Winnipeg news outlets are reporting that the sexual abuse trial of the OCA’s former Archbishop of Canada, Seraphim (Storheim) has begun. The Winnipeg Sun reports, “Sex abuse trial for former Orthodox archbishop Seraphim Storheim begins.” The Winnipeg Free Press said, “Ex-altar boy tells archbishop’s Winnipeg sex assault trial he felt ‘disgusted’”.
It is only with the trial’s beginning that some details about the allegation are coming forth. A court ordered publication ban prevents certain details from being released since those making the allegations were minors at the time the events were claimed to have occurred. Archbishop Seraphim was still a parish priest when the alleged abuse occurred between 1984-1987. He became a bishop in 1987.
We will soon learn what the Crown is able to prove regarding the case and how Archbishop Seraphim will be judged by the court. Whatever is proven in court, the Orthodox Church in America will still and also have to render a judgment on Archbishop Seraphim and whether anything he did violated church canons and requires a church court or church discipline. The OCA has chosen to let the Crown make its case and judgment first before dealing with the case in the church. This was partly necessary perhaps because the OCA did not have all of the details of the case which are only now being revealed. Still the OCA needs to review its own inner culture that allowed the events to be ignored for so long without opening an investigation into the allegations.
Obviously, there is a tragedy here, no matter what decision the court renders. There is of course the possibility of sexual abuse of two at that time 10 year old boys. Even if that is not proven in court, there are issues of possible pastoral indiscretion which the OCA may have to deal with or a failure to take seriously a complaint and investigate it. Some aspects of the story and allegations were known about the time they occurred according the mother of the two men who claims to have contacted church authorities though not the police. Unfortunately, the allegations were not investigated at that time, and those who knew of the allegations apparently did not follow through in dealing with them. According to the news story, one of the men making the allegations now suffers from mental health problems – which may count against him in the eyes of a jury as the defense attorney attacks his credibility. Whether the mental health problems preceded the alleged events or are somehow related to them may be another issue which must be determined. Meanwhile the Archdiocese of Canada has to suffer the trauma of watching its longtime leader be put on trial. There are no winners in such cases for even if justice is done, there are still victims of abuse and in our fallen world there are abusers, even in church. There is the difficult additional tragedy of a church which perhaps did not respond as well as it could to the allegations or how to handle them, the alleged victims or the alleged perpetrator. Some aspects of the allegations were known almost 30 years ago, but only were brought to light 5-6 years ago. Then there are also the family members of all those involved as well, and what they have suffered. Many wounds to be tended to and many victims in need of care. We do need at a minimum to pray for all that God might establish truth and justice on the road to His healing the wounds of all those hurt by these events.