from Storheim, admitting that he may have overstepped some boundaries by teaching the boys some adult things.

Storheim's hand-written letter was "defensive and apologetic" but did not mention anything specific, Kostoff testified.

Kostoff told the court his memory of the letter was not "word for word, but his best recollection."

Kostoff said to his regret, he didn't do anything about the allegations at that time, telling the court the general feeling back in 1987 was that "what happens in the church stays in the church."

Kostoff testified that over the years, he he felt guilty about what happened. In October 2008, he contacted the alleged victims' family to apologize and find out what happened.

Kostoff said he also contacted church officials, who advised him to call Storheim and confront him with the allegations, court was told.

Storheim seemed to be "awkward and tense" and mostly silent and non-committal during that conversation, court was told.

Kostoff said Storheim told him, "The mistake I made was getting too close to that family."

Under cross-examination by Jeff Gindin, Storheim's lawyer, Kostoff admitted that the boys' mother had never mentioned anything about physical touching.

Kostoff also admitted that he never contacted police with the allegations.

Court will resume on Friday, when both the Crown and defence will argue how much of the testimony heard so far will actually be considered by the judge.

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