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Archbishop Seraphim Storheim has stepped aside as head of the Canadian diocese of the Orthodox Church in America. ((Archdiocese of Canada))

An archbishop who has held positions in a number of Canadian communities has stepped down amid allegations of sexual abuse involving pre-teen boys.

In a statement released on the website of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), church officials said Archbishop Seraphim Storheim, 66, of Ottawa is on a leave of absence as police in Canada investigate abuse claims.

The OCA's statement indicates the church is co-operating with investigators and that an internal probe is underway. The Canadian diocese of the OCA was established in 1903.

Winnipeg police confirmed Wednesday that they are investigating Storheim but cautioned that their probe will be time-consuming and complex. The allegations are nearly three decades old, Const. Robert Carver said.

"Twenty-five years is a hugely long time," he said. "We might have witnesses who are no longer alive. We might have witnesses who can't remember. It's not uncommon for people to say, 'It's old, let it lie. I'm not prepared to talk about it."

'We're urging church officials to act like compassionate shepherds.' —David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP

Storheim was the rector of Holy Trinity Sobor [parish] in Winnipeg's North End from December 1984 to June 1987, according to an online biography on the church's website. He has also held positions at churches in London, Ont., Saskatoon, North Carolina and Alberta.

Storheim's leave as head of the archdiocese began Oct. 1, the OCA's statement said. The church confirmed he was being investigated for alleged sexual misconduct in a further statement two days later.

In a letter to the congregation announcing he was taking a three-month leave, Storheim suggests he approached his superiors on Sept. 19 to approve his absence.  He also suggests he stepped aside for health reasons.

"Having also seen my physician, I was informed that this leave is rather overdue," Storheim said.

Storheim has not been charged with any crime. Repeated calls to the Winnipeg church seeking comment were met with a busy signal.

Alleged victims were pre-teen boys

The head of a Chicago-based victims' organization called SNAP — short for Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests — said Tuesday evening it has been pushing for an investigation into complaints about Storheim for years.

In a telephone interview from Houston, David Clohessy said at least two alleged victims have come forward. They were members of the church, Clohessy said.

He said one of the alleged incidents took place in 1984, the year Storheim left a church in London and came to Winnipeg.

Clohessy charged that church officials have known about the abuse claims for years but were slow to act. The recent announcement of the internal probe and vow of co-operation with police comes as a relief, he said.

"We're just grateful there is an investigation and we hope that it's genuine and thorough and a clear one — and [that] it will be concluded hopefully soon and decisively," he said.

Clohessy added he hopes people with any information pick up the phone and share what they know with authorities.

"We're urging church officials to act like compassionate shepherds and aggressively seek out others who might have seen or suspected [anything]." he said.

He admitted being disappointed that Storheim was allowed to take a leave of absence instead of being removed.

"We think he should have been suspended rather than allowed to voluntarily resign," Clohessy said.

Corrections

  • Some of the images originally broadcast on CBC Television and posted online were not of Archbishop Seraphim Storheim, and we regret any confusion this may have caused to Russian Orthodox Canadians and to any members of that faith. Those images have been removed.
    Oct 29, 2010 12:05 PM CT