Former archbishop concludes evidence in defamation case

Richard Burke denies abusing Dolores Atwood in Nigeria when she was 13 or 14

Former archbishop of Benin Richard Burke. Photograph: Courts Collins

Former archbishop of Benin Richard Burke. Photograph: Courts Collins

 

A former Catholic archbishop has told the High Court he wanted a woman to seek the return of a letter, sent by her to Rome, which accused him of sexually abusing her when she was underage.

Richard Burke denies he sexually abused Dolores Atwood in Nigeria when she was aged 13 or 14. He insists he and Ms Atwood had consensual sex for the first time when she was aged 20 and he was 40.

Mr Burke (66), a native of Co Tipperary, has completed his evidence in his action against RTÉ alleging he was defamed in the RTÉ Prime Time Investigates: Mission to Prey programme broadcast on May 23rd, 2011. He claims material in the programme wrongly meant he was a paedophile. RTÉ denies defamation.

After Mr Burke’s re-examination concluded this morning, the seventh day of the case, Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley and the jury were told the evidence of behalf of Mr Burke had concluded.

The jury was then asked to go out while legal discussion began in their absence.

The jury has heard Mr Burke was ordained a priest of the Kiltegan Fathers 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 but resigned that office in May 2010.

Mr Burke said he resigned arising from his failure to adhere to his vow of celibacy. He remains a member of the Kiltegan Fathers.

Mr Burke denies claims by Ms Atwood (45), a native of Nigeria who now lives in Canada with her husband Chris Atwood, that he sexually abused her when she was aged 13 and first had sex with her when she was 14. He says they first had sex in 1989 when she was aged 20 and he was aged 40.

In re-examination today by his counsel Jack Fitzgerald SC, Mr Burke was asked about a handwritten note of six lines, which Mr Burke has agreed he drafted for Ms Atwood, stating “I completely withdraw my letter of...” and “would be grateful to have it returned to me”.

Mr Burke said the letter he wanted returned was a letter sent by Dolores Atwood to the congregation in Rome accusing him of sexually abusing her when she was 13 or 14 years old.

He also read his letter of resignation as Archbishop of Benin in which he 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 that, 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.

Mr Burke also said there was no question but that he had paid €176,000 to Ms Atwood. After that sum was paid, there was a further demand for €200,000, he said.

He agreed he had told Chris Atwood in phone calls in 2007 it was not true, as Ms Atwood had alleged, that she was 14 when Mr Burke first touched her. He had also told Mr Atwood he had touched Ms Atwood’s sister inappropriately.

The case continues.