Abuse in Orthodoxy
Ugly news from my communion. A former Canadian archbishop in the OCA is going to jail for child sexual abuse. Excerpt:
The sexual assault occurred when an Ontario boy came to visit the priest in Winnipeg in 1985 to further his religious education. Storheim was the parish priest at Holy Trinity Sobor Orthodox Church on Manitoba Avenue at the time of the alleged incidents.
The victim testified that Storheim would routinely walk around naked, touching himself in front of the victim. The victim also testified that Storheim touched him and inspected his groin as he sat naked on a bed during that visit.
Storheim denied any wrongdoing, testifying that he only talked to the boy about puberty and inspected his pyjama bottoms for semen at the boy’s request.
The assault took place three decades ago. I think it’s prudent to be especially skeptical of allegations made so long after the incident, but what kind of cleric inspects a kid’s pajama bottoms for semen? I did not follow testimony in the case, but he was convicted, and lost his appeal, so, he will be wearing liturgical orange.
Meanwhile, a huge mess has kicked up at an Orthodox boarding school for troubled youth on Kodiak Island, Alaska. A number of former students, staffers, and parents, including a priest who sent his kids there, have formally complained about the school’s dean, Father Paisius DeLucia, to the Bulgarian Orthodox Diocese, which they accuse of failing to exercise proper oversight of the school. They say they complained to the Metropolitan and others in power about the physical, emotional, and spiritual violence Fr. Paisius allegedly wrought on the kids under his authority, but nothing was done.
Here is a website run by the alleged victims and their families. There are many signed statements with specific allegations (though none of a sexual nature). The victims group is calling on others who have experienced abuse to contact the Alaskan state authorities, who have opened an investigation into the accusations. Here is a link to statements from alleged victims (I say “alleged” because the accusations have not been proved). Here is one from people claiming to have witnessed abuse. Father Moses Berry, a well-known and respected OCA priest who is in the Christ the Savior Brotherhood with Fr. Paisius, has issued this letter in support of the alleged victims:
I have been reading with great sorrow and dismay about the experiences of those attending St. Innocent’s Academy.
Had I known of any of this, I would have done everything I could to prevent it. People who did know something about this, and did nothing, have done us all a great disservice, to say the least.
I am a priest in the OCA, and a long time member of CSB, and had no knowledge of the events in Alaska. It appears in some writing about SIA that CSB itself – all of its members – are thought to be responsible. Inasmuch as CSB gave grants to the Academy and was associated with Fr. Paisius through his membership, we should take responsibility and cease all support. However, to associate CSB itself with this kind of abuse is unfair; indeed, slanderous. To typify the group by the actions of a member is wrong; as a black man, I’m very sensitive to this, having suffered from it myself. We shouldn’t, for example, condemn everyone in the OCA as abusive when the abuses committed by a hierarch are brought to light. The organization should do what is necessary to address the situation, but its members shouldn’t be vilified.
That said, I believe, as I said earlier, that CSB should cease any support of the academy and assist Fr. Paisius’ bishop and the civil authorities in any way possible to bring resolution to this tragic situation. I don’t have the words to fully express my sorrow at what happened to the young people at SIA. My prayers are with all of you.
Fr. Moses Berry, Ash Grove, MO
May justice be done. I find it difficult to believe that even to this day, bishops and others in church authority, in any church, don’t move heaven and earth to protect children and minors when credible claims of clerical abuse arise. But here we are.