Priest found guilty of sexually abusing sisters

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A JURY yesterday convicted Dublin-based priest Father Eugene Lewis of sexually abusing three young sisters, one of whom he allegedly went on to rape while counselling her for having an affair with a married policeman.

It took the Omagh Crown Court jury of six men and six women four-and-a-half hours over two days to unanimously convict the former provincial superior of the Society of Missionaries of Africa, or White Fathers as better known, based at Cypress Grove House, Templelogue in Dublin.

The 76-year-old disgraced pensioner priest, who had dismissed the abuse claims as "absolute rubbish... they never happened", showed no emotion, never once looking up, head bowed all the time, as he palmed a set of rosary beads in the dock.

By their verdicts the jury accepted that Fr Lewis was an evil paedophile who preyed on the Fermanagh sisters after befriending their parents nearly 50 years ago.

By their verdicts, they also rejected the picture painted by his defence, backed by testimonies from around the world, including an African bishop, that he was simply a loving, caring, wonderful man of God.

In all, following his six-week trial, he was convicted of a total of 11 counts of indecently assaulting the three sisters when they were youngsters, separately and on differing dates between August 1963 and September 1973.

What the jury did not return verdicts on was a claim by one sister that he raped her, not once but twice, in the White Fathers' house in Dublin, and a claim by a fourth sister that she was sexually abused at the order's former home in Blacklion, on the Fermanagh-Cavan border.

They were not the subject of charges as these alleged crimes were said to have been committed in the Republic, and thereby outside the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland.

However, from the start the jury heard of these alleged brutal sex attacks from prosecuting QC Ken McMahon who said the priest had gained the trust of the family through a fellow, but innocent cleric.

Mr McMahon had told the jury that although welcomed into their home at any time, he often chose to call at bedtime or on Saturday bath night.

The lawyer further claimed that Fr Lewis, his actions hidden by a large kitchen table, managed to abuse one of the girls in front of her father, who was unaware of what he was doing.

The girl, now a grown woman, later told the court that Fr Lewis also abused her while telling her and her sisters bedtime stories in their darkened bedroom.

The priest, who swore to police and the jury that he "never touched those children", will be sentenced next month once pre-sentence reports are completed.

Fr Lewis has been freed on continuing bail to await sentence.

Belfast solicitor Joe McVeigh, speaking on behalf of the priest, said: "While he respects the decision of the jury, he is very disappointed and he wants to stress that he remains adamant in his denials."

Mr McVeigh said that Fr Lewis' defence team are now to "consider the position and give some thought to our grounds of appeal".

While his victims were not in court, it has been reported that they were "relieved and pleased" at the verdicts.