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Former high-ranking Orthodox priest faces sentencing hearing for sex assault

WINNIPEG - A former Orthodox priest facing possible jail time for molesting an altar boy expressed empathy Wednesday toward his victim.

"Having read the victim impact statement, I felt extreme sadness and pain in my heart that he was feeling those things," Seraphim Kenneth Storheim said in a brief address at the end of his sentencing hearing.

Storheim also said he will pray for the victim "even more" from now on.

The 68-year-old former cleric was dressed in simple black clothing that contrasted with his long white beard. He sat quietly throughout the hearing before making his statement.

The Crown requested a 12-month jail sentence for Storheim, who was convicted in January of one count of sexual assault on a boy who was living and working with him in Winnipeg in 1985. The boy had been sent to live with Storheim by his family who lived in another community.

"This offender not only abused a young person, but abused a position of trust," Crown attorney Breta Passler told the court. "The offender was a priest who had been entrusted by the victim's family."

Defence lawyer Jeff Gindin said the sexual assault was a one-time incident that warrants a conditional sentence with no jail time.

"The evidence was that it was the briefest of touches."

Gindin also said Storheim has no criminal record, and has already paid a heavy price through the media attention given to the trial.

"The publicity in this case has been extensive" he said. "His reputation is ruined, clearly ... around the globe."

The altar boy, now in his 30s, testified that he was made to fondle Storheim and Storheim touched him inappropriately as well. He cannot be identified under a court-ordered publication ban.

Storheim pleaded not guilty and testified that he spoke to the boy about puberty but never touched him sexually. Justice Christopher Mainella rejected Storheim's testimony, saying it was not credible.

Storheim had been charged with sexually assaulting another altar boy as well, but that witness's testimony was often contradictory and Storheim was found not guilty on that count.

In his victim impact statement, the former altar boy said he still feels anxiety, has undergone counselling, and has lost trust in religion.

The judge will render his decision on July 9.

At the time of the offence, Storheim was a priest in the Orthodox Church in America. He later rose to archbishop — the church's highest-ranking cleric in Canada.

The Orthodox Church in America has 700 parishes, missions and other institutions across North America. It is separate from other churches such as the Greek Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Storheim was arrested in 2010 after the former altar boys went to police with their complaints. He was placed on leave and then made to retire following his conviction.

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