Winess Says Cleric Referred to School as his 'Girl Factory'
Fermanagh Herald, 5 May 2010
ON the eighth day of the trial of Father Eugene Lewis, for a series of alleged sexual offences against three Fermanagh sisters in the 1960s and 1970s, Omagh Crown Court heard that the third sister, who claims the priest abused her as a child, unsuccessfully tried to 'forgive him'.
The witness told the court that on one occasion when she was ten or eleven her family were planning a day out at the beach, when Father Lewis arrived at their home unexpectedly. She said that, realising that this put her parents in an awkward position, she volunteered to stay behind and make him something to eat. She alleged that later, while she was washing the dishes, Fr Lewis who was lying on a sofa in the kitchen, asked her to come and sit beside him.
Her statement was read..."I remember lying down on the outside of Fr Lewis. He was touching my breast area over my clothing, as he was doing so he was making movements with his groin." She stated she felt there was something hard being pushed into the lower part of her back which she later thought was an erect penis.
Defence counsel suggested that the witness had come up with the idea of the family being away at the beach to justify her version of events, "In order for Father Lewis to have abused you the way you said he abused you, the kitchen would have to be empty that's how you built up this recollection...You had to be alone with him."
Defence counsel continued, "The only time that he went to your farm during the day was in June 1970 when he was saying goodbye because he was going to Dublin to start his new post." He went on to say that the defendant's recollection was that the witness was 15-16 at the time, had the flu and was all wrapped up.
Witness could not recall any such visit. The defence continued, "You can't say how long he stayed or how long your parents were away...he says he never touched you in an indecent manner and that you are wrong."
Witness replied, "I am not telling lies. This process has caused a great deal of distress to my mother, to the good men in the White Fathers, and myself. I'm not telling lies."
Moving on to the witness's relationship with the defendant in adult life, defence said, "It was about mid-2002 [another priest was home on leave] and you made a call to Fr Lewis and asked him around to your house, and it was a very enjoyable evening."
The witness agreed adding that that was the start of the adult relationship between her family and Father Lewis.The defence asked why she had not made mention of the allegations. Witness replied, "There was a great deal more to it than that. We live our lives forgiving those who have hurt us, believing that there is goodness in everyone."
Defence counsel suggested that the relationship between them was 'almost professional, but warm'. The witness agreed. She also agreed that in mid-2002 she came up to him with a gift, and acknowledged that she and her husband had driven the priest to the airport on a number of occasions. Further, that she and her husband had driven from Belfast to Dublin airport to collect the priest off a flight from Frankfurt because she did not want him having to take a bus.
On that occasion, she found that the defendant's brother and brother's wife had turned up to collect Father Lewis and that there was much merriment about the mix-up. Defence claimed that in the presence of the defendant's brother, the witness had made complimentary remarks about Father Lewis and about how much he meant to the people of Poleglass.
The witness agreed with the defence version of events regarding the airport mix-up.
"Is it far to say", asked the defence counsel, "That when Fr Lewis arrived at your house he was greeted with hugs and kisses and general affection?"
Witness responded, "Drop the plural. I gave him a hug and a kiss. I told you I forgave him...there's nothing wrong with treating people in a compassionate way. I was doing so in the knowledge that I was the only one he abused."
The defence counsel referred to a German couple, to whom, he said, the witness had extolled the good work that father Lewis did in the community and the fact that she was delighted that he was part of the community and asked, "Was that all part of your forgiveness?"
The witness replied, "It was all part of the bigger picture. I have always found it extremely difficult to live with the knowledge of what he did to me, but also the good work he did. It could never be black and white for me."
Defence counsel suggested that the witness had stated that she had ceased initiating contact with the accused the previous January (2007) and suggested that she was now contradicting her earlier statement.
Witness replied, "I don't believe it's a contradiction, I believe it's an issue regarding clarity of dates."
Defence counsel rejoined, "The reason you are not sure about the dates is that you have been caught out in your evidence by the way you behaved in July 2007. The truth is that this man never touched you in an indecent manner. You made a false allegation."
Witness denied making a false allegation. She told the court that her attempt at forgiveness began to break down when she heard Fr Lewis refer to St Louise's school in west Belfast, at which he worked, as "My girl factory". She said that she found that term derogatory and told him so.
However, under cross-examination it emerged that she had actually advised him that he should not say that outside of the confines of her home, because people might not understand.
Defence counsel said to the witness, " He joked, by referring to St Louise's as 'my girl factory'... How often did he say that?"
Witness replied that she could not recall how many times but said that it was on more than one occasion.
"And you found that derogatory and told him so?"
He continued, "You thought he could reach these girls and hurt these girls and you started to worry. And this brought about a change in your attitude towards him?"
The defence counsel than asked, "If you were worried why did you not raise the matter with the proper authorities?"
Witness replied, "I have thought about that and I know I should have done that but there were a lot of elements to take into consideration. But there was a process to go through before I could speak about it."
She went on to say that the White Fathers were still playing a big part in her life and that she didn't want to bring shame on them. She added, "I knew my mother would be absolutely heart-broken and I was not prepared to bring that pain on her."
The witness claimed that she had spoken to an African woman whom the priest was helping and advised her not to leave her children alone at the parochial house, rather to leave the children with her family if she needed to.
Defence asked; "Were you warning her about Father Lewis?", to which she replied, "yes."
Defence asked, "Did you say, 'Do not leave your children alone in the company of Fr Lewis?'" witness replied , "No I wouldn't have been as direct as that."
Earlier the court had heard that the defendant had been a welcome guest at the witnesses home on a number of occasions, and that the witness and her family had taken the priest and his sister out for a meal at one of the most exclusive restaurants in Belfast.