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Settlement reached in defamation case between former Archbishop and RTE


Richard Burke

Richard Burke

Richard Burke

A SETTLEMENT has been reached between RTE and a Catholic Archbishop in a defamation case.

Archbishop Emeritus Richard Burke, (66), a native of Co Tipperary, sued  RTE alleging he was defamed in the RTE Prime Time Investigates: A Mission to Prey programme broadcast on May 23rd 2011.

The former Archbishop of Benin, Nigeria - who resigned in 2010 over his failure to adhere to his vow of celibacy - claimed material in the programme wrongly meant he was a paedophile.

RTE had denied defamation.

It is understood no damages were received as part of the settlement. But in a statement issued outside court, Robert Dore, solicitor for Mr Burke, said his client had "no exposure to cost".

Also speaking outside the court, RTE's head of news and current affairs Kevin Backharst said no damages had been paid to Mr Burke, but confirmed there had been "a contribution" to costs.

When the case opened, RTE denied the programme meant Mr Burke was a paedophile and contended that it meant Mr Burke had sexually molested Dolores Atwood when she was a 13 year old girl and slept with her when she was aged 14.

Mr Burke was the only witness in his case which settled this morning shortly after Dolores Attwood began her direct evidence in the case.

This morning the High Court was told that the matter was settled and that no order was required.

In a statement read in court behalf of RTE, Senior Counsel Paul O'Higgins told the jury that the case had been settled between the parties, adding that he did not know of this would come "as a relief or a shock" to the jury.

Mr Higgins said that in a programme entitled "A Mission to Prey" broadcast in May 2011, it alleged that Richard Burke had sexual relations with a girl, Dolores Attwood, who was underage.

"RTE accepts that it incorrectly stated that Richard Burke had declined to be interviewed for the programme and for this RTE apologises," said Mr Higgins.

"RTE acknowledges that Richard Burke has consistently and vehemently denied these allegations and has done so throughout his evidence at this hearing.

"Dolores Attwood stands over her allegations and RTE considers her to be a sincere and  honourable person."

During the course of the eight day action, the jury was told Dolores Atwood, who testified briefly for RTE yesterday, alleged Mr Burke first had sex with her when she was aged 14.

This was robustly denied by Mr Burke who said that she was aged 20 when they first had sex, when he was aged 40.

Mr Burke insisted he had no intimate relationship with Ms Attwood until Autumn 1989 when she was 20 and "did not in any way groom her".

He insisted he never knew Ms Attwood when she was 13 or 14 and told the High Court that she blackmailed him to into paying her at least €176,000 to keep their relationship quiet.

Mr Burke told the High Court that when they first had sex, Ms Atwood was very sexually experienced and his interaction with her could not have warped her later relationships.

He agreed he had other sexual encounters while he was a cleric, including with a married Nigerian mother of eight.

He also said he had “embraced" and "improperly touched”, but had not had sex with, a sister of Ms Atwood.

In her brief testimony, Ms Attwood told the High Court that Richard Burke kissed her and touched her breast while she was being treated for typhoid fever in a hospital in Nigeria 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 had enjoyed conversations with him.

When she became ill in 1983, she was treated in hospital for typhoid fever and he came to visit her, she said. She was “surprised” and, while he was there, the light went off and he kissed her and 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.

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

The jury heard he was later appointed Archbishop of Benin city and resigned that office in May 2010 over failure to adhere to his vow of celibacy.

He remains a member of the Kiltegan Fathers.