Ex-archbishop denies seeking ‘agreement’ on woman’s silence

Richard Burke cross-examined in his continuing action alleging he was defamed by RTÉ

Former Archbishop of Benin, Richard Burke, at the Four Courts. Photograph: Collins

Former Archbishop of Benin, Richard Burke, at the Four Courts. Photograph: Collins


A former Catholic archbishop has denied he asked a woman in early 2009 to sign a handwritten “binding agreement”, which referred to paying her €100,000, in an effort to get her to withdraw complaints against him.

Dolores Atwood had made a formal complaint of child sexual abuse against Richard Burke to his order, the Kiltegan Fathers, in late 2008, the High Court heard.

She had also written to the Vatican in March 2008 and in 2005 phoned Mr Burke’s order anonymously alleging he was having relations with women.

Mr Burke denies he had sex with Ms Atwood when she was aged 14 and insists they first had sex in autumn 1989 when she was 20 and he was 40. He alleges he was defamed in a RTÉ Prime Time Investigates programme of March 23rd, 2011 which, he claims, wrongly depicted him as a paedophile.

Paul O’Higgins SC, for RTÉ, said it denies the programme meant Mr Burke was a paedophile and contends it meant Mr Burke had sexually molested Ms Atwood when she was 13 and slept with her when she was aged 14.

In continuing cross-examination, Mr Burke was presented by counsel with a handwritten document which stated it was a “binding agreement” between Dolores Wasalathu Atwood and Richard Anthony Burke.

Mr Burke said he did not remember the document but agreed it was his handwriting. The document stated the terms of the agreement included he was to give to Ms Atwood “what she considers to belong to her €100,000” and she, for the remainder of her life, would never again ask or demand any more money from him.

It stated Ms Atwood agreed she would never share with any party “deeply personal” information shared by Mr Burke with her on a basis of “complete trust” and that all individuals mentioned “in that sharing” will “never ever be contacted because the sharing was essentially about Richard and the identification of third parties”.

The agreement also stated both he and Ms Atwood agreed they would ever again contact the other for the rest of their lives and would “go their separate ways under the providence of God”.

Mr O’Higgins said Ms Atwood would say she was given the document after Mr Burke visited Rome in February 2009. She would say she declined to sign it and the “sticking point” for her was she wanted Mr Burke to leave Africa but he said he was not leaving.

She would say the document was an effort to get her to withdraw her complaint and let him stay in Africa but she declined to sign it, counsel said.

Ms Atwood would say she regretted taking money from him and this was an effort to make it difficult for her to deal with things in circumstances that would make it difficult for her to be believed.

Mr Burke said he did not accept that was the context of the document.

Earlier, he said he first learned 12 days before the RTÉ programme that it was to be screened after he sent an email to his order on May 9th, 2011 with queries about it. He said he was unaware RTÉ had been in contact with his order on several occasions since March and agreed, in response to requests from him, his order sent him its written answers to questions put to the order by RTÉ for the programme. He agreed his order had told him it had decided to provide written answers and not be interviewed for the programme.

He said he did not know in advance he would personally be featured on the programme and it was incorrect for RTÉ to say on the programme he had declined to be interviewed. He denied he was content not to be interviewed.

When told Ms Atwood would say she had never asked for €26,000 which he gave her in October 2007, he said “she may say that” but he was “giving my truth”.

He agreed he wrote a note for her to be given to the authorities saying she was withdrawing her claims. He said he had told her the claim was “ridiculous”.

He denied monies paid to her were linked to that or she made the withdrawal of her claim condition on his leaving Africa.

Mr Burke said he had no recollection of telling Ms Atwood, when she got engaged in 1995, he was “not pleased” and she had not “waited for him”.

When Mr O’Higgins put to him “she thought she was in love with you and hoped she might end up with you”, he said she “never expressed that to me in those clear crystal terms”.

There was “no intention on my part of leaving the priesthood”, he said. Mr Burke said he had in November 2007 recorded calls made to him from Canada, where Ms Atwood moved after marrying a Canadian, Chris Atwood, in 1995.

He said he recorded those because he was traumatised after Ms Atwood had, during a call on November 7th, 2007, accused him for the first time of being a “paedophile”.

The jury heard Mr Burke recorded two phone calls made to him by Chris Atwood, one on November 8th, 2007 and the second about a week later.

Mr Burke agreed, during the calls, that he spoke of having an intimate relationship with Ms Atwood “22 to 23 years ago”, which would have been 1984 and 1985.

Counsel said Ms Atwood, born in August 1969, would have been 15 in August 1984. Mr Burke said Mr Atwood had, during the calls, twice talked about Mr Burke being 40 when he first slept with Ms Atwood, which would have made her 20.

Mr Burke said he was under enormous strain in November 2007 as a result of receiving long and frequent phone calls, some lasting hours, from Ms Atwood over years previously. He was “clear in my mind” his first sexual encounter with her was in September or October 1989 when she was aged 20 and denied he was “telling more of the truth” in the calls than he was now.

In re-examination by Jack Fitzgerald SC, Mr Burke said the RTÉ programme had not included all of the answers given by the Kiltegan Fathers to questions put to them by RTÉ arising from Ms Atwood’s allegations.

It had not reported a girl in Nigeria contacted by the order following claims by Ms Atwood had said she had no suspicion about Mr Burke and no complaint to make against him. He did not remember RTÉ reporting there had never been another allegation or complaint against him, he added.

The case continues.