Woman claims archbishop fondled her when she was a child

Dolores Atwood claims Richard Burke kissed her and touched her breast when she was 13

A woman has told the High Court a priest kissed her and touched her breast while she was being treated for typhoid fever in a hospital in Nigeria in 1983.

Dolores Atwood, who was born in August 1969, said she first met Richard Burke, a member of the Kiltegan Fathers order, after mass at a Catholic church in Nigeria in 1982 and had enjoyed conversations with him.

When she became ill in 1983, she was treated in hospital for typhoid fever and he came to visit her, she said. She was “surprised” and, while he was there, the light went off and he kissed her and touched her breast and was “touching me inappropriately”.

When the light came back on, he had gone back to the position where he was standing before the light went off, she said.


Ms Atwood has begun her evidence in the action by Mr Burke (66), a native of Co Tipperary, 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.

The jury has 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.

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

In evidence today, Ms Atwood said she is a native of Ondo state in Nigeria and grew up in Warri in southern Nigeria. Her father is a mechanical engineer and she has six sisters and three brothers. Her parents were Muslim but she had herself never really embraced any religion.

Becoming upset, she said they were a happy family until problems began between her parents in 1982 and they divorced. At that time, she was a day student in second level. Her mother moved out and her father’s new wife, whom he married later in 1982, was “not very friendly to us”.

Ms Atwood said she had to do most of the work at home and that affected her a lot.

Asked about religion, she said she was "always really attracted to the crucifix", "I just love it" and that led to her going to a Catholic Church in 1982.

She had been told by a school friend she would find crucifixes if she went to the church on Sunday where there were a lot of people selling medals and rosaries and books, she said.

She bought a rosary and other materials but was told the rosary “would not work” unless a priest blessed it. She went to church and, after mass, asked a priest to bless her rosary, she said. That priest was Fr Richard Burke, he had told her he had not seen her face before and asked her to come to mass next Sunday, she said.

When she did so, she spoke with him afterwards and he encouraged her to attend mass, she said. She went to mass when she could as she did not want to offend her father. Whenever she went, Fr Burke gave her a hug which she found “very relieving” and they would discuss the church and her family in conversations.

“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.

Every time he went to hug her, he “hugged me very well”.

In 1983, she was taken to hospital where she was treated for typhoid fever, she said. Two days after she was admitted, a member of the St Vincent de Paul society came in and asked had a priest come to bless her, she said. The woman had said she was going to mass and “would let father know you are here”, she said.

That evening, Fr Burke came to see her. She was surprised, she said. She said he was asking her what happened and she told him. She said the light went off “and he kissed me and touched my breast and was putting his hand on me inappropriately”. When the light came on, he went back to where he was standing originally, she said.

At that time, she did not know what was happening to her, she said.

After she came out of hospital, she went to mass but Fr Burke was not there, she said. When she went again, she said he was there and, when she asked him where he had been, he said he was on vacation. He had asked her to come again the following week and when she did so, they talked and he hugged and kissed her.

The case continues.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times