Group decries website that appeared to help raise funds for charged bishop

Author: Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press
Date Published: 01/05/2011

CALGARY – A victims’ advocacy group is upset that an Orthodox parish in Vancouver appeared to be using its website to help raise funds for an archbishop who is accused of molesting children.

Kenneth William Storheim, who headed the Canadian archdiocese of the Orthodox Church in America, was charged in late November with “historical” assaults on two individuals in Winnipeg and then given a three-month leave of absence from his position.

Police had been investigating the case since June. Storheim, who is 64, has denied any wrongdoing through his lawyer.

The national arm of the church has a directive on its website that says any fundraising for the archbishop is to be done privately and church resources are not to be used.

But a posting on the website for the Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Sobor in Vancouver directed members to send any “financial gifts to defray legal costs” to a trust account at an Edmonton law firm and another address for those who wanted to write “words of encouragement to archbishop.”

The parish did not reply to a message seeking comment; however, the posting was removed from the website a short time after The Canadian Press placed the call.

A letter of support for Storheim dating back to October remained on the website.

“We have only known him to be a loving, kind, caring, gentle and understanding person. He has always conducted himself with sobriety of mind, self-control and watchfulness while willingly and eagerly caring for the people he has been entrusted to watch over,” says the letter signed by Archpriest Michael Fourik.

“We trust him as a person and we trust him as the man who through spiritual knowledge, gained by humility, has only had a positive effect on all of our lives. It is true that many of us, including our children, have confided in Archbishop Seraphim while raising our families and often during difficult times in our lives.”

A California-based support group for victims of priest abuse says such fundraising can be intimidating to complainants.

“It’s terribly inappropriate and intimidating when parishioners publicly help an alleged child molester, especially through a church website and while an alleged church investigation is happening,” said Melanie Jula Sakoda, a co-founder of Survivors’ Network of Those Abused by Priests.

“Victims of childhood sexual abuse are afraid that no one will believe them if they tell of abuse by a respected religious figure. Pages and links like those on the Vancouver site only confirm those feelings.”

The charges against Storheim date back more than 20 years. Storheim posted a letter on the archdiocese’s website in October which said he was taking a leave of absence for health reasons. One week later, church officials issued a statement which said Storheim was on leave because of the police investigation.

The archdiocese directive, which was posted Dec. 30, is clear.

“The Archdiocese of Canada, Orthodox Church in America is not in any way associated with any legal fund or other defensive effort being set up by individuals to aid Archbishop Seraphim. All people involved in this or any other fund raiser are doing so strictly in their individual capacity, and not in their official capacity as clergy or regular members of the Archdiocese of Canada,” wrote Chancellor Igumen Alexander (Pihach).

“It is imperative that no archdiocesan money, property or other resources be used for this or any other fund or other similar or related endeavour — including any list of members or parish rosters.”

No one from the archdiocese returned calls seeking comment.

Storheim has served as a parish priest in Alberta, North Carolina, London, Ont., and other areas, according to a biography on the church’s website. He became an auxiliary bishop in Edmonton in 1987 and was elevated to archbishop 20 years later.

The Orthodox Church in America counts some 700 parishes, monasteries, 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.