Tuesday 16 January 2018

Former Archbishop Burke: I had sex with woman when I could not pay her €200k

Retired Archbishop Richard Burke
Retired Archbishop Richard Burke

Tim Healy

A FORMER Catholic Archbishop has told the High Court he first had sex with a Nigerian woman in 1989 when she was aged 20 and he was aged 40.

Co Tipperary-born Richard Burke (66) said he later paid sums totalling about €176,000 sought by Dolores Atwood. He also agreed to have sex with her in a hotel in Canada in 2009 after she asked him to do that when he told her he could not pay her another €200,000 sought by her, he said.

Mr Burke said he felt “terrorised” by Ms Atwood and feared she would disclose their relationship which would bring disgrace and shame on himself, his family and his ministry.

Mr Burke said he first met Ms Atwood in 1986 or 1987 when she was aged 17 or 18 and he first had sex with her in 1989 when she was aged 20 in his bedroom in Cathedral House in Warri city in Nigeria.  He did not know her when she was aged 13 or 14, he said.

He was ordained a Bishop in 1996 and an Archbishop in December 2007, the jury heard.

He was giving evidence in his continuing action alleging he was defamed in the RTE Prime Time Investigates Mission to Prey programme of May 23rd 2011. RTE denies defamation and has pleaded a defence of truth concerning the content related to Mr Burke.

Today, Mr Burke said he believed he first met Ms Atwood, born in August 1969, about 1986 or 1987 when she came to his office.

Ms Atwood told him she had been a confidante of another priest who was transferred from the cathedral parish about 1986 and soon afterwards was killed in a car accident, he said. He attributed his relationship with her as commencing after that priest was killed.

When his counsel said Ms Atwood told Prime Time about an event that happened when she was about the age of 13 in hospital, he said there was an event in hospital similar to that.

He said the first time he had sex with Ms Atwood was either September or October 1989 and the hospital event was after that. He had sex with her three more times before he returned to Ireland in 1990 and, while he was in Ireland, letters passed between them, he said.

He said Ms Atwood later married and moved to Canada, he believed that was about 1995. He was ordained Bishop of Warri in 1996 and had continuing contact with her between 1996 and 2003. In 2003, he said she called him asking him to meet her in Lagos and spend three nights in an hotel and give her 4000 dollars in cash, which he did.

Between 2003 and 2005, there was increasing phone contact between them, he said. The phone conversations had been about once a month or every three weeks but increased to between once weekly and ten days and the calls could last one or two hours and sometimes longer. The calls sometimes became very uneasy and unpleasant for him because she was “expressing a feeling for me I could not reciprocate, she was demanding intimacy”.

He was devastated when he later learned she had phoned his brother in the family home in Tipperary and also his sister in Dublin.

He said Ms Atwood then phoned him demanding money and he eventually met her in the airport of Halifax in Nova Scotia by appointment in October 2007 and gave her a bank draft for €26,000 which she said was the full amount of all the phone calls. He was “incredibly worried” if he did not hand over that money, she would reveal they had an intimate relationship.

He said he received more phone calls from October 2007 from Ms Atwood that were “menacing, threatening, aggressive, abusive and demanding”. He recorded a call of October 25th 2007 in which she gave him four options and told him to choose one.

One option was they would meet anywhere in the world over the next year any place and be together for at least one week, a minimum five days, and “have full sexual intercourse, to be fully and totally intimate”. A second option was to give her €10,000 a year for five years, a third was they would meet somewhere and “discuss it” and the fourth was they should be together again “the way we used to be”.

He received another call about 11pm on November 7th 2007 where he was subject to a “tirade of abuse” from Ms Atwood for about three hours. That arose where he was to meet her in Lagos on November 8th to respond to the four options but she insisted the meeting was to have been on November 7th, he said.

Ms Atwood would not hear his explanation there was a clear arrangement for the 8th,, he said. She “unleashed a tirade of abuse”, saying he was treading on her and not to do that.  That was the first time she mentioned :”You’re a paedophile”, he said.

Rather than give her €10,000 a year for five years, “which was an eternity of prolonging this nightmare”, he decided “to try and end it once and for all” and give her €50,000 in one payment. She had said “as God is my witness, I will never again bring up the matter of intimacy, we will be good friends, intimacy never, never again”, he said.

He “grabbed onto that phrase”, chose the €50,000 payment, arranged to meet her in Dublin at the end of July 2008 and paid her that €50,000 in a bank draft and €5,000 cash.

After about a month, Ms Atwood started phoning again and demanding more money, he said. She was demanding €100,000 which he raised partly from his own and partly from diocesan funds. He met her in London and gave her a bank draft for €90,000 and €10,000 cash, he said.

He paid her “because I was simply terrorised and afraid she would reveal we had a relationship when she was 20 and I was 40” which revelation would bring disgrace on himself and his ministry. “I was ashamed, I was utterly terrified.”

Under cross-examination, he said he regarded himself as someone about whom Ms Atwood had lied and lied extensively about.

Asked what kind of person he is, he said he would say “truthful, sincere, generous, available, committed and flawed”.

When Paul O’Higgins SC said the Prime Time programme was about priests rightly or wrongly said to have abused young people and teenagers, he said that, in his case, “it was clearly and unequivocally said that I was a child abuser”.

He agreed the RTE programme was not the first time the allegations by Ms Atwood had been made public and they had been featured in some newspapers.

The case continues.

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