Tuesday 27 September 2016

Former archbishop suing RTE said he felt 'powerless' and 'angry beyond belief' following broadcast

Published 25/06/2015 | 17:52

Retired Archbishop Richard Burke
Retired Archbishop Richard Burke

A FORMER Catholic Archbishop has told a High Court jury he was falsely portrayed during an RTE television programme as leading a young girl up a stairs to his bedroom where he raped her.

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"I could not believe my eyes," said Richard Burke, former Archbishop of Benin, Nigeria.

24/6/2015
Former Archbishop of Benin, Richard Burke pictured leaving the Four Courts after the opening day of his High Court action for damages.Pic: Courts Collins
24/6/2015 Former Archbishop of Benin, Richard Burke pictured leaving the Four Courts after the opening day of his High Court action for damages.Pic: Courts Collins

"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."

Read more here: Former bishop claims RTE Prime Time programme wrongly depicted him as a sexual predator  

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" programme was screened on May 23rd 2011.

He could not access RTE One 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".

24/6/2015
Former Archbishop of Benin, Richard Burke pictured leaving the Four Courts after the opening day of his High Court action for damages.Pic: Courts Collins
24/6/2015 Former Archbishop of Benin, Richard Burke pictured leaving the Four Courts after the opening day of his High Court action for damages.Pic: Courts Collins

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 he was being accused of being a paedophile, especially in a part of the programme involving a dramatisation where a young girl was led up a stairs.

Read more here: Former archbishop sues RTE over 'Mission to Prey' programme  

He felt "angry beyond belief" but also "totally powerless" and wondered how he would be able "to get a counter voice out" after the broadcast.

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.

Mr Burke has begun his evidence in his action against RTE alleging he was defamed in the Mission to Prey programme which included an interview with a Nigerian woman, Dolores Atwood.

Mr Burke claims that interview, and other material in the report, wrongly depicted him as a paedophile and rapist who sexually assaulted Ms Atwood at the age of 13 when she was in a hospital bed and had sex with her the age of 14.

The programme, he claims, wrongly meant he groomed Ms Atwood and was a sexual predator who abused his position of trust and power to take advantage of a vulnerable girl whose parents were divorced and who regarded the church as a sanctuary.

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 failure to adhere to his vow of celibacy.

RTE denies defamation and pleads a defence of truth concerning the contents of the programme related to Mr Burke.

It denies the content bears some of the meanings alleged by Mr Burke, including it meant he was a rapist.

In his evidence, Mr Burke said he remains a member of St Patrick’s Missionary Society, known as the Kiltegan Fathers, and has lived in Surrey, England, since January 2011.

When he resigned as Archbishop in April 2010 "because I had been unfaithful to my oath of celibate commitment", he felt he had "made a mess of things in my life" and shamed himself, his family and friends and had let down the church.

"It was an enormous trauma, I did not live up to the manner of life that I had committed myself to and I was going away in disgrace.

"I had been highly respected, I had done good work."

He felt "all this is collapsing, a house of cards and I am the one responsible for this collapse, no one else, sin and disgrace".

Earlier, he said he received a mailed threat he would be killed and experienced some hostility when appointed "out of the blue" to the position of Bishop, and later Archbishop, in Nigeria as there was a feeling a Nigerian should have been appointed.

The jury heard RTE has said reporter Aoife Kavanagh tried to contact Mr Burke various times between March 14, 2011 and May 4, 2011 but could not reach him.

RTE also said the programme had stated Mr Burke continued to claim his relationship with Ms Atwood was consensual, began when she was an adult and the Kiltegan Fathers had found no evidence he engaged in child sexual abuse.

The case continues.

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