MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Catholic Diocese of Nashville is facing a civil lawsuit following the indictment of the former Sunday school teacher at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Murfreesboro.
That grand jury indictment, from June 2020, included 10 counts of statutory rape and four counts of sexual battery by an authority figure.
The charges stem from what a new civil lawsuit says was the sexual assault of a then 13-year-old that took place over several years, many times on the grounds of St. Rose school.
The civil lawsuit, filed this week in state court, says the Catholic Diocese of Nashville didn't do enough to stop Sunday School Director Michael Lewis from repeatedly sexually assaulting his alleged victim.
The lawsuit says in 2013, Lewis began grooming the girl, becoming friends with the girl's mother, sponsoring her confirmation and spending time at her home. The next year, the lawsuit says, Lewis began sexually assaulting the girl.
It began with touching the girl's knee, but escalated to oral sex and other rape, "all of which were perpetrated on countless occasions from 2014 through 2017," according to the lawsuit.
"As with any sexual abuse, the effects are devastating, and they certainly have had a serious impact on my client's life that is severe, and should not have happened," said Patrick Thronson, attorney for the plaintiff, who is being named as Jane Doe in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says staff at the school reported concerns about Lewis "hugging and touching Plaintiff in public, and about Lewis isolating Plaintiff in the sacristy of the church and the parish office."
When confronted, the lawsuit says "Lewis responded by saying he would do what he wanted and he loved Plaintiff like a daughter."
After another meeting with Lewis, the lawsuit says, church leadership gave him a promotion to business manager at St. Rose, along with a raise.
The lawsuit says a church member and psychologist sent a letter to the Catholic Diocese of Nashville, which oversees the school, saying: "Mr. Lewis does nothing to downplay or minimize his relationship with Plaintiff; rather, he seems almost to flaunt it."
The Catholic Diocese of Nashville responded to the lawsuit Wednesday saying:
"It is not appropriate for us to respond to questions about this lawsuit until our attorneys have an opportunity to review the complaint. As the legal process unfolds, we anticipate more information will be forthcoming.
We encourage everyone who suspects that abuse is taking place to report it to civil authorities, and we pray for everyone involved in this matter."