Wednesday 26 October 2016

Ex-Archbishop sues RTÉ over 'Mission to Prey'

Tim Healy

Published 25/06/2015 | 02:30

Retired Archbishop Richard Burke
Retired Archbishop Richard Burke

A former Roman Catholic Archbishop who resigned over breaking his vow of celibacy has sued RTÉ for defamation.

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Richard Burke, former Archbishop of Benin city in Nigeria, claims he was wrongly depicted as a paedophile in the 2011 Prime Time Investigates programme 'Mission to Prey'.

Tipperary-born Mr Burke (66) had intimate sexual relations with Dolores Atwood, who featured on the RTÉ programme, but not when she was under-age, his counsel Jack Fitzgerald SC told a High Court judge and jury.

Mr Burke "is not a paedophile", has never in his life ever molested a child and, at the end of case, you will be convinced that is the truth, counsel said.

As an Archbishop who had sexual relations with Ms Atwood, she had "leaned" on him but that was something not mentioned in the programme, counsel said.

The jury would hear of pressure Ms Atwood put on Mr Burke such that he became "terrified" of the exposure of the relationship he had with her, he said.

The court would also hear Mr Burke paid "a large sum of money" to her due to pressure she was putting him under.

There would be evidence of "further threats", including giving him four options for her to keep quiet, one of which was to pay another €50,000 over five years on top of the €176,000 already paid to her.

Mr Fitzgerald was opening the action by Mr Burke against RTÉ alleging defamation arising from the 'Mission to Prey' programme, broadcast on May 23, 2011.

RTÉ denies defamation and pleads the contents of the programme related to Mr Burke are true. The programme was played to the jury during the opening of the case.

Mr Fitzgerald said Mr Burke, from Clonmel, resigned in May 2010 as Archbishop because he did not comply with his commitment to celibacy as a cleric.

He was ashamed of that, remorseful, humiliated and in pain because of the resignation "but he is not a paedophile".

Mr Fitzgerald said RTÉ was standing over the allegation made by Ms Atwood in the programme, which was about child sex abuse.

In its defence, RTÉ was saying, 'Yes, we said he is a paedophile on 'Prime Time' and we still say he is a paedophile', counsel said.

The jury would hear of "the most outrageously bad standards of journalism", counsel said.

The only evidence on the programme Mr Burke was a paedophile came from Ms Attwood and it was "grossly unfair" she was presented on the programme as someone establishing a fact without contest rather than someone making an allegation, he said.

Mr Burke did have a sexual relationship with her but not when she was under age, he said.

The case continues.

Irish Independent

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