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Convicted priest out on bail pending appeal

WINNIPEG - A former Orthodox priest convicted of sexually assaulting an altar boy spent just over a week behind bars before being freed on bail until his appeal is heard.

Seraphim Storheim was convicted of sexual assault early this year and sentenced last week to eight months in jail for an assault dating back almost 30 years. His lawyer Jeff Gindin immediately appealed the conviction and sentence, arguing the judge came to the wrong conclusion when he didn't find Storheim's account credible.

Gindin argued Thursday his client should be released on bail until the appeal is heard because he poses no threat to society. If Storheim had not been granted bail, Gindin said it's possible he would have served the bulk of his sentence before his appeal was heard.

Justice Diana Cameron of Manitoba's Court of Appeal agreed that was likely — even if the appeal moves quickly.

"It's entirely conceivable he would have served out his sentence before a decision was rendered by this court," she said.

Storheim, now 68, showed no emotion as he was granted bail and told he could not be alone with a child under the age of 18 as a condition of his release.

The Crown opposed bail, arguing Storheim has been found guilty of an egregious offence and it would send the wrong message to release him immediately following his conviction.

"He is no longer cloaked in the presumption of innocence," said Crown attorney Neil Stein. "He is now guilty ... the public has an interest in seeing justice done."

Cameron said she agreed Storheim's crime was serious and involved a "significant breach of trust by a priest."

"Having said that, it was a single incident that occurred 30 years ago and was an isolated incident," she said.

The sexual assault occurred when a boy Storheim had met in London, Ont., came to visit the priest in Winnipeg in 1985 to further his Christian education. The man testified that during that visit Storheim would routinely walk around naked and would sometimes lie on the floor naked and touch himself.

The man testified another time Storheim touched him and inspected his groin as he sat naked on a bed. Storheim testified he talked to the boy about puberty and inspected his pyjama bottoms for semen at the request of the boy, but denied anything inappropriate took place.

Justice Christopher Mainella, who presided over Storheim's trial but who now sits on the Court of Appeal, said in his sentence last week that he didn't believe that explanation.

"The accused's motive for this sexual touching was his personal gratification, not his stated purpose at the time of sexual education," he wrote.

Storheim had been free on bail while the case made its way through the courts, but has been in custody since his sentencing. His appeal is expected to be heard this fall.

The appeal is largely based on the grounds that Mainella erred when he found Storheim's testimony wasn't credible, Gindin said.

"There is no reason why Mr. Storheim should be sitting behind bars when, in the end, the court decides a conditional sentence should have been imposed," he said. "The public does have an interest in justice and a person has a right to appeal."

At the time of the offence, Storheim was a priest in the Orthodox Church in America but he later rose to archbishop — the church's highest-ranking cleric in Canada. He was placed on leave when he was arrested in 2010 and retired following his conviction.

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

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Storheim was convicted last week.

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