Updated: Ex-archbishop to learn fate in July for sex assault on altar boy

Author: Staff
Date Published: 06/18/2014
Publication: CBC News (Canada)
Seraphim Kenneth Storheim leaves the Winnipeg courthouse after his sentencing hearing on Wednesday. (Nelly Gonzalez/CBC)
Seraphim Kenneth Storheim leaves the Winnipeg courthouse after his sentencing hearing on Wednesday. (Nelly Gonzalez/CBC)

A Manitoba judge has reserved his decision in sentencing a former Orthodox priest and archbishop convicted of sexual assault against an altar boy in Winnipeg during the 1980s.

After listening to sentencing submissions on Wednesday, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Christopher Mainella said he will provide a decision on July 9 in the case against Seraphim Kenneth Storheim, 68.

The Crown is seeking a 12-month jail sentence while the defence is calling for a conditional sentence with no jail time.

Storheim had been accused of sexually assaulting two pre-teen brothers in 1985. He had faced two counts — one for each boy.

Earlier this year, he was found guilty in one case but not the other.

At Storheim’s sentencing hearing Wednesday, Crown attorney Breta Passler told court the victim’s family had considered Storheim to be a role model and he “not only abused a young person, but abused a position of trust.”

A number of Storheim’s supporters were in the courtroom for the hearing and some appeared upset by the Crown’s remarks, the CBC’s Nelly Gonzalez reported.

The Crown said Storheim may have many friends and admirers, but that shows he has a “good skill in developing trust in others.”

Passler told court that the victim, who provided an impact statement, has lost faith in the church, has undergone counselling, and still suffers from nightmares to this day.

‘I felt extreme sadness,’ said Storheim

Given a chance to speak before court wrapped up for the day, Storheim said, “In reading the victim impact statement, I felt extreme sadness and pain in my heart that he felt those things.”

Storheim also said he will pray for the victim “even more” from now on.

Defence lawyer Jeff Gindin called the sexual assault an isolated incident and said the evidence showed “that it was the briefest of touches.”

Gindin told the court that Storheim’s reputation is already ruined by the extensive news coverage of his trial and his “fall from grace” as a result of the conviction.

Storheim has been a law-abiding citizen since he was charged almost three years ago, the lawyer added.

The fact that Storheim has no criminal record is a mitigating factor, but he should not be spared jail time, Passler said.

Brothers now in their 30s

In handing down his guilty verdict against Storheim in January, Mainella said he was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt about the assault against one boy but the burden of proof was not met for the second.

The brothers, now in their 30s, testified during the trial that they lived with Storheim in Winnipeg briefly, on separate occasions, when they were altar boys in 1985. He was a priest at the time.

One of the brothers testified that he was made to fondle Storheim, who touched him inappropriately as well.

Storheim denied anything inappropriate took place. He told court that he was telling the boy about puberty based on some Biblical teachings.

The judge rejected Storheim’s version of events.

Mainella said one brother was clear in his testimony, while the other had memory and mental illness problems.

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

At the time of the offence, Storheim was a priest in the Orthodox Church in America. He later rose to archbishop — the church’s highest-ranking cleric in Canada.

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

Storheim was arrested in 2010 after the former altar boys went to police with their complaints. He was placed on leave and then made to retire following his conviction.

With files from The Canadian Press and the CBC’s Nelly Gonzalez