Irish News

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Kenyan bishop to sue RTE over 'Mission to Prey'

Published 16/05/2012|05:00

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A THIRD cleric is taking legal action against RTE claiming serious defamation as the fallout from the 'Mission to Prey' programme continues.

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The Irish Independent has learned that papers were lodged earlier this week at the High Court by Kenyan Bishop Philip Sulumeti.

It was the first step in a defamation case which, if successful, will add to the seven-figure bill which RTE -- and the taxpayer -- is already facing as a result of the one-hour 'Prime Time Investigates' programme.

The bishop is seeking damages from the state broadcaster as a result of his inclusion and portrayal in the programme.

It is understood that he will argue that his good name was damaged by including his reference supporting Fr Kevin Reynolds' character alongside statements of Fr Reynolds' supposed guilt.

The programme falsely accused Fr Reynolds of raping a woman and fathering her daughter -- sparking a series of events that led to a damning report from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and the resignation of reporter Aoife Kavanagh.

Now Bishop Sulumeti, a Kenyan native who was ordained a priest in 1966, is taking the new case. It comes as RTE bosses are to appear before the Dail Communications Committee today for a grilling.

The false claims against Fr Reynolds led to a huge libel settlement, believed to be in the region of €1m, and an RTE apology.

A second case -- involving allegations a former archbishop had sex with a 14-year-old girl - is set to come before the High Court in November.

The former Archbishop of Benin, Tipperary-born Richard Burke, is claiming that allegations he had sex with an underage girl in Nigeria are false.

Fr Burke claims he was defamed by allegations he had sex with Dolores Atwood when she was 14.

He admits he had a sexual relationship with her but claimed it began when she was an adult and it was consensual.

Now married with a family in Canada, she said she felt "angry" when she realised she had been abused.

Now the third case is being prepared, focusing on how Bishop Sulumeti was portrayed in the four-minute 40-second segment, which focused on Fr Reynolds.

Dr Sulumeti, who is Bishop of Kakamega -- about 400km from the capital Nairobi -- became involved in the programme after Fr Reynolds provided a reference that the bishop had given him in 2003 at the end of his time working in Kenya.

The 74-year-old said the priest, who is now based in Ahascragh, Co Galway, was "above suspicion".

The statement said: "Fr Kevin has never been involved in any kind of abuse, controversy whatsoever. . . His relationships with young people and those of the opposite sex are proper, respectful and above suspicion."

But the BAI noted that this was summarised by producer Brian Pairceir as "most peculiar . . . it says Fr Reynolds is not a sexual predator".

This was given as an example of the disastrous "groupthink" mentality which made the production team firmly believe they were correct about the paternity allegation.

A portion of the bishop's statement was ultimately included in the programme alongside allegations made by Ms Kavanagh about Fr Reynolds' alleged crimes.

Confrontation

More than 500,000 people watched the programme, which showed Ms Kavanagh confronting Fr Reynolds to falsely accuse him of sexually abusing a teenage girl in Kenya in 1982 and fathering a child by the woman before abandoning them both.

Allegations were also made to the 'Prime Time' team that Bishop Sulumeti, acting as an intermediary for Fr Reynolds, had been paying the school fees for his alleged daughter, Sheila.

While Ms Kavanagh did not name the individual in the programme who was allegedly paying Sheila's school fees, the BAI report shows she asked the bishop about the payments.

"Ms Kavanagh asked Bishop Sulumeti's office for a response on the allegations about payment of school fees; this was denied and a character reference for Fr Reynolds provided," the report states.

The family of another cleric featured in the programme had asked Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte to investigate allegations of child sex abuse, which they say are false.

Br Gerard Dillon, originally from Clarecastle, Co Clare, died in South Africa in 2005.

Irish Independent

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