Diocese of Richmond Priest Facing Allegations

SNAP - Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests [Chicago IL]

July 18, 2023

By Zach Hiner

The Catholic Diocese of Richmond posted on its website earlier this month that retired priest Fr. Walter Lewis was accused of sexually abusing a child during his time at  St. Anne Catholic Church in Bristol. The clergyman denied the accusation, but the Diocese said that it had been reported to law enforcement.

The accusation against Fr. Lewis stems from an incident that was said to have occurred in the 1980s. The priest was ordained in 1979. He worked as a parochial vicar or pastor at several parishes, including Holy Spirit, Virginia Beach; St. Andrew, Roanoke; St. Anne, Bristol; St. Mary, Richmond; St. Bridget, Richmond; St. John Neumann, Powhatan; and Good Samaritan, Amelia. Fr. Lewis retired in May of 2023.

We know that it can take survivors decades to come forward. Delayed disclosure is quite common, and the average age of reporting is 52. Those victimized by Catholic clergy, brothers, sisters, employees and volunteers during the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s will likely continue to come forward for years to come.

That said, we applaud this survivor for coming forward, and we recognize how difficult it must have been to tell their story. SNAP is committed to standing by all victims of sexual abuse by trusted authority figures. This survivor’s bravery will help to keep other children safe.

However, we also know that those who prey on boys and girls rarely have just one victim. We feel that Catholic officials have a moral obligation to do more than just post a notification letter on their website. If the Diocese was truly sincere about protection, transparency, and cooperation, Bishop Barry C. Knestout would take the initiative and personally go to every parish where Fr. Lewis worked to beg anyone who may have experienced, witnessed, or suspected abuse by the cleric to report immediately to the police. 

We also think in the interest of child protection and transparency, the Diocese should expand their list of accused to include brothers, sisters, employees and volunteers. It should also provide photos and the dates for parish assignments, as well general information about each accusation, such as the age and sex of the victim, when the accusation was received, where the abuse was said to have occurred, and what was done in response.

In the meantime, we urge anyone who experienced abuse in the Diocese of Richmond to speak up. Tell trusted family and friends, a trained therapist, law enforcement, or support groups like ours. You do not need to suffer alone and in silence! There are people who will believe and support you.

Contact: Becky Ianni, SNAP Virginia State Leader, (703-801-6044, snapvirginia@cox.net) Tom Schlenz, SNAP Leader, Shenandoah, (540-532-6347, tschlenz@snapnetwork.org) Mike McDonnell, SNAP Interim Executive Director (mmcdonnell@snapnetwork.org, 267-261-0578)