Priest Had Role at Youth Camp

By Ziva Branstetter
Tulsa World [Oklahoma]
July 29, 2002

A Roman Catholic priest who was the subject of allegations involving inappropriate behavior with boys attended a Catholic youth camp this summer despite being under "certain admonitions" involving his contact with young people, the Tulsa World has learned.

The Rev. Ken Lewis attended the camp at a state park several weeks ago and was one of several priests who heard confessions from the 90 children who attended, said Henry Harder, chancellor of the Diocese of Tulsa.

"He was there with other priests to hear confessions and it was done in the open. ... He was not alone with children," Harder said.

Harder said he was unsure whether Lewis spent the night at the camp or how long he stayed.

When asked whether Lewis had been told by the church not to be alone around children, Harder said: "He was under certain admonitions, yes."

Lewis resigned his pastorate without explanation last month at St. John the Evangelist Church in McAlester, after earlier taking a leave of absence for "personal reasons," according to a news release. He was unavailable for comment Sunday.

In 1994, the Catholic Diocese of Tulsa learned of an allegation of misconduct against Lewis, then associate pastor of St. Mary's Church in Tulsa, 1347 E. 49th St.

The Dallas Morning News has reported that former ministerial co-worker Evelyn McMahon said she told diocesan officials eight years ago about inappropriate behavior involving Lewis. McMahon said she twice found Lewis alone with sixth- and seventh-grade boys, rubbing their backs. One, she said, was sitting on his lap; the other was lying in bed with him, clothed, the newspaper reported.

Bishop Edward Slattery reportedly approved counseling payments for at least one family and agreed to pay for another young man's anxiety medication. Slattery was in Canada for Pope John Paul II's visit and was unavailable for comment.

"The bishop conducted a thorough investigation of the allegation and referred Father Lewis for evaluation in accordance with diocesan policy," Harder said in a news release.

"The investigation, based on all the facts known to the diocese at that time, did not reveal any evidence that would warrant any canonical disciplinary or penal action against Father Lewis. Based on the results of the investigation and the evaluation, Father Lewis returned to active ministry as associate pastor of Holy Family Cathedral in Tulsa."

From 1996-2001, Lewis served as pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Fairfax, St. Joseph Church in Cleveland, Okla., and St. Joseph Church in Hominy. He was appointed to the church in McAlester in June 2001 with pastoral responsibility for parishes in Krebs, Eufaula and Pittsburg.

Lewis has served as a chaplain at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, visiting inmates there about three times each month.

Harder's news release stated that the allegations were reviewed again recently "because of expressions of concern brought to the bishop and in light of the climate leading up to the bishops' meeting in Dallas."

"This investigation consisted of a thorough re-examination of all earlier allegations but did not reveal any facts which would warrant or allow the bishop to take penal action under canon law."

One St. Mary's church member whose son considered Lewis a "role model" spoke out Sunday in support of Lewis. Kevin Donovan said his son was a student at St. Mary's school at the time the allegations were made against Lewis.

"I think he is a fine man and a fine priest. I would not hesitate to have him around my children," said Donovan, who is a pediatrician. Donovan said Lewis was the chaplain of his son's Boy Scout troop.

"He went on camping trips with them and he taught them to rappel. He was a role model. ... We never believed he had done anything improper."

Source: World Projects Editor


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