MURFREESBORO, Tennessee — A former employee at a Catholic church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, who pleaded guilty to four counts of statutory rape was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Monday.
Michael D. Lewis was indicted in June 2020 on 10 counts of statutory rape and four counts of sexual battery by an authority figure. A jury trial had been scheduled for Monday, but Lewis reached a plea agreement with prosecutors last week, The Tennessean reported.
The abuse began in 2014 when Lewis was director of religious education at the St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, Rutherford County prosecutor Sharon Reddick said at the sentencing hearing. His victim was 13 at the time and had chosen Lewis to serve as her mentor for the religious ceremony of confirmation. The girl later served as a student coordinator for religious education and altar serving, a position that required her to work closely with Lewis, Reddick said.
After the victim reported the abuse to police in January 2020, law enforcement assisted her with a controlled phone call and Facebook messages in which Lewis acknowledged his abuse, Reddick said.
“Someone who was supposed to be a father figure and teach me about my faith, instead groomed and later assaulted me countless times, teaching me little about faith and far more about fear, power and control,” the victim, now 21, said to Lewis during the hearing. “The power that you once held in my life is gone.”
The Associated Press does not usually name victims of sexual abuse.
“The sentencing of this rapist is due to the courage of a young victim who reported to the police,” Susan Vance, a representative of the Tennessee chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement.
Catholic Diocese of Nashville spokesperson Rick Musacchio said in a statement that the diocese encourages anyone who suspects abuse to report it to authorities and that it cooperates with any investigations about abuse.
The victim has accused both the diocese and St. Rose of failing to protect her and has filed a civil lawsuit that is ongoing against them. The suit claims the church officials failed to act despite several warnings. They include a letter from a parishioner, who was also a licensed clinical psychologist, to then-Bishop David Choby expressing concerns about Lewis’s relationship with the girl.
The abuse continued until 2017, when her family cut off contact with Lewis for “controlling behavior,” according to the lawsuit.