A former Catholic archbishop has told a High Court jury that he was portrayed during an RTÉ television programme as leading a young girl upstairs to his bedroom to sexually abuse, sexually assault and rape her.
"I could not believe my eyes," Richard Burke said. "This did not happen. I did not do that. What is portrayed there is a lie." When his counsel, Jack Fitzgerald SC, asked, "Are you a paedophile?" he replied, "No."
Mr Burke (66), from Co Tipperary, said he was living in London with a member of his order, the Kiltegan Fathers, when Prime Time Investigates: Mission to Prey was screened on May 23rd, 2011.
He could not get access to RTÉ TV, but his niece sent him texts which, as the programme went on, progressed from “this is bad” to “this is really bad” to, in essence, “this is as bad as it can be”. On getting those texts, “my heart began to sink and sink and sink into darkness, utter fear”.
He was unable to watch the full programme until about a month later when he saw it at his sister’s home. His impression was that he was being accused of being a paedophile, especially in a section involving a dramatisation where a young girl was led upstairs.
A reference by the reporter that he had declined to be interviewed “gave me a hook to hang on to” because he got no invitation to respond to the claims being made, he said. That was “tiny in comparison to the feeling of helplessness”.
Mr Burke has begun his evidence in his action against RTÉ alleging he was defamed in the Mission to Prey programme, which included an interview with a Nigerian woman, Dolores Atwood. Mr Burke claims he had sexual relations with Ms Atwood, now aged 45, as an adult but not when she was under age. Having spent decades in Nigeria after his ordination in 1975, he tendered his resignation as archbishop of Benin in April 2010 over his failure to adhere to his vow of celibacy.
RTÉ denies defamation and pleads a defence of truth concerning the contents of the programme relating to Mr Burke. It denies that the content bears some of the meanings alleged by Mr Burke, including that he was a rapist.
Mr Fitzgerald has told the jury that Ms Atwood “leaned on” Mr Burke about their relationship and that he had paid her €176,000, plus $4,300, to keep quiet. Counsel said he had also mistakenly told the jury that Ms Atwood sought an additional €50,000, when that sum was part of the €176,000.
Some of the €176,000 had come out of diocesan funds, money that Mr Burke had made an agreement with the Vatican to repay, counsel said.
The case continues.