Details Emerging in +Seraphim Story
As allegations of sexual misconduct and a criminal probe by Winnipeg police into the actions of Archbishop Seraphim of Ottawa some 25 years ago spread across the Canadian media, from Vancouver to Halifax, new details are being added to the story day by day.
According to Canadian newspaper reports, the allegations stem from two adult men who allege the abuse happened in 1984 while the two were visiting Winnipeg. They were 10 years old at the time. According to Pokrov.org, an Orthodox organization that deals with abuse, the boys complained to the Church at the time of the abuse, but no action appears to have been taken.
According to an Edmonton paper: "A former Anglican, Storheim spent two years at Christ Church in Edmonton and four years at St. Mary’s in Ponoka, Alberta. Bishop Jane Alexander of the Anglican Church in Edmonton confirmed Storheim was a member of the diocese from 1973 to 1978, but said no one has raised any concerns about his time with the church. “As far as we’re concerned, in all of our files and records, there’s absolutely no accusation, no complaint, not even a whisper of anything untoward during his time with us,” Alexander said. “He was seen as a good and faithful parish priest and there’s nothing in the records to even hint at anything inappropriate.”
The Allegations Re-emerge
An Orthodox priest, as yet unidentified, reminded Orthodox church leaders of the 1984 allegations again in the fall of 2008, prior to the Pittsburgh All American Council. According to a June 2009 letter from the retired Bishop of Alaska, Nikolai, Archbishop Seraphim subsequently removed his name from consideration as Primate. Melanie Sakoda of the U.S.-based Survivors’ Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said her group has been urging the church to investigate the allegations since that time: “We heard two years ago that a clergyman had filed a written report alleging that incidents took place more than 20 years ago,” she said in an interview from Moraga, Calif. She said a colleague from SNAP contacted the church at the time and asked why no investigation had been launched.
The OCA Responds
On July 15, 2009 Metropolitan Jonah admitted in a letter to Sakoda that he was aware of the allegations, writing: “...together with other members of the OCA’s Holy Synod of Bishops and all of those who work with us in the administration of the OCA have taken this matter very seriously. Although no formal accusations have been made by the alledged victims in this matter, we are pursuing an investigation as per the OCA’s established guidelines.”
That appears to be untrue. According to the retired Bishop Nikolai in his June 2009 letter to +Jonah : “ ....I was told that he (Storheim) confided these matters to you and that you sent him to the St. John Monastery ( where the Abbot is reputed to be a pyschotherapist of sorts) for a ten day retreat.” The OCA policy guidelines for sexual misconduct may not specifically cover misconduct by Bishops, but they certainly do not advocate “retreats” as a form, or replacement, for an active investigation.
Other newspaper reports cite Chancellor Fr. Alex Garklavs, inferring that the Church knew of the allegations well before October 2010. “ Reached by The Globe and Mail Tuesday evening, the church’s Chancellor, Father Alexander Garklavs....declined to say exactly when the church became aware of the allegations, but suggested it had known about them before police became involved. “There were some reports,” he said. “But I can’t say much more than that.”
The Police Respond
According to the Canadian newspapers, Pokrov forwarded information they’d received to the Winnipeg police about three months ago. Winnipeg police then confirmed last 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.”
The Archbishop and His Family Respond
Meanwhile, Archbishop Seraphim has maintained total public silence on the allegations. His family, however, has been active in defending him in the newspapers and online. His sister, Dianne Julianna Storheim-Hill, in a series of interview with Edmonton papers, stated: “ .....the allegations are totally out of character and she has faith her brother’s name will be cleared. “We stand by him 100 per cent,” she said. “His life has been totally for other people, not to hurt them but to help them. ....She said she won’t believe the allegations unless they’re proven “beyond a shadow of a doubt.”
More significantly, Storheim-Hill quotes her brother to her hometown paper as saying: “He said it’s the toughest time in his life and he doesn’t understand.”
Bishop Irénée (Rochon) of Quebec City, +Seraphim’s replacement, confirmed the Archbishop’s confusion. To another Canadian paper +Irenee said “... the archbishop “claims he doesn’t know anything about it” and is troubled by the news. “Everybody’s upset about it, the whole diocese, Archdiocese of Canada, is upset about it,” (Rochon) said.””
It seems almost impossible to believe, given the reports of the OCA being informed in summer 2008 by a written report, his stepping aside in Autumn 2008 from the Primacy, the subsequent Manton retreat in 2009 ordered by +Jonah, etc., that the allegations broke upon the Archbishop with complete surprise. Moreover, as Pokrov.org relates, there is a report that +Seraphim himself penned a letter of apology to the victims in the past.
Nevertheless, +Seraphim’s family continues to press his innocence. In an email received by OCANews.org, among others, family members write: “I am the niece of Archbishop Seraphim, I am 31 years old, and my Uncle is INNOCENT!!! I have 2 brothers and 2 sisters and 1 cousin, all younger than me, don’t you think this would have happened to us, or my brothers?!? These claims are absurd, anyone who knows my uncle knows this is true. Please, people, please come forward and defend him.
We were always ecstatic when we found that my Uncle was coming to spend a few weeks with us, it meant that we would get hugs, and books read to us, and the piano played to us.
The agenda of these accusers needs to be exposed.”
The email is signed by all six of +Seraphim’s nieces and nephews.
Both Dianne Storheim-Hill and the children refer to +Seraphim’s “enemies” and their “agenda”. No explanations are offered as to what or who those might be, other than some might be angry due to discipline handed out by the Bishop in the course of his episcopal duties. Certainly it is hard to imagine he had “enemies “or there were “agendas” 25 years ago, since the allegations involve 10 year olds, and were reported three years before he even became a bishop....
Indeed the only agenda that is circulating on the internet is an email request that OCANews.org disallow comments on the stories relating to +Seraphim. It reads:
“We sincerely request that you include your name on this petition asking the OCA news website (www.ocanews.org) to close the comments section on the article pertaining to Archbishop SERAPHIM’s leave of absence and the reasons for which it was taken. When an article is this controversial, responsible news websites such as the CBC, CTV, National Post, and the Globe and Mail always disable comment posting to avoid the rants and flame wars that we are now seeing on ocanews.org. Regardless of the current allegations concerning him, Archbishop SERAPHIM has undeniably led the diocese of Canada with grace and love. We want to try and stem the unnecessary conclusions that are being made by uninformed individuals at this early stage of the investigation. Please help us preserve the respect that our Archpastor has earned in the many years he has served us, working hard to establish and nurture Orthodoxy in Canada.”
(Editor’s note: It is policy of OCANews.org to allow comments on all stories, no matter how controversial. If comments could be made on +Theodosius, +Herman, +Nikolai, +Philip, +Mark of Toledo, Robert Kondratick, and the host of other characters in Orthodoxy’s Time of Troubles during the past 5 years - not to mention the Editor himself - it would unfair to single out +Seraphim’s troubles as beyond reasonable discussion. Moreover, it is beginning to appear that it was precisely because such topics were not openly discussed that this affair has assumed these proportions. The comment section will remain open.)
And the story continues....
- Mark Stokoe