Church leader steps down amid abuse probe
TORONTO – The Canadian archbishop of the Orthodox Church of America has stepped down for three months pending an investigation by Winnipeg police.
The New York headquarters of the church issued a release Sunday to say Archbishop Seraphim Storheim of Ottawa is being investigated after a complaint of misconduct from about 25 years ago.
“I have blessed the church’s office for review of sexual misconduct allegations to work in conjunction with the Canadian police authorities … in order to obtain the necessary information needed to bring about a proper resolution,” Metropolitan Jonah said in a statement from the Orthodox Church of America (OCA).
A U.S. organization called SNAP, which says on its website it helps survivors of abuse in the Orthodox churches, said Storheim is accused of sexually assaulting two 10-year-old boys more than 20 years ago and the allegations resurfaced in the fall of 2008 when a clergyman filed a written report with the national church.
SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) co-founder Cappy Larson said the church knew about the allegations when they happened, but did nothing.
“It breaks our hearts that the OCA was so slow to act and that kids were needlessly kept at risk for months/years,” Larson said in a release on the website pokrov.org.
Fellow co-founder Melanie Jula Sakoda added she is “upset” by the use of the word “misconduct when, in fact, it’s childhood sexual abuse that is being alleged.”
Sakoda adds it’s “negligent and tragic” that Storheim was never suspended.
In a letter to the OCA in 2009, SNAP also noted Storheim sent a letter of apology to the two alleged victims.
Winnipeg police are investigating allegations against the archbishop, a police source confirmed. No charges have been laid.
Storheim was the rector at Holy Trinity Sobor in Winnipeg between 1984 and 1987, the time of the alleged assaults. He has also worked in Edmonton, London, Ont.; the U.S and Finland.
“He is being investigated. That is all I can say,” said Konstantin Afanasiev, a member of the Winnipeg church’s council.
Storheim was elected ruling bishop in 1990 and archbishop in 2007. He currently lives south of Ottawa.
In his own statement on the Canadian church’s website, Archdiocese.ca, Storheim does not explicitly say why he is taking a three-month leave of absence, but does say that when he went to see his doctor, “I was informed that this leave is rather overdue.”
“It is my intention, and hope, to maintain as much solitude and silence as possible,” he said.