Victims group pushes support for archbishop off Web

Author: Robert Matas
Date Published: 01/05/2011
His Eminence, the Most Reverend Seraphim (Storheim), Archbishop of Ottawa and Canada. (Globe files/Globe files)
His Eminence, the Most Reverend Seraphim (Storheim), Archbishop of Ottawa and Canada. (Globe files/Globe files)

Appeals lead to removal of fundraising notice for religious leader charged with sexual assault from Vancouver parish website

A U.S.-based victims group has successfully appealed to Canadian religious leaders to stop a Vancouver parish from soliciting support for an archbishop in Canada charged with sexual assault.

However, a move to close down the parish’s Web-based fundraising campaign was not enough, Cappy Larson, a spokesperson for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Wednesday in an interview from San Francisco.

The leadership of the Orthodox Church in America’s Canadian archdiocese should take the next step and make a genuine effort to reach out to victims, said Ms. Larson, whose group claims more than 10,000 members, including hundreds in Canada. “They are just trying to protect themselves. They knew the parish could be a problem for them.”

Archbishop Seraphim Storheim, who was previously known as Kenneth William Storheim, was arrested on Nov. 24 in Winnipeg and charged with two counts of sexual assault. Media reports have stated the abuse allegedly occurred in the mid-1980s at a Winnipeg church and involved two 10-year-old boys.

Archbishop Storheim took a leave of absence from his post in October, when the police investigation became known. The Orthodox Church in America suspended him in early December, a week after he was arrested.

The victims group was concerned about the website of the Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Sobor in Vancouver. The website included a letter of support for Archbishop Storheim, a page soliciting funds for his legal defence and a link labeled “important” which led to a private website supporting the archbishop and soliciting funds.

By late Wednesday afternoon, the contentious material had disappeared. The parish, though, did not erase all signs of its support for Archbishop Storheim.

“During and after the service on Oct. 10, 2010, the whole parish prayed for our beloved Vladyka Seraphim,” the revamped website stated, referring to Archbishop Storheim. A letter of support was prepared at the church council meeting, on behalf of the parish, the website stated.

“On Jan. 5 at the request of the Archdiocesan leadership, the letter with the unanimous opinion of our community has been claimed as illegal and was removed from this page,” the website stated.

Answering the phone at the parish on Wednesday, the day before Orthodox Christmas Eve, a woman who declined to identify herself, said no one was available for an interview about the website. A man who answered the phone at the archdiocese office in Ottawa, who also did not identify himself, said church officials would not be available for an interview until next week.

Ms. Larson said the outpouring of public support by the Vancouver parish was “damaging and hurtful” to victims. “It is just total intimidation, for the victims to see [the parish]rally support around the [alleged]predator,” Ms. Larson said.

She said she has not seen anyone in the Canadian church reach out to those who may have information or been victimized. The victims should be told that it is okay to come forward and they should speak to police, she said.

The victims group was not critical of anyone who wants to personally support the archbishop, Ms. Larson said: “Give him a phone call, write him a note. But to [solicit support on a parish website]is really inappropriate.”

The religious leader, who lives in Ottawa, was appointed archbishop of Ottawa and spiritual head of the Archdiocese of Canada in March, 2007. Initially a Lutheran, he converted to Orthodoxy in the 1970s and has served as an Orthodox priest in Finland, North Carolina, Alberta, Ontario and Manitoba. The Orthodox Church in America is reported to have more than one million members.

Editor’s Note: This online version of the article contains additional information that was not included in the original newspaper version or in earlier online versions of this article.