Senior priest denies charges of indecency

Father Stephen Shields.
Father Stephen Shields.

A Lancaster Cathedral Canon who trained in Rome sexually abused a young man who had hopes of joining the priesthood, a court heard.

Father Stephen Shield’s alleged victim said he felt like his soul had been “ripped out” after the sex attacks by the Catholic priest more than two decades ago.

Fr Shields denies sexually assaulting the man in the presbytery at English Martyrs Church, Garstang Road, Preston, on two occasions after first meeting his victim at a retreat at Castlerigg Manor in the Lake District – where he also allegedly abused him.

Shields became Canon at Lancaster Cathedral before he was arrested and charged with three counts of indecent assault.

Giving evidence by video link at Preston Crown Court, the man said: “The only way I can describe it is like if someone had ripped your soul out.

“It felt like any good that was in me had been taken out and replaced with his evil. It was just so awful.

“I have never felt such evil. I had to go.

“It just felt like everything... as a human being you have your body, your brain, your organs but there is also something else that is like, you, and I felt like he had taken that.”

The man told the court he first encountered Shields at a retreat in the Lake District but after another priest confronted him about the alleged sex attack, Shields packed his bags and left in the night.

But several years later, the victim was sent to English Martyrs parish – not knowing until he arrived that Shields was also based at the church.

He described a dinner party hosted by Shields and attended by a number of local priests as well as other guests where Shields sexually assaulted him under the dinner table.

The man said he felt “paralysed” and was convinced other guests must have known what was going on.

He told the court: “I’m absolutely convinced they knew and they didn’t do anything. I had the impression they thought it was all right, it was normal, but it wasn’t normal to me.

“After that I wanted to leave but I didn’t know how to get out of it without drawing attention to myself.

“After the meal we cleared the table and he went to get a tape recorder and they were playing music.

“He dressed up in a cassock and a biretta (priest’s hat) and he was camping it up.

“It all felt so wrong but there wasn’t anything I could do.

“I thought it was really inappropriate. Whenever priests do things like that I always think of the little old ladies in the church who would be horrified.

“The next morning he went and said Mass. I couldn’t get my head around it. I don’t know how someone could do that and then go and celebrate mass.”

The man left the parish a short time after the attack but returned for a celebration one night the following year.

After the event, the man said he was sitting alone in a room in the presbytery when Shields came in and offered him a glass of whisky.

The man accepted the drink but said after that everything became “disjointed”.

He recalled being carried upstairs by the priest where he claims he was subjected to a serious sexual assault.

The man said he always feared he would not be believed if he reported the offences, as Shields was a senior member of the priesthood who had trained in Rome.

He said: “There has always been that feeling that because he was in Rome, Rome has always been more haughty and aloof and if you train in Rome you end up as a bishop.

“There was always that feeling that he would have been believed over me and I was very conscious of that.”

Shields denies the allegations.