He was once lauded around the world for his missionary work, but yesterday Fr Eugene Lewis stood in a court dock with his head bowed as he was convicted of abusing three young sisters

Belfast Telegraph
May 28, 2010

A priest who received testimonies from around the world for his missionary work has been convicted of sexually abusing three Fermanagh sisters.

It took the Omagh Crown Court jury of six men and six women four-and-a-half hours over two days to unanimously convict Fr Eugene Lewis, the former provincial superior of the Society of Missionaries of Africa, also known as the White Fathers, based at Cypress Grove House, Templeogue, in Dublin.

The retired priest (76), who tried to dismiss the claims as "absolute rubbish", showed no emotion and kept his head bowed, never once looking up, as he palmed a set of rosary beads in the dock.

By their verdicts the jury accepted that Fr Lewis was a paedophile who had preyed on the Co Fermanagh sisters after befriending their parents nearly 50 years ago.

They also rejected the image of him presented by his defence and backed by testimonies from around the world, including an African bishop, that he was simply a loving, caring, wonderful man of God.

In all, following his six-week trial, he was convicted of a total of 11 counts of indecently assaulting the three sisters when they were youngsters, separately and on differing dates between August 1963 and September 1973.

However, from the start the jury heard of the attacks from prosecuting QC Ken McMahon, who said the priest had wormed his way into the family through an innocent clerical colleague.

Mr McMahon told the jury that although welcomed into their home at any time, he often chose to call at bedtime or on Saturday night at bath time.

The lawyer further claimed that Fr Lewis, his actions hidden by a large kitchen table, managed to abuse one of the girls in front of her father, who was unaware of what he was doing.

That victim later told the court that Fr Lewis also abused her while telling her and her sisters bedtime stories in their darkened bedroom.

However, the court heard that when she was aged 21, the priest raped her in the Templeogue base of the White Fathers after her parents sent her to him when they discovered she had had an affair with a married policeman.

The court was told she didn't shout or scream; she was traumatised, and that he raped her again the following night, despite her begging him to stop.

She later complained to her mother about the abuse but said nothing of the rapes, and it was not until two years ago that she finally went to the police, both North and South.

Her sisters also told the police of the abuse they suffered at the hands of the shamed cleric.

The priest, who swore to police and the jury he "never touched those children", will be sentenced next month once pre-sentence reports are completed.

The court had heard that the second sister was abused while she too was told bedtime stories by Fr Lewis, who said while he enjoyed storytelling, he was "no Hans Christian Anderson". The last of the girls he was convicted of abusing had told the court how, when she was aged either 11 or 12, she was sexually assaulted for her trouble after volunteering to make him a bite to eat, while the rest of the family went to the beach for the day.

He was convicted just as Judge Philip Babington was about to recall the jury to give them further directions should they return verdicts with a majority of at least 10 to two.

However, it was unnecessary as the judge quickly established that the jury, who'd asked for "two more minutes" before coming back into court, had already reached unanimous verdicts on each of the 11 counts.

Fr Lewis has been released on continuing bail to await sentencing.

Belfast solicitor Joe McVeigh, speaking on behalf of the priest, said that "while he respects the decision of the jury, he is very disappointed and he wants to stress that he remains adamant in his denials".

Mr McVeigh said that Fr Lewis' defence team are now to "consider the position and give some thought to our grounds of appeal".

His victims were not in court but it is said they are "relieved and pleased" at the verdicts.



Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.