Priest Accused of Abuse Claims He Is at Centre of 'Family Witch Hunt'

By Fermanagh Herald
Northern Ireland
May 12, 2010

HAVING already run for ten days, the case against a senior priest, formerly based in Blacklion, resumed on Wednesday past, with Crown Counsel going through the priest's interviews with police on a line by line basis.

Father Eugene Lewis, who now lives in Dunmurry, Belfast, is charged with 11 counts of indecent assault on three Fermanagh sisters arising from alleged incidents between August 1963 and May 1975. A fourth sister gave evidence to the effect that she too was sexually assaulted by the priest when she was a child but she has not made a formal complaint.

Father Eugene Lewis arrives at Omagh Court on Monday morning to continue the trial where he is accused of indecently assaulting three young sisters from County Fermanagh.

The court heard that the priest had been preparing for a journey to Poland in July 2008 when he learned of the allegations against him. He presented himself at Enniskillen Police Station, by arrangement, and, shortly thereafter, Detective Constable Elaine McCabe, who is attached to the Child Abuse Investigation Unit, and Detective Sergeant Monaghan arrested Fr Lewis and interviewed him under caution. The interview was conducted in the presence of the defendant's solicitor and tapes were made. Transcriptions of those tapes were printed off and presented to the members of the jury on Wednesday afternoon.

The court heard that Fr Lewis had come to Blacklion in 1960 after finishing his postgraduate studies in Rome. He knew an uncle of the alleged injured parties, who was also member of the 'White Fathers' order. He was introduced to the family by another priest sometime between 1960 and 1961 and became very close to the girls' father.

He told the officer he had been in the home of the girls perhaps once a month. In his statement he alluded to the fact that, when he and others were on a journey, they would sometimes detour to the home of the alleged injured parties and would have a good chat with the parents.

He said that he had always fancied himself as a story-teller for children and stated that in Africa he was called 'Father Storyman'.

He said that he returned to Ireland from Ghana in 1976 and was asked to take up the post as the leading provincial at Cypress Grove, Templeogue, (The White Fathers College) in Dublin. He remained there until 1982 after which he went to southern Nigeria for twenty years. While there he had set up cooperative programmes to help poor families, but stepped back from that after some time, because he felt he was in danger of becoming a 'power figure'.

He stated that, upon his return to Ireland, he decided to make himself available for a full seven years service and subsequently became the chaplain at St Louise's College in west Belfast for two years. "St Louise's was my day job and the parish was my night job, which included youth clubs and things as well", he stated.

At the age of 74, when his seven years of service in Ireland had come to an end, he was getting ready for his Polish assignment and had decided that he would spend (what he believed would be) the last eleven years of his life there. "I have good health now, if God doesn't have other all depends on God."

The statement read, "Suddenly after 45 years this came out of the blue, I can't afford the luxury of emotional responses. I'm now a defendant and I'm going to get on with it. I have never damaged anybody in my life..."

The defendant told the police officer that he had been extensively involved with the community on a political level and that he had worked in conjunction with the police service and members of other faiths. He described this period as being 'beautiful years' and said he was very proud of them.

He said that while visiting the girls' home he would have told stories in the kitchen and the living room and that he would certainly have called to say goodbye before going overseas.

"As I say, in some of the stories you'd go out of your way. You 'd have some nice romantic ones as well...the king wandering off and finding the princess...but you would also stir it up you know with the mummies, the mummy's hand crawls back and comes through the window and eventually gets them all...that goes with ghost stories and horror. Stories would actually mark childhood memories...I don't know. I'm not a child psychologist... that was the sort of my dealing with those children."

He denied that he had anything to do with any of the children at Blacklion (The White Fathers former college) and didn't recall being in Blacklion at all in 1973. He stated that he was at Trinity finishing his master's degree. Regarding an alleged incident in the library at the Blacklion college, where, one of the complainants said he lifted her up and had her straddle him so that she was sitting on his groin, he replied, "This did not happen. This is quite untrue, this is a fabrication."

Referring to the allegations against him, he stated, "This is from 40-45 years ago, this is extraordinary, with all my people dead, all these people dead this is an extraordinary thing."

He said that his initial contact with the family had ceased in August 1970.

He arrived in Belfast towards the end of 2001 and was in Poleglass for five years, "I was getting ready to go to Poland when you people blew my life apart completely."

He said that when he came back to Ireland in 1976, though he was completely swamped with work, he had occasion to spend a night with the family in question. He stated that he felt he owed them a visit and didn't just want to 'rush in and rush out.'

