Former Archbishop suing RTE has 'no recollection' of telling Nigerian woman he was 'not pleased' with her engagement to another man
A former Catholic Archbishop has told the High Court he has no recollection of telling a Nigerian woman, when she got engaged in 1995, that he was “not pleased” and she had not “waited for him”.
Richard Burke, a priest of the Kiltegan Fathers since 1975 who also served as a Bishop and later Archbishop in Nigeria until he resigned in 2010, said there was “no intention on my part of leaving the priesthood” and he had no recollection of making those remarks to Dolores Atwood.
He is being cross-examined by Paul O’Higgins SC, for RTE, in his continuing action alleging he was defamed in the Prime Time Investigates: Mission to Prey programme broadcast on May 23rd 2011. He claims the programme wrongly meant he was a paedophile.
Today, Mr O’Higgins said RTE denies the programme meant Mr Burke was a paedophile. RTE’s defence was the programme meant Mr Burke had sexually molested Ms Atwood when she was a 13 year old girl and slept with her when she was aged 14, he said.
Under cross-examination, Mr Burke said he had decided in November 2007 to tape calls made to him from Ms Atwood in Canada, where she moved after she married a Canadian national, Chris Atwood in 1995.
He decided to tape the calls because of trauma he experienced after receiving a call on November 7th 2007 from Ms Atwood during which for the first time, she accused him of being a “paedophile”, he said.
He said he had learned she had phoned the Kiltegan Fathers anonymously in 2005 to complain about him having relations with women.
When Mr O’Higgins put to him “she thought she was in love with you and hoped she might end up with you”, he said she “never expressed that to me in those clear crystal terms”.
Counsel suggested he was not pleased when she was getting engaged in 1995 and had said she “hadn’t waited for you”.
Mr Burke said: “I had no intention on my part of leaving the priesthood. I do not recollect saying anything of the kind to her.”
Mr O’Higgins suggested that, in 2005, she was still of the view she would never have made an allegation of paedophilia to any third party. Counsel added that the RTE programme “does not say you’re a paedophile but that you slept with a 14 year old girl and sexually molested a 13 year old.”
The jury heard Mr Burke had taped two calls from Canada, which in the event were made by Chris Atwood, the first on November 8th 2007 and the second about a week later.
Mr Burke disagreed, when he taped the calls in November 2007, he had spoken “with care” on the phone knowing the calls were recorded.
He agreed, during the calls, he had talked of having an intimate relationship with Ms Atwood “22 to 23 years ago”, which would have been 1984 and 1985. Counsel said Ms Atwood was born in August 1969 and would have been 15 in August 1984.
Mr Burke said Mr Atwood had, during the calls, twice talked about Mr Burke being 40 when he slept with Ms Atwood, which would have made her 20.
Mr Burke agreed he had told the jury the intimate relationship began with full sex about two years after he met Ms Atwood first.
Counsel put to him he had not during the call contradicted Mr Atwood’s reference to his having “an affair for 25 years with Dolores”.
Mr Burke said his intention was to be “totally honest” with Mr Atwood but he said he was under enormous strain at the time due to receiving long and frequent phone calls, some lasting hours, with Ms Atwood for a number of years previously.
He was “clear in my mind” his first sexual encounter with her was in September or October 1989 when she was aged 20. He had believed she was born in August 1968, rather than her actual birth date of August 1969, and that was why, in documents for his case, he had said they first had sex when she was aged 21.
He denied his statement of claim for this case was a “self-interested” document.
Mr O’Higgins put to Mr Burke, when Mr Atwood had said during the call “Dolores was 14 when you first touched her”, Mr Burke replied: “No, now that’s not true at all” and went on to say: “I would reckon Dolores, I came to know her about 25 years ago” and first had an intimate relationship with her when she was “about 19 or 20”, but he could be “out a year or two”.
Asked was the intimate encounter not “burned into his memory” given he was a priest, he said that was why he knew it was September or October 1989 but at the time of the calls, he was in turmoil and unable to think clearly. He had not planned the conversation with Chris Atwood to ensure times and dates were in his favour to ensure she was not an underage person.
Mr Burke denied counsel’s suggestion he was “telling more of the truth” in the calls than he was now, he denied that.
Counsel suggested the RTE programme meant Mr Burke had approached Ms Atwood in hospital when she was aged 13 and had had a full sexual relationship with her from when she was aged 14.
Mr Burke said that was not true, he had not sexually abused her as a teenager, had not groomed her in any way and did not have sex with her until she was aged 20.
Mr Burke said he was living in a house of the Kiltegan Fathers in the UK in 2011 and received no contact from RTE or any invitation to respond to the allegations in the Prime Time programme before it was broadcast.
He said he was not aware RTE had been in contact with the Kiltegan Fathers from March 2011. The order had not informed him of that and he had not since asked the order why it failed to do so.
He said he was told “in a casual way” by Fr Seamus O’Neill of the order that RTE was doing a programme about child sexual abuse by Irish missionaries in mission countries. He said he had asked Fr O’Neill whether he thought Mr Burke would be featured on that and Fr O'Neill had said he did not know.
Counsel said RTE’s evidence was it had tried to find Mr Burke and had sent written questions to the order and asked that he reply.
The case continues.