Concerning the Case of Archbishop Seraphim – A Balanced Approach
Below is a petition currently being circulated on the internet, asking the Holy Synod to restore Archbishop Seraphim Storheim to active service. I am writing this reflection to address what I believe to be certain problems with the petition, as well as how the case against Archbishop Seraphim is being misinterpreted.
I am doing this as a service to the Church. The petition is based on characterization, speculation, and emotion, which has resulted in misdirected antagonism based on subjective and/or ill-advised assumptions. What is needed is education, so that people can form objective and dispassionate opinions in their own minds, before bringing them to the public forum.
The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America
Your Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah,
Most blessed Master bless.
Because of the known circumstances, our spiritual leader Archbishop Seraphim has not been serving as our diocesan Archbishop already for more than 6 months. Many thousands of the believers through all Canada had never had such a difficult time. The uncertainty creates many spiritual problems, and began its influence on our communities, especially on the new parishioners. Unfortunately none of us know the names of persons involved, and the details of the problem. But we all trust and love Vladyka Seraphim, and are waiting for a positive way out of the current situation, including the improvement in the relationship with the two involved persons. The letters of support and the video interviews published on this website, to our mind, prove this fully. We have the evidences from the families knowing Vladyka Seraphim for more than 40 years, including people who were his parishioners at the time of the “claimed” period.
We understand that the period of uncertainty could continue for several years. Knowing Archbishop Seraphim only as one of the best OCA hierarchs, we the undersigned, kindly ask for your help with returning him back to the active service as our diocesan Archbishop. We do not want anymore to be treated as guilty before there is real proof. This is Canadian Law, and it is the Church Law. “He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 17:15). If our Archbishop is abandoned, we are all abandoned. How can we change our rules to make things right?
We understand that the Holy Synod punished our country (together with our Archbishop) according to the current guidelines for such situations, published on the OCA website. However, this procedure has weaknesses, including language that presumes guilt (“victim”, not “alleged victim”). When the Diocese has its ruling bishop taken away for a long time it causes disturbances and divisions among the sheep. It would have the same effect on a parish if the priest is taken away. There must be a way to resolve situations like this quickly. It is surely the responsibility of the Holy Synod to do what is necessary to keep the sheep together, and this means having a visible shepherd who is the ruling bishop.
Furthermore, what can be done so that the OCA website is not used for making ugly or condemnatory comments against anyone?
Asking again your Archpastoral blessing, we remain the servants of Christ.”
To begin, the systematic error being made regarding the case against Archbishop Seraphim, by both clergy and laity alike, is that the two men who approached the police about Archbishop Seraphim are solely responsible for the predicament that he, the Archdiocese of Canada, and the OCA are involved in.
This, in fact, is not the case.
Two men approached the Winnipeg Police and reported what they believed to be a sexually abusive incident involving Archbishop Seraphim. It was the Winnipeg Police who did their own investigation, and subsequently determined that there was sufficient evidence to charge Archbishop Seraphim with a criminal offence (that being two counts of sexual assault against minors). This is the job of the police: to enforce the law – which means that it is their duty to investigate complaints, arrest, interrogate, and incarcerate suspects, gather evidence, lay charges, and appear as witnesses in court of law, all in the service of, and for the protection of, the public. If there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the reported allegations, the Archbishop would likely not have been charged, and there would be no proceeding of any criminal case.
Unfortunately, many erroneously believe it is the two men who are acting as complainants/plaintiffs against Archbishop Seraphim, as for example, in a civil law suit. On the contrary, it is the “Crown”, represented by the police and the Crown prosecutor, who is the “complainant/plaintiff.” The “two men” are to be considered at this time “alleged victims.” When any crime is committed, it is a crime against the whole society. In Canada, it is the Queen (in Latin, Regina) and thereby society (all of us) who are the real “victims.” The evidence and testimony provided by the two men is the Crown’s evidence – proof that the Crown is bringing forward to the court as evidence of Archbishop Seraphim’s suspected guilt. The judge will then decide whether or not the evidence is sufficient to ground a conviction.
Based on the erroneous belief that the two men are the complainants/plaintiffs, some believe that the solution to this is to simply contrast the Archbishop’s “impeccable” character over and against either the “questionable” character of the two men, or Archbishop Seraphim’s unidentified “enemies,” whom some imagine are somehow behind all of this (the latter being one of the theories which is found on the website where the petition is posted). Specifically, in another letter posted on the website:
“If a person is addicted to some behavior problems – they will follow him or her during the whole life. But there are no such cases with our Vladyka. That’s why we could imagine involving these two boys as a tool against the Orthodoxy in Canada, and personally against our Archbishop. One of the possible reasons for such a campaign could be the fact that there could be people, who did not like Vladyka’s Seraphim (sic) activity when he, as the Holy Synod secretary for 23 years, was to stop multiple dishonest happenings on the top level in the US part of the OCA.”
