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Abuse Accused Priest Described as 'Hero'

by Editorial Department, The Impartial Reporter, Thursday, 20th May, 2010

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A priest depicted as a vile and evil paedophile by three women who accuse him of sexually abusing them as children has been described as a loving, caring, wonderful "hero".

Fr. Eugene Lewis denies indecently assaulting the girls at their home in Fermanagh between August 1963 and September 1973.

The 75-year-old pensioner, a former provincial superior of the White Fathers, based at Cypress Grove House, Templelogue in Dublin, told Omagh Crown Court he was "ripped apart" by the allegations.

Giving evidence as part of his defence case, a young cousin, Mary Lewis, told the court of his visits to her Dublin home when she and her sister were youngsters aged between seven and eight and how "he tuned into us kids".

While his accusers claim the priest sometimes abused them as he told them bedtime stories, Ms Lewis said she "did remember Eugene's story telling, that was something he was really, really good at".

One one occasion he even told the youngsters a ghost story as they sat on their mother's sick bed.

Although "chilling", Ms Lewis said the story however "finished with a big laugh" and that afterwards her mum "came to life" and appeared a lot better.

Asked by solicitor-advocate Mr. Joseph McVeigh, if Lewis had done or said anything then, which now as an adult she regarded as "inappropriate," she replied, "absolutely never, never ... we trust him completely".

Her cousin, and one of Lewis' nieces, Mrs. Jennifer O'Brien, said her first memories of him were from the ages of four or five when he would spend up to two months with her family while on leave from the missions.

She too painted a picture of the priest as "a wonderful man .. he always was wonderful, always had patience, he was always fun".

The mother of one, expecting her second child, also described her uncle as a "wonderful story-teller.. really magical" and described how, once, over two nights as she lay in bed, he sat on a chair nearby in the light from the hallway and told her a bedtime story.

Mrs. O'Brien said she "never felt fearful or uncomfortable" in his presence. Asked if she would now regarded some of the things he had done as "inappropriate", she replied: "No, absolutely not."

Adding: "Would I trust him? Absolutely, yes."

Another niece, Amanda Dormer-Lewis, said that since she was six or seven she remembered the priest visiting her home over the years and how he would take her and her seven brothers and sisters out for walks.

She said he never chose any particular child to accompany him, "he would just ask who wants to come, and it was mostly all of us".

She too dismissed any "inappropriate" behaviour on his part in the distant past, telling the court: "Eugene was never like that. No, never."

Concluding Ms Dormer-Lewis claimed her uncle was "a great man, very easy going and very open. He is a really good man".

Earlier the priest's solicitor, Mr. McVeigh, read statements of support from a number of people, including Bishop Emmanuel Badejo, from Nigeria, who said he was writing after the news had reached him of the charges Lewis faces.

"To say the least I was shocked to hear of such repugnant and damaging allegations being preferred against this priest, who for many years, bore with great sacrifice, life with merit among our people in Oyo diocese without any hint of misconduct or impropriety," wrote the Bishop.

In his two page statement Bishop Badejo spoke of the "man who never gave up on a good cause", and told how during the two years they had lived under the same roof he "did not, in conscience, notice any impropriety in his conduct with anyone".

"For all it is worth I do hope that this statement helps to shed light on his character and helps to clear the name of Fr. Eugene Lewis," it concluded.

The views of the Bishop were echoed in statements from two Franciscan nuns, also from Africa, a retired school teacher from Quebec in Canada, a doctor in Hamburg, Germany, and a clinical therapist and priest from North Carolina in the United States.

They all wrote with warmth about Lewis and the missionary work he has done over the years and how he had touched their lives and how the thought of him brought a simple smile.

Retired teacher, Michael O'Callaghan, said he had "never any doubt concerning the integrity of Eugene, nor did I ever see a hidden agenda ... never once did I get the impression that he could not be trusted".

Sister Clementina Obembe, in Nigeria, described him as "this man of God" and that to her, "because he taught me so much, he is a great hero".

Sister Mary Anne Williamson , from Ghana, said as a medical officer she never "received any information, or was consulted about any situation concerning Fr. Lewis' behaviour with regard to women, youths, or children".

She said that on the contrary: "Fr. Lewis was known to be a caring and respectful priest, one to be trusted, and one to whom people could turn for assistance and counsel without fear."

Earlier, under cross-examination by Crown counsel, Mr. Ken McMahon, QC, Lewis denied he was a "paedophile snake", consumed with "little girls" for his own sexual gratification.

At one stage he also told the jury of six men and six women that the transcript of some of his police interviews were wrong and that he himself had spotted up to "40 errors" in them.

Lewis simply dismissed the claim that the attraction, which kept drawing him back to the children's home, was "the fact that there were little girls in the house".

"Not as such," he replied, before adding later, "I would say not particularly". But when accused of being the "paedophile snake" referred to in the police statements, Lewis vehemently refuted the accusation.

"I am an innocent man, innocent of crimes I have not committed, any crime. I never entered that home with sexual intent, I never abused those girls," he stated.

"I am completely innocent of all allegations, north and south including the horrendous allegation of rape. That's the truth of who I am," he added.

"I was trusted and I have not abused that trust," he declared.

Later his defence barrister, Mr. Mark Barlow, put it to Lewis that it was suggested he had an attraction to young girls.

"Do you have a sexual attraction to young pre-pubescent children," he asked.

"No absolutely not, nothing of an unhealthy sort," the priest replied.

Mr. Barlow said it was also suggested his "only interested in this family was little girls for your own sexual gratification".

Lewis replied: "That is a completely wrong account of who I am, or my attitudes or behaviour over a lifetime."

Earlier when the specific claim was put to him that he had abused "there girls in their bedroom", the priest was adamant that he never went near their room.

"I repeat, I never visited the girls in their bedroom ... there was never any sexual intent or sexual impropriety with these children. None," he stated.

"I give you the facts, I didn't go into the girls' bedroom, or the boys' bedroom ... I can only state the facts, this was 40 years ago and these are the facts as I clearly remember them," Lewis maintained.

He added later: "I am here to give evidence, the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

"The simple truth is that I never abused anyone in Templelogue, or Blacklion or anywhere else," he stated.

Eventually the prosecutor, Mr. McMahon, told Lewis: "I suggest to you that you did abuse all these girls".

Lewis replied: "Naturally. That's your job to accuse me, you are the prosecutor. I repeat, I never went to that family with sexual intent. I never abused these children."

Final submissions in the case should begin next Monday before the jury is expected to retire to consider the verdicts on the 11 charges of indecent assault on Wednesday.