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Friend of Orthodox archbishop testifies at cleric's Winnipeg sex assault trial

WINNIPEG - A close friend of an Orthodox archbishop accused of sexually assaulting two brothers three decades ago says the alleged abuse couldn't possibly have happened.

Connie Kucharczyk told the trial of Seraphim Storheim that she was utterly shocked when police called her in 2010 and told her they were investigating the archbishop.

"It's so impossible," Kucharczyk testified Friday.

Storheim hugged "everyone he saw" but never crossed a line, she said.

Storheim is accused of sexually assaulting the brothers, who were pre-teens at the time, when they visited him separately in Winnipeg during the summer of 1985. The men have testified Storheim walked around naked and asked them to touch him sexually.

One brother said Storheim, 67, would sometimes lie on the floor naked and touch himself. On another occasion, the man testified, Storheim touched him and inspected his groin as he sat naked on a bed.

Storheim, who took the stand Thursday, has vehemently denied he did anything inappropriate. He told Court of Queen's Bench Justice Christopher Mainella he talked to one of the boys about puberty because of questions raised in a Bible study they were doing.

He called the conversation "one of the stupider things I've done in my life." But Storheim said he never saw either of the boys naked and, if they saw him nude, it was unintentional.

Storheim became the Orthodox Church of America's top cleric in Canada in 2007 and is currently on leave.

Kucharczyk said she helped Storheim entertain one of the brothers when he visited along with another boy from the United States. They went out to eat, went to the zoo and to her father's cottage on Falcon Lake, she said.

He was a "sweet kid," she said.

"Did you see anything suspicious?" defence lawyer Jeff Gindin asked her.

"Never," she said as Storheim listened passively, fiddling with a string of prayer beads.

The first brother returned home and the second brother cut his visit short because he was "homesick," Storheim testified Thursday.

Shortly after, Storheim said he got a phone call from the boys' mother. He told court that she said "I sent the boys to be taught scripture and not dirty stuff" and then hung up.

The parish home where the abuse is alleged to have taken place was busy, Kucharczyk said.

She would often drop by unannounced and many of the parishioners had keys, she said. It was a welcoming place for neighbourhood children as well, Kucharczyk said.

"Kids would watch TV, lying around the living room laughing," she said. "It was really fun."

Other parishioners who were skilled tradesmen would also drop by unannounced to do odd jobs around the old house, which was attached to the church, she said.

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. The trial is scheduled to resume again Oct. 31.


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