Testimony from brothers about accused archbishop ‘unreliable:’ defence lawyer

Author: Chinta Puxley, The Canadian Press
Date Published: 11/01/2013

WINNIPEG – A lawyer defending an Orthodox archbishop against allegations he sexually assaulted two brothers almost 30 years ago says the evidence against him is “unreliable” and “illogical.”

Seraphim Storheim is accused of sexually assaulting two pre-teen boys when they visited him on separate occasions in Winnipeg in 1985. The men have testified Storheim walked around naked and asked them to touch him sexually.

In his closing arguments Friday, defence lawyer Jeff Gindin told Justice Christopher Mainella the brothers’ testimony isn’t enough to convict Storheim beyond a reasonable doubt.

“The evidence is unreliable, it’s inconsistent and, in many ways, it’s simply illogical,” Gindin suggested.

One of the brothers admitted he had large gaps in his memory and couldn’t provide many specifics. He told court he is on several medications and has spent time in a psychiatric hospital.

Gindin said the man cannot remember going to the police with his allegations.

“His lack of memory is startling.”

Their testimony that Storheim used to walk around his parish home naked doesn’t make sense, Gindin added. Storheim shared the home with another priest who was often there and many parishioners had keys to the home and used the space, he said. Neighbourhood children used to hang out there, while others dropped by unannounced and simply came in through the unlocked front door, Gindin said.

“The idea that someone would decide to walk around nude casually … is just plain illogical,” he said.

One of the brothers may have accidentally seen Storheim naked but no sexual assault occurred, Gindin said.

“It was not an intentional display on purpose.”

Gindin argued that even if the judge believes Storheim exposed himself to one of the brothers, that might be considered inappropriate, but didn’t constitute sexual assault at the time.

Storheim testified he met the boys in the early 1980s when he was posted in London, Ont. When he moved to Winnipeg, Storheim said, he agreed to have the boys stay with him separately during the summer of 1985 to further their Christian education.

During that visit, one brother said Storheim would routinely walk around naked and would sometimes lie on the floor naked and touch himself. On another occasion, the man testified, Storheim touched him and inspected his groin as he sat naked on a bed.

The man’s brother told court Storheim got into bed with him and asked to be touched sexually.

Storheim, now 67, has denied anything inappropriate took place. He testified he did talk to one of the brothers about puberty — a discussion he said was probably prompted by the mention of bodily discharges in the Bible. In retrospect, Storheim called the discussion “one of the stupider things I’ve done in my life.”

He admitted to holding up one of the boy’s pyjama bottoms to the light to look for semen stains but said he was asked to do so by the boy.

Crown attorney Breta Passler told the court Storheim’s version of events doesn’t make sense.

“This story of a young (boy) asking a priest to examine his pyjamas for the presence of semen is not believable,” she said. “It stretches credulity.”

So does the explanation of what led to the puberty discussion, Passler said.

“This puberty discussion, if it was a natural discussion that would arise out of the areas of the Bible they were studying, it makes no sense that this very experienced man … would even venture into that area of the Bible,” she said. “The accused’s evidence should not raise reasonable doubt.”

In contrast, Passler said the brothers’ testimony was “genuine” and “honest” as they tried to recall difficult events which occurred several decades ago. One of the brothers can describe Storheim’s naked body in detail, down to moles on his back and whether he was circumcised, Passler noted.

“He had to have seen the accused,” she said.

Mainella reserved his verdict until Jan. 24.

Storheim was arrested in 2010 after the brothers went to police. He became the Orthodox Church in America’s top cleric in Canada in 2007 and is currently on leave.

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