Ex-Archbishop says woman was 20 when they first had sex

Burke says he paid €176,000 to Nigerian woman at RTÉ Mission to Prey High Court case

A former Catholic Archbishop has told the High Court in Dublin that he had an "inappropriate" sexual relationship with a woman in Nigeria which began in 1989, when she was aged 20 and he was 40.

Co Tipperary-born Richard Burke (66), ordained a priest in 1975, said he felt "uneasy" by the demeanour, which "gave an impression of being flirtatious" of then 20-year-old Dolores Atwood when she came unexpectedly to his private apartment on a Sunday afternoon in Warri city in Nigeria in September or October 1989.

He left her in the room while he went to see if he could find a “chaperone”, but he later returned alone to the room “in turmoil”, he said.

Her “smile, eyes, expression suggested something to me”, indicated she “wanted to be intimate with me” and he felt “flattered”.


After she made an “embracing gesture”, he responded he would “accept her invitation” and they went to his bedroom where they “made love including full sexual intercourse”.

Afterwards, she expressed “great joy” and he too initially felt great joy and “felt special in somebody’s eyes in a way I had never felt before”.

He later felt a mix of confusion and guilt, knew what had happened was wrong, believed she was falling in love with him and told her he was leaving for Ireland in spring 1990, he outlined.

The sexual relationship was inappropriate because he was a priest with a commitment to celibacy, he said. Asked by Paul O'Higgins SC, for RTÉ, was there any other reason, he said it was also inappropriate because he was twice her age.

When they had sex, he had not considered how that would affect her prospects, but knew what happened between them would be regarded with “abhorrence” in Nigeria.

He said he first met her some two years earlier and believed that was after the death in 1986 of a priest who was a “confidante” of hers. There was no intimacy of any description between them before autumn 1989 and he had not had sexual thoughts about her, he said.

He had “genuinely believed” she was born in 1968, but later learned it was August 1969. He agreed she was from a broken home, her parents were divorced and her father’s new wife did not want her in their house. She was from an Islamic family, but was attracted to the Catholic church. He had provided a “listening ear” to her.

Mr Burke was being cross-examined by Mr O'Higgins in his continuing action alleging defamation in the May 2011 Prime Time Investigates: Mission to Prey programme. He alleges it wrongly depicted him as a paedophile.

RTÉ denies defamation.

In direct examination, Mr Burke told his counsel, Jack Fitzgerald SC, that Ms Atwood sought €200,000 from him in 2009 after he had paid her some €176,000 over a number of years. When he told her he could not get the money, she asked him, and he agreed, to have sex with her in an hotel in Halifax, Canada, he said.

He felt “terrorised” by Ms Atwood and feared she would disclose their sexual relationship which would bring disgrace and shame on himself and his ministry. He was appointed a Bishop in Nigeria in 1996 and Archbishop in December 2007.

After having sex with Ms Atwood in autumn 1989, they had sex three more times before he returned to Ireland in spring 1990 and, while there, letters passed between them.

Ms Atwood later married and moved to Canada about 1995 and he had some contact with her between 1996 and 2003. In 2003, she phoned asking him to spend three nights with her in an hotel in Lagos and give her $4,000 in cash, which he did, he said.

Between 2003 and 2005, there was increasing phone contact between them with calls once weekly or 10 days and lasting one or two hours and sometimes longer, he said. The calls sometimes became “very uneasy and unpleasant” for him, because she was “expressing a feeling for me I could not reciprocate, she was demanding intimacy”.

He was “devastated” to later learn Ms Atwood had also phoned his brother in Tipperary and his sister in Dublin.

He said Ms Atwood later phoned him seeking money and he met her in Halifax airport, Nova Scotia, in October 2007 and gave her a bank draft for €26,000 which she said was the full amount of all the phone calls. He was "incredibly worried", if he did not hand over the money, she would reveal they had an intimate relationship.

More phone calls came from October 2007 that were “menacing” and “demanding” and he recorded a call on October 25th, 2007 where she told him to choose one of four options, he said.

The options were:

(1) they would meet anywhere in the world over the next year, be together for a minimum five days and “have full sexual intercourse, to be fully and totally intimate”;

(2) to give her €10,000 a year for five years;

(3) they would meet somewhere and “discuss it” or;

(4) be together again “the way we used to be”.

In a call around 11pm on November 7th, 2007, he said Ms Atwood subjected him to a “tirade of abuse” for about three hours, insisting he had failed to meet her that day in Lagos when, he said, they had arranged to meet on November 8th for the purpose of his saying what option he had chosen. During that call she said, for the first time: “You’re a paedophile”, he said.

Rather than give her €10,000 a year for five years, “an eternity of prolonging this nightmare”, he decided to give her €50,000 in one payment intended to end this. She had said “as God is my witness, I will never again bring up the matter of intimacy” and he met her in Dublin in July 2008 and paid her €50,000, he said.

After about a month, Ms Atwood phoned again demanding €100,000 which he gave her in London after raising the funds partly from his own and partly from diocesan funds.

He paid her “because I was simply terrorised and afraid she would reveal we had a relationship when she was 20 and I was 40”, which would disgrace himself and his ministry. “I was ashamed, I was utterly terrified.”

Under cross-examination, asked what kind of person he is, he said he would say “truthful, sincere, generous, available, committed and flawed”.

By flawed, he meant human and vulnerable. He regarded himself as someone about whom Ms Atwood had “lied extensively” about.

He agreed the RTÉ programme was not the first time Ms Atwood’s allegations had been made public as they had featured in some newspapers. He agreed she confided extremely private matters to him over the years. He may have told her to destroy letters he sent her, but honestly could not remember what was in the letters between them.

The case continues on Monday before Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley and a jury.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times