Abuse claim against archbishop


The Vatican is investigating an allegation of child sex abuse against an Irish-born archbishop based in Africa, his missionary order confirmed today.

Archbishop Richard Burke (60), from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, was ordained a priest for St Patrick’s Missionary Society, known as the Kiltegan Fathers, in Co Wicklow, in 1975. He was ordained a bishop in 1997, and installed as Archbishop of Benin, Nigeria, in March of last year.

In a statement, the society said it had received a complaint last December from a 40-year-old woman against Archbishop Burke.

“She alleged that she was sexually abused as a child by Richard Burke. We expressed the deep sorrow and regret of the society for the suffering the complainant and her family are going through and we affirmed the society’s commitment to child protection,’’ it added.

“We assured her that the society’s child protection policy and procedures would be adhered to. The society offered to provide counselling for the complainant.’’

The statement pointed out that although Archbishop Burke was a member of the society, he had ceased to be under its jurisdiction when he became a bishop and was now under the direct jurisdiction of the Holy See.

“However, he agreed to follow the society’s child protection procedures and voluntarily withdrew from ministry while the complaint is being investigated,’’ it added.

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith requested that all relevant documents relating to the allegation be forwarded to Rome so that it can exercise its full jurisdiction in the matter. The society has done this.’’

The society, said the statement, had kept in contact with the complainant, and informed her regularly of the steps being taken in accordance with policy and procedures. She had also been informed of the direct jurisdiction of the Holy See in the matter.

“The society is committed to ensuring that justice is done and that no child is put at risk through the behaviour of our members,’’ it added.

The Irish Mail on Sundayfeatured an interview with Dolores Atwood, who said that the abuse began when she was 14 years old and a patient in a hospital at Warri, Nigeria, in April 1983.

She alleged the archbishop continued to have a sexual relationship with her as recently as 2003.

Ms Atwood, who now lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, said she believed she was “manipulated and controlled’’ as a teenager.

She said she eventually confessed the relationship to her husband because she was wracked with guilt. She wrote to the Vatican and the society reporting the allegations.

Ms Atwood said she had provided phone recordings, letters and airline tickets to Church authorities as proof of their relationship.