Wednesday 21 March 2018

Second cleric to sue 'Prime Time' on sex allegation

'Mission to Prey' claimed former archbishop abused a minor while working in Nigeria

Niamh Horan and Maeve Sheehan

A SECOND cleric named in the Prime Time Investigates programme that libelled Fr Kevin Reynolds is suing RTE for defamation.

The former Archbishop Richard Burke, from Tipperary, claims Prime time's A Mission to Prey falsely accused him of child abuse when he was a priest in Nigeria.

He has admitted having a sexual relationship with a woman, but claimed she was an adult at the time and that the relationship was consensual. The woman complained to the Vatican, triggering his resignation two years ago as Archbishop of Benin.

A Mission to Prey included the case of Fr Burke in its investigation of clerical abuse by missionary priests in Africa. The programme's false accusations that Fr Kevin Reynolds raped a 14-year-old girl and fathered her child led to the biggest libel settlement in RTE's history.

Fr Burke now claims that he was also libelled. He began legal proceedings against RTE in December, a month after the broadcaster settled the libel action taken by Fr Kevin Reynolds. He is being represented by Robert Dore, the lawyer who successfully acted for Fr Reynolds.

Fr Burke's case was in the High Court in December and again on January 11, when he filed an affidavit outlining his complaint against the broadcaster.

The handling of Fr Reynolds's libel action by RTE was the subject of three separate inquiries, including one by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and another review of procedures by the Press Ombudsman.

Fr Burke, a member of the Kiltegan Fathers in Wicklow, has admitted wrongdoing by having a relationship with a woman while he was a priest in Nigeria. He claims that he was libelled by accusations that the relationship began when the woman was under age.

The woman involved, Dolores Atwood, who now lives in Canada, had complained about Fr Burke in 2008. She claimed the relationship began when she was 14 and that she suffered years of emotional torture.

The Kiltegan Fathers subsequently said an inquiry found no evidence to corroborate the claims.

In a statement to the Irish Catholic newspaper in 2010, Fr Burke said that he was told of the allegations of sexual abuse in January 2009.

"I responded immediately that I have never, ever, in my life in any way sexually abused a child. This is still my position. It is the truth. I agreed to follow the society procedures for dealing with an accusation of child abuse against a member," he said.

"I returned to Nigeria to put in place the necessary mechanisms for the smooth running of the archdiocese without a resident bishop. I then withdrew from ministry and followed the laid-down guidelines."

He said he was told that in an inquiry by the Kiltegan fathers that "no corroborating evidence was found to support the allegations of child sexual abuse".

He apologised to Ms Atwood for the pain and hurt he caused her. In his statement, he said: "She and I had a caring relationship that began in the latter part of 1989, when she was 21 and I was 40. I was posted back to Ireland in March 1990 and returned to Nigeria in April 1996.

"In the last 20 years, Mrs Atwood and I met on seven occasions. On three of those occasions our relationship was again expressed sexually. This was entirely inappropriate behaviour and it is something for which I am truly sorry."

Neither RTE nor Robert Dore had any comment to make when contacted.

Sunday Independent

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