Ex-archbishop settles case against RTÉ over Mission to Prey

Statement read on behalf of RTÉ said it incorrectly said Burke declined to be interviewed. Bakhurst says ‘no damages whatsoever’ paid to Burke

A settlement has been reached in the action by a former Catholic Archbishop who alleged he was wrongly depicted as a paedophile in the RTÉ Prime Time Investigates: Mission to Prey programme.

On the eighth day of the case brought by Richard Burke alleging he was defamed in the May 23rd 2011 programme, the jury was told the case had settled.

Paul O’Higgins SC, for RTÉ, read a statement on behalf of the broadcaster which said RTÉ had said that in the programme it alleged Richard Burke had sexual relations with a girl, Dolores Atwood, who was under-age.

RTÉ accepted it had incorrectly stated in the programme that Mr Burke had declined to be interviewed for the programme and for that it apologises, the statement said.


It said RTÉ acknowledged Mr Burke has “consistently and vehemently” denied the allegations and has done so throughout his evidence at the hearing.

The statement said Dolores Atwood stands over her allegations and RTÉ considers her a sincere and honourable person. RTÉ and Mr burke agreed the matter is now closed, the statement added, and the case could be struck out with no order.

In a statement read outside the court by Robert Dore, solicitor for Richard Burke, Mr Dore said Mr Burke has consistently and vehemently denied the allegations made against him by Dolores Atwood in the Mission to Prey programme.

The statement said Mr Burke is truthful person his action had been “compromised to his satisfaction” and he has no exposure to costs.

Kevin Bakhurst, managing director of news and current affairs at RTÉ said the broadcasters paid “no damages whatsoever” to Mr Burke and had made a contribution to his costs.

In the proceedings, RTÉ had denied Mr Burke (66), a native of Co Tipperary who was ordained a priest of the Kiltegan Fathers in 1975 after which he served in Nigeria as a priest, Bishop and Archbishop until he resigned as Archbishop of Benin city in May 2010, was defamed in the programme.

In its defence, RTÉ argued that claims made in the programme by a Nigerian woman, Dolores Atwood, that she was sexually molested by Mr Burke in a Nigerian hospital when she was aged 13, and that he had full sex with her when she was 14, were true.

It denied that meant Mr Burke was a paedophile.

In his evidence, Mr Burke told the jury he did not know Ms Atwood, who was born in August 1969 and is now aged 45, when she was aged 13 or 14. He said the first time he had sex with her was in autumn 1989 when she was aged 20 and he was aged 40.

He also said he had paid her €176,000 over a period of years because he felt “terrorised” by her. After he paid the €176,000, she sought another €200,000, he said.

RTÉ said Ms Atwood would say she was sorry she had taken the money and that sums were paid to her to get her to withdraw complaints she made to the Kiltegan Fathers and the congregation in Rome alleging Mr Burke sexually abused her when she was 13 and 14.

Mr Burke gave evidence over some four days and Ms Atwood began her testimony on Wednesday during which she said Fr Burke kissed her and touched her breast while she was in hospital in Nigeria in 1983.

Shortly after her testimony began on Wednesday, the jury were sent out while legal discussions continued in their absence. The case was due to resume before the jury today but, after discussions between the sides outside court, the settlement was reached.

During the proceedings, the jury heard Mr Burke was ordained in 1975 after which he served in Nigeria as a priest before being appointed Bishop of the diocese of Warri. He was later appointed Archbishop of Benin city and resigned that office in May 2010 over failure to adhere to his vow of celibacy. He remains a member of the Kiltegan Fathers.

Ms Atwood, who now lives in Canada with her husband Chris, said she first met Fr Burke after mass at a Catholic church in Warrii in 1982 and enjoyed conversations with him. She said he encouraged her to attend mass and she went when she could as she did not want to offend her father, who was Muslim.

Whenever she went, Fr Burke gave her a hug which she found “very relieving” and they would discuss the church and her family.

“At that time, I trusted him, I said to myself he was a nice man, he was caring and very kind.” At the time, she had no one who was emotionally supporting her and she would look forward to going to church, she said.

In his evidence, Mr Burke said he had learned Ms Atwood had phoned the Kiltegan Fathers anonymously in 2005 to complain about him having relations with women.

When counsel for RTÉ 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”.

When counsel suggested he was not pleased when she was getting engaged in 1995 and had told her she “hadn’t waited” for him, Mr Burke said he had had no intention of leaving the priesthood and had no recollection “of saying anything of the kind to her.”

In his May 2010 letter of resignation as Archbishop of Benin city, Mr Burke had apologised for the pain and hurt he had caused Ms Atwood and her family. The letter said they had a relationship which began in 1989 when she was 21 and he was 40.

It said, in the last 20 years, they had met seven times and, on three of those occasions, the relationship was expressed sexually. This was “entirely inappropriate behaviour and is something for which I am truly sorry”, the letter added.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times