Top priest faces jail after sex trial

Father Stephen Shield
Father Stephen Shield
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One of Lancashire’ s most senior Catholic priests is facing jail after being convicted of sexually assaulting a man in the presbytery of English Martyrs church in Preston.

Canon Stephen Shield, 53, the Dean at Lancaster Cathedral, committed the offences more than two decades ago against a man who hoped to join the priesthood.

In a harrowing video interview played to the court the man spoke of how his faith has been rocked by the sexual abuse he suffered.

He said he felt like his soul had been “ripped out” and the room had been “filled with evil”.

He told the court he felt sickened that Shield celebrated mass within hours of abusing him and that years later he still felt a connection to his abuser through the Eucharist, wherever he was in the world.

He said he always feared he would not be believed if he complained about Shield, as the priest had trained at the prestigious seminary in Rome.

The man, who can not be identified, first encountered Shield at a retreat centre in the Lake District.

The trial heard Shield followed the man to his bedroom and asked him remove his clothes which he did as he felt intimidated. He was not charged in relation to this incident but when he was confronted by another individual at the retreat over the incident Shield packed his bags and fled in the middle of the night.

Several years later when the man moved to English Martyrs parish he was horrified to discover Shield was working there as a priest.

He described a lavish dinner party, hosted by Shield, during which the priest sexually assaulted him under the table. He described a separate incident some time later, when Shield gave him a drink of whisky, which he later thought may have been spiked, before committing a serious sexual assault against him.

Shield, who trained in Rome, denied three counts of indecent assault. He admitted ordering the man to remove some of his clothing at the retreat centre, but insisted the demands were not sexual.

In the years that followed the attacks, Shield rose to become the Dean at Lancaster Cathedral.

However he was suspended from duties following his arrest on suspicion of sexual offences.

Shield made no comment to officers when he was questioned about the allegations.

He later told the court: “I was so shocked by the arrest I couldn’t think clearly.”

The jury took three hours to find the priest guilty of three counts of indecent assault. The recorder of Preston, Judge Anthony Russell QC, told him: “You must understand that all sentencing options, including custody, will be available to me.”

Shield will be sentenced at Preston Crown Court on December 13.