Priest Abuse Conviction "Unsafe"

November 28, 2011

The conviction of a Catholic priest for sexually abusing three young sisters more than 40 years ago is unsafe, the Court of Appeal has heard.

Lawyers for Father Eugene Lewis claimed issues around excessive delay, allegedly contaminated evidence and the admissibility of supposed "reprehensible" behaviour called the reliability of the guilty verdict into question.

The 77-year-old was jailed for four years in September 2010 for 11 counts of indecent assault.

He denied the abuse, which was said to have been carried out in Co Fermanagh between 1963 and 1973.

The molestation was alleged to have started when the sisters were aged as young as seven.

At the time Lewis was based at the College of the Society of Missionaries of Africa, also known as the Order of the White Fathers, in Blacklion, Co Cavan.

Despite his suggestions that the sisters were motivated by a family conspiracy or compensation claims, a jury at Omagh Crown Court unanimously convicted him at the end of a six-week trial.

The priest has continued to maintain his innocence and claims to have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

Opening his appeal before three senior judges in Belfast on Monday, barrister Mark Barlow argued that the 47-year delay in bringing the prosecution was potentially prejudicial.

According to Mr Barlow it created an issue in determining the safety of the convictions.

He set out further grounds of appeal which he claimed would show the guilty verdict "has to be unsafe".

One point centred on the admissibility of so-called reprehensible behaviour which he insisted was not a criminal offence.

The barrister also questioned evidence from one accuser who changed from a position of "forgiveness" to telling her husband early in 2007 about the alleged abuse.

Mr Barlow stressed how she still went down to Dublin later that year to pick Lewis up when he flew in from Germany.

"There was a conflict, a huge contradiction between the asserted motivation to make her complaint or to stop contact with Father Eugene, and to going down to pick him up after she disclosed to her husband the alleged abuse," he contended.

The appeal, which is listed for a two-day hearing, continues.


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