WINNIPEG - An Orthodox archbishop accused of sexually assaulting two brothers almost 30 years ago denied doing anything inappropriate but told a Winnipeg court he did talk to one of the boys about puberty.
"It was one of the stupider things I've done in my life," Seraphim Storheim told Court of Queen's Bench Justice Christopher Mainella on Thursday. "The thing I regret most is engaging in this conversation about puberty."
Storheim said he met the boys in the early 1980s when he was posted to London, Ont. The 67-year-old testified he saw the boys and their single mother at least once or twice a week during that time. Later Thursday he asked to change his testimony to say he had seen them once or twice a month.
The boys were vivacious, hard-working and obedient, he said.
When he moved to Winnipeg, Storheim said he agreed to have the boys stay with him separately during the summer of 1985 to further their Christian education. He is accused of sexually assaulting the pre-teens during those visits.
The men have testified Storheim walked around naked and asked them to touch him sexually.
Storheim vehemently denied anything inappropriate took place.
"Did you ever intentionally display yourself in the nude?" asked defence lawyer Jeff Gindin.
"No," Storheim said.
"Did you ever invite either of them to touch you inappropriately?" Gindin said.
"No," Storheim said.
"You never saw either of them in the nude?"
"Never," Storheim said.
When the first brother came to visit along with another boy, Storheim said he did talk about puberty — a discussion he said was probably prompted by the mention of bodily discharges in the Bible. It was a spontaneous discussion, he said.
"My intention was to discuss the scriptures and help them understand them," Storheim said.
Under cross-examination, Crown prosecutor Breta Passler asked why he would be reading such passages with young boys.
"I would suggest you would normally not undertake the study of these things with boys of that age," Passler said.
"Perhaps not," Storheim said.
The first brother returned home and the second brother cut his visit short because he was "homesick," Storheim said. Shortly after, Storheim said he got a phone call from the boys' mother.
"She addressed me in a very angry way," he said. "She said, 'I'm very angry with you. I sent the boys to be taught scripture and not dirty stuff' and then she hung up."
"I was flabbergasted," said Storheim, adding he assumed she was referring to what he told the boys regarding puberty.
Storheim said he tried calling her back several times but he never spoke to her again.
Several years later when he was passing through London, Ont., Storheim said he stopped by the boys' home. No one was there so Storheim said he left a short note.
"I wanted to try to make amends and figure out what she was really angry about and try to fix it," he said. "I said I probably stepped over a pastoral line."
Storheim was arrested in 2010 after the brothers went to police.
The trial, which is being heard by judge alone, heard both brothers testify in June. One brother said Storheim would routinely walk around naked and would sometimes lie on the floor naked and touch himself.
"It didn't happen," Storheim said Thursday. "I've never done that."
On another occasion, the man testified, Storheim touched him and inspected his groin as he sat naked on a bed.
"He was looking for pubic hair ... combing through the area, just touching with his hands," the man said.
The man's brother told court Storheim got into bed with him and asked to be touched sexually. The brother admitted to large gaps in his memory and couldn't provide many specifics. He said he is on several medications and has spent time in a psychiatric hospital.
Storheim said the only time he was in one of the boy's bedrooms was when the pre-teen became scared by the odd, night sounds in the old home.
"He asked me to sit beside him," said Storheim, adding they were both clothed.
"Was there anything inappropriate said or done by you?" Gindin asked.
"No," Storheim said.
Under questioning from Passler, Storheim said he did sleep with one of the brothers on the floor of the living room, along with the other boy who was staying with him.
That probably happened "two times," Storheim said.
Storheim became the top cleric in Canada for the Orthodox Church in America in 2007 and is on leave pending the verdict. The church is separate from other Orthodox religions such as the Greek Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.