Ex-altar boy testifies at archbishop’s sex trial

Author: Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
Date Published: 06/10/2013
Orthodox Church of America Archbishop Seraphim Storheim is on a leave of absence as he faces sex-abuse charges.
Orthodox Church of America Archbishop Seraphim Storheim is on a leave of absence as he faces sex-abuse charges.

WINNIPEG – A man who was an altar boy years ago testified Monday that a cleric in the Orthodox Church in America exposed himself and asked to be touched sexually in the small house attached to his church.

“I just started feeling really uncomfortable … disgusted,” the man, who cannot be identified under a court-ordered publication ban, said on the first day of Seraphim Storheim’s trial.

“To this day, it really, really bothers me.”

Storheim, who became the church’s Canadian archbishop, pleaded not guilty to two charges of repeated sexual assaults against the man and his brother when they were pre-teens in the summer of 1985.

The boys were from another province and had been sent by their single mother to live and work with Storheim, court was told.

The man testified that Storheim once climbed into bed with him, but he could not recall how the event ended.

“I don’t know what I did — push him off?”

The memory gap was one of several that Storheim’s lawyer focused on as he questioned the witness’s credibility.

Under cross-examination, the man admitted he could not remember how long he had spent as an altar boy, whom he told about the alleged abuse and many other details. He was not even sure what age he was at the time. Court was later told he was 11.

“My mind’s blank right now,” the man said on two occasions. The man also told the court he is on several medications and has spent time in a psychiatric hospital.

But he testified that he has a clear memory of the abuse and remembers calling his mother and pleading with her to let him come home. His mom refused.

“She thinks I’m lying because I just want to come home and see my friends.”

The man’s mother also testified and appeared to contradict some of her son’s testimony. She said her sons never told her on the phone they were being abused and she didn’t find out until they returned home in the fall of 1985. She told church officials and they did nothing, she said. She never went to the police.

“I didn’t even think about the police.”

Storheim, now in his late 60s, sat quietly throughout the proceedings and spoke only to enter his not guilty pleas.

He was arrested in 2010 after the brothers went to the police. Storheim had worked as a parish priest in Alberta, North Carolina, London, Ont., and other areas. He became an auxiliary bishop in Edmonton in 1987 and was elevated to archbishop — the church’s top position in Canada — 20 years later.

The Orthodox Church in America has 700 parishes, missions and other institutions across Canada, the United States and Mexico. It is separate from other Orthodox churches such as the Greek Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.