Wednesday 22 November 2017

'Priest kissed me and touched my breast when I was 13 and in hospital,' woman tells court

Dolores Atwood leaving court yesterday
Dolores Atwood leaving court yesterday
Former bishop Richard Burke

Tim Healy

A woman has told the High Court a priest kissed her and touched her breast when she was sick in hospital in Nigeria at the age of 13 in 1983.

Dolores Atwood, who was born in August 1969, said she first met Richard Burke, a member of the Kiltegan Fathers order, after mass at a Catholic church in Nigeria in 1982 and enjoyed conversations with him.

She was giving evidence in a defamation action by Mr Burke (66), a former Archbishop of Benin, Nigeria, who claims an RTÉ programme alleged he was a paedophile.

RTÉ denies defamation.

She told the court when she became ill in 1983 with typhoid fever, she was "surprised" when the then-Fr Burke visited her in hospital.

While he was there, the light went off and he kissed her, touched her breast and was "touching me inappropriately".

When the light came back on, he had gone back to the position where he was standing before the light went off, she said.

Ms Atwood yesterday began giving evidence in the action by Mr Burke, a native of Co Tipperary, alleging he was defamed in the 'Prime Time Investigates: Mission to Prey' programme broadcast on May 23, 2011.

The jury has heard Mr Burke was ordained in 1975, after which he served in Nigeria as a priest before being appointed Bishop of the diocese of Warri.

He was later appointed Archbishop of Benin city but resigned in May 2010 over his failure to adhere to his vow of celibacy.

Mr Burke denies claims by Ms Atwood (45), who now lives in Canada with her husband Chris, that he sexually molested her when she was aged 13 and first had sex with her when she was 14.

He says they first had sex in autumn 1989 when she was aged 20 and he was 40.

Ms Atwood said she grew up in Warri in southern Nigeria.

Her father is a mechanical engineer and she has six sisters and three brothers. Her parents were Muslim but she herself never really embraced any religion, she said.

Becoming upset, she said they were a happy family until problems began between her parents in 1982 and they divorced.

Asked about religion, she said she was "always really attracted to the crucifix, I just love it", and that led to her going to a Catholic church in 1982.

She bought a rosary and when a friend told her the rosary "would not work" unless a priest blessed it, she approached a priest after mass and asked him to bless her rosary, she said.

That priest was Fr Richard Burke.

He asked her to come to mass next Sunday and did so. She spoke with him afterwards and he encouraged her to attend mass.

Whenever she went, Fr Burke gave her a hug, which she found "very relieving", and they would discuss the church and her family.

At the time, she had no one who was emotionally supporting her and she would look forward to going to church, she said.

In 1983, two days after she was taken to hospital with typhoid fever, Fr Burke came to see her and the 'touching her breast' incident occurred, she alleged.

At that time, she did not know what was happening to her, she said.

When they met on a subsequent occasion, they talked after mass and he hugged and kissed her, she said.

At that point, the jury were asked to go out and legal discussion continued in their absence. Later, they were told by Ms Justice Iseult O'Malley to return to court on Thursday.

Earlier, in re-examination by his counsel Jack Fitzgerald SC, Mr Burke read his May 2010 letter of resignation as Archbishop in which he apologised to Ms Atwood and her family.

The letter said they had a relationship which began in 1989 when she was 21 and he was 40.

The case resumes tomorrow.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News