Friend defends accused cleric

Author: Mike McIntyre
Date Published: 09/14/2013
Archbishop Seraphim Storheim (PAT MCGRATH / POSTMEDIA NEWS ARCHIVES)
Archbishop Seraphim Storheim (PAT MCGRATH / POSTMEDIA NEWS ARCHIVES)

They are allegations that have rocked the church and put the fate of an Orthodox archbishop in limbo.

But a close friend of accused child molester Seraphim Storheim says they are allegations that simply can’t be true.

“It’s so impossible,” Connie Kucharczyk told court Friday after the defence called her as a character witness. She said it was “a total shock” to hear Storheim, 67, had been charged in 2011 with abusing two brothers in incidents that allegedly occurred in 1985.

Kucharczyk has known Storheim since 1978 when they met at a seminary in New York. She saw him on many occasions with the two alleged victims and said there was never any wrongdoing. She admitted seeing Storheim hug the boys and many others, but doesn’t believe any improper physical contact occurred. “He hugged everybody he saw,” she testified.

Storheim has pleaded not guilty to sexual assault. He testified in his own defence Thursday, saying the only thing he’s guilty of is caring too much for a troubled family he took under his wing.

Storheim admits he talked to the 11-year-old boys about puberty and body development, which included specific comments about ejaculation and pubic hair. He said the topic only came up during Bible study when the boys began asking questions. He said he regrets not quickly changing the subject.

But he repeatedly denied he ever touched the boys or repeatedly exposed himself to them, as they claimed on the witness stand earlier this year. He said any touching that occurred was “certainly by accident.”

Storheim conceded it’s possible the boys might have seen him walking around in the nude during sleepovers at his home, but added, “there was never an intentional display.”

“I overstepped a sense of compassion,” said Storheim, now an archbishop with the Orthodox Church in America, which has historical ties to the Russian Orthodox Church.

He admits writing a letter of apology to the family years later in which he said, “I probably stepped over a pastoral line.” But he claims those remarks were for the talk about puberty and nothing more sinister.

Storheim was the parish priest at Holy Trinity Sobor Orthodox Church on Manitoba Avenue at the time of the alleged incidents. Storheim had befriended the boys’ family while he served at another parish in another community and the brothers visited him separately that summer.

Storheim had been the most senior cleric of his church in Canada when the charges were laid in the fall of 2011, holding the title of Archbishop of Ottawa and Canada, but was subsequently suspended from that post pending the outcome of the criminal charges and an internal church investigation.