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

A victims' advocacy group is upset that an Orthodox parish in Vancouver appeared to be using its website to help raise funds for a former Winnipeg priest 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.

He has been on leave from his religious duties since October, before charges were laid.

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

The allegations date back more than 20 years.

The national arm of the church has posted 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 the archbishop.

The parish did not reply to a telephone message seeking comment. However, the posting was removed from the website a short time after a reporter placed the call.

A letter of support for Storheim — known as Seraphim in church circles — 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."

'Inappropriate and intimidating'

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."

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 that said Storheim was on leave because of the police investigation.

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.