As to the allegations made by the sisters he variously responded, "That's totally untrue, that never happened", adding, "I knew nothing about the sleeping arrangements for these children...I'm convinced that there were never any sexual improprieties with these children." To others he replied, "This is a fabrication, this did not happen, it is outrageous, it's abhorrent from first to last."

He said that when one of the daughters finished her studies at Trinity, he arranged for her to do some teaching work at the White Fathers College in Templeogue. He added that, during this time, he would have no contact with her on a day to day basis.

Detective McCabe read the defendant a segment of one of the complainant's statements in which she alleged that while the family where gathered in the kitchen on one occasion and she was wearing her night dress, father Lewis pulled her on to his knee. She was seven or eight at the time and she claimed that while she was on his knee the priest was 'fidgeting' and moved her into a position whereby she felt something hard against her which she later thought was an erection. "She says you moved her about for your sexual gratification."

The priest replied, "That's nonsense, total nonsense, the whole thing is ludicrous in terms of my whole life and my dealings with the family."

The officer read on, "The next thing she remembers was you coming into the bedroom and laying on the edge of her bed and she felt a hard object against her tummy.

Fr Lewis replied, "That's totally untrue, I mightn't remember what I had for breakfast, but I'd remember a crime, this is total lies, pure fabrication."

She said that the priest would laugh out of place during these alleged incidents. The same claimant alleges that when she was 21 she stayed at the White Fathers' College at Templeogue and that on two consecutive nights Fr Lewis came to her room and raped her.

Fr Lewis replied, "She makes an ugly allegation....on the nights she alleges rape I wasn't even in the house at Templeogue at all."

As to allegations of abuse levelled by the eldest of the three sisters, Fr Lewis commented, "She plays down the trust and friendship between us....I was the parish priest at the time, ...we were thinking of bringing her into the parish council at the time."

He said that the allegations trivialised everything he has done and everything that he has been. "The bottom line is I've never damaged, never sexually abused anybody....She (the eldest) has been poisoned....this shocks me, the untruthfulness of it. It is very ugly." He said he felt a terrible sense of betrayal.

He said of all of the allegations of abuse at the family home; "I find the whole thing very odd [when] I visit for a cup of tea am I going to sneak away and spend 15 minutes with the children? I can't make sense of this, this is totally for the birds....The idea of me abusing children in the middle of the whole family is totally daft, totally daft."

He continued, "I know I'm not a child abuser...I'm not a paedophile...If there was something wrong those parents would have picked up on it at once."

He said that, some time after he arrived in Poleglass, the eldest of the three complainants made contact with him and that, because he had not renewed contact with the girls' father, he had missed his funeral, and made up his mind to be at the month's mind Mass. He said that, after the Mass, there was a very warm and pleasant meeting at the family home.

He said that he and the eldest sister enjoyed a real friendship and stated that, following a party at the eldest sister's house in Poleglass, there was no Christmas card and there was no contact.

He had been read a statement from one of the complainant's in which she said that at the party in the eldest sister's house, he was heard saying something to the effect that, he had enjoyed the innocent times with the family when they were children and 'when you could tell children a story without being accused of child abuse.' The complainant said that she felt the priest was already starting to defend himself at that point.

"Fr Lewis responded, "That's pure speculation. I've never committed a crime. That family engaged with me. If I were a criminal, I would find that very strange."

In his statement, he said. "I have no doubt the family has been in a feeding frenzy since then ... the way the whole thing is panning out Eugene is the last man standing, by the way, with people like Connie O'Sullivan dead and so on. I've no doubt that there is something very ugly going on. I'm coming to the conclusion that I'm in the middle of a family lynching mob...They are convinced they are on a mission to stamp out, on a mission to take out a dangerous paedophile snake. To me you are really talking about a witch hunt and I'm prepared to stand before all these things with a complete declaration and statement of total innocence. I've never touched any of these children or committed a crime...there's no way I've committed a crime and destroyed the whole of what I have lived for and am living for...I'm not prepared to just crumble over [this] mystifying particular story and the betrayal that's in it."

Referring to the girls' mother, the detective sergeant asked Fr Lewis if she would have held a priest in high esteem and he replied, 'Yes, trust.'

The sergeant asked , "Extremely high esteem, absolute and total trust?"

Father Lewis replied, 'yes'.

The sergeant asked if a visit of a priest to the complainants' mother's home would have been a big thing.

"It was warm hearted but of course you know, people like Connie O'Sullivan (a now deceased senior member of the order who had been based in London) were in and out of the house all of the time. He became very friendly with (the children's mother) and was a frequent visitor to the house.

He said that other priests were at the house much more often than himself and that the only reason the girls would remember him was on account of the stories he told them. The court heard that there were seven interviews with the defendant, all under caution.

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