However, this is a criminal case, based on the law and the facts, which are corroborated by evidence. Generally speaking, one’s character is a weak argument in the face of concrete evidence and/or eyewitness testimony. It is contradictory to admit ignorance about the two men, while at the same time to argue against their character on the basis of Archbishop Seraphim’s character. It is conjectured that since Archbishop Seraphim has not outwardly demonstrated a history of this type of behavior (which is not typically displayed publicly in the first place), it must therefore be concluded that the two men are lying. If character was decisive, they fail to demonstrate convincingly either that the two men have questionable character, or to identify the “enemies” who have somehow convinced or even coerced the two men to do this. Or, to put it another way, they have not extended to their opponent that which they desire for Archbishop Seraphim: to be declared innocent until proven guilty, in that they provide no concrete evidence to corroborate that the two men indeed have lied, or that the two men are somehow being compelled or being used as a tool against Archbishop Seraphim by his purported “enemies”.
The problem with this argument is that the evidence, which the petitioners do not possess, is not being considered. Hypothetically speaking, if the evidence obtained were substantial enough, it alone would be sufficient enough upon which to proceed with a criminal case, even if the two men for any reason decided to withdraw their allegations. After charges are laid, it is up to the Crown, and not the alleged victims, to determine whether or not the prosecution will proceed. Regardless, I believe that those who publicly support Archbishop Seraphim should recognize that their support might be consequentially harmful, in that the premature establishment of the innocence of Archbishop Seraphim prior to any investigation or consideration of factual evidence is not a reasonable action to be taken by anyone who seeks truth and justice in this very serious and public matter.
Secondly, as outlined above, the job of the police in this case is to enforce the law for the service of and for the protection of the public. Notwithstanding the support that Archbishop Seraphim enjoys, the police do not know Archbishop Seraphim like the petitioners. They, as agents of the Crown, must do their job with the interest of public safety in mind, by being fair and equitable to all parties – the alleged victims and Archbishop Seraphim. It would not be fair to the alleged victims, or in the interest of public safety, to dismiss the conclusions of a thorough police investigation if valid corroborating evidence did exist, just as it would equally not be fair to Archbishop Seraphim to be charged or convicted if valid corroborating evidence did not exist. In either case, it depends on evidence, which only a judge can ultimately determine is admissible and sufficient. So to suggest, as in the petition above, that there is no “real proof” is indefensible, since only the police and Crown prosecutor (and recently Archbishop Seraphim’s defense lawyer) have the actual evidence, which, to date, is considered substantial enough to issue an arrest warrant and to lay criminal charges.
Finally, and most importantly, is the protection of the public. What is known at this time is that there is sufficient evidence gathered through a police investigation to charge Archbishop Seraphim with a crime. It would be imprudent for the OCA to reinstate Archbishop Seraphim to active service if for no other reason than to protect the public in a time of uncertainty. When the OCA suspended Archbishop Seraphim, it did so out of due diligence and fairness to both parties. Archbishop Seraphim’s removal from active service is exactly what is required, until the investigation is complete. Otherwise, in the event that the allegations are true, the Church would be responsible for knowingly putting the public at risk, where others might be harmed. The act of suspension is appropriate in the interest of public safety (in that it removes the possibility of any further alleged misconduct) and to Archbishop Seraphim, who, if I am not mistaken, remains for the time being on full salary (since the allegations have not been proven in court, full salary is a reasonable non-punitive action toward Archbishop Seraphim as a positive counter measure to his mandated suspension). Unfortunately, the protection of the public is not at all being considered by the petitioners.
As a member of the general public, I am involved in this case, because this is an issue of public safety, and it is the duty of the Crown to protect me. I want the police to do their job: to investigate, arrest, and charge any criminal suspect if there is sufficient evidence to warrant it. I want the Crown prosecutor to plead my case before the court to protect myself and others from harm by any guilty party through conviction and corrective measures. I want a judge to be fair in the careful consideration of evidence and testimony from both parties, so that those charged are either acquitted or appropriately punished. None of the petitioners would disagree with me if it were anyone else who was the defendant.
Since I was not in Winnipeg in 1985, I have no idea what happened, irrespective of the character of either Archbishop Seraphim or the alleged victims. On the contrary, only God really knows what happened. It is imprudent to predetermine who is guilty and who is innocent in this case, without both parties being heard through the careful consideration of valid and admissible evidence and testimony. Until such time, the assurances of the petitioners about Archbishop Seraphim’s character are no comfort to me personally.
In conclusion, I write this reflection, as a matter of principle, supporting a fair and balanced investigative process based on valid and admissible evidence and testimony, as determined in a court of law. I desire fair treatment for all parties and the performing of due diligence by the Church. Until such time that it is concluded whether or not there is any truth to the allegations, I do not want the public to be placed at risk in the interim. Archbishop Seraphim is innocent until proven guilty. However, the serious nature of the charges dictates that his continued absence from active service at this time is fitting and right.