Former St. Rose staffer indicted on sex abuse charges

From staff reports

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 former religious education director at St. Rose of Lima Church in Murfreesboro has been indicted by a Rutherford County Grand Jury on charges of sexually abusing a minor.

Michael D. Lewis, 41, of Murfreesboro, was indicted on 10 counts of statutory rape by an authority figure and four counts of sexual battery by an authority figure, according to the June 17 indictment. All of the charges stem from incidents that happened between July 2013 and July 2017, according to the indictment.

Lewis was booked into Rutherford County Adult Detention Center and released on $75,000 bond, according to press reports. During an arraignment on July 6, the next court date in the case was set for Oct. 2.

Lewis served as the St. Rose director of religious education from November 2011 until his resignation in April 2016. Before working at St. Rose, Lewis was on the staff at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Tennessee Ridge in Houston County from November 2004 to November 2011.

No accusations of sexual abuse by Lewis were received at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Rose or the Diocese of Nashville during his employment with the parishes, said Rick Musacchio, director of communications for the diocese.

“We have had no reports, and we have not been contacted by any investigators,” Musacchio said. “We would certainly stand ready to cooperate with any investigations that they deem necessary.”

In a message to St. Rose parishioners, the pastor, Father John Sims Baker, said he learned of Lewis’ indictment and arrest over the weekend of June 27-28.

“We have not been contacted by investigators and have no information about details of the charges, but published reports indicate that they are related to his role at the parish,” Father Baker said. “I urge anyone who has suffered abuse or has knowledge of abuse to report it to the civil authorities, as was apparently done in this case. We stand ready to cooperate with any investigations that the civil authorities deem necessary.

“The Diocese of Nashville has an extensive Safe Environment Program and a Victim Assistance Program available for victims of abuse,” he added. “Full details about the program including information how to reach the victim assistance coordinator is available at www.dioceseofnashville.com.”

As part of the Safe Environment Program, “We have long encouraged anyone who knows of or suspects abuse is taking place to report it to the civil authorities,” Musacchio said.

All employees and volunteers of the diocese, its parishes and other agencies and institutions, must undergo a background check every five years. Lewis passed a background check when he was hired in 2004 and again in 2009 and 2014, Musacchio said.

“My first concern is for the victims of abuse,” Father Baker said. “I am sickened by what you have experienced. Abuse is horrible in every instance. I ask for on-going care and prayer for victims and for vigilance against the horror of abuse, especially through reporting to the civil authorities any suspected instances of abuse.”