Ex-archbishop denies sexually exploiting woman

A former Catholic archbishop has denied a suggestion by lawyers for RTÉ the reason a woman was deeply troubled and “skewed” in her relationships was because he had sexually exploited her when she was “a vulnerable child”.

Co Tipperary-born Richard Burke, aged 66, said in the High Court he had not had any sexual encounter with Dolores Atwood until 1989 when she was aged 20 years and he was 40.

When they first had sex, she was very sexually experienced and his interaction with her could not have warped her later relationships, he said.

When she was aged in her 30s, she told him uninvited and in detail about her sexual experience, he claimed.

Mr Burke 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.

Mr Burke, a member of the Kiltegan Fathers who served as a priest, and later as bishop and archbishop in Nigeria after being ordained in 1975, remains under continuing cross-examination in his action against RTÉ.

The broadcaster denies Mr Burke had been defamed in the Prime Time Investigates: Mission to Prey programme broadcast on May 23, 2011.

Mr Burke claims the programme wrongly depicted him as a paedophile.

The jury has been told Dolores Atwood alleges Mr Burke first had sex with her when she was aged 14.

At one stage of cross examination yesterday, Paul O’Higgins SC, for RTÉ, put it to Mr Burke he was asking the jury to award him money. Mr Burke became clearly angry and, in a raised voice, said that was “a lie”.

He had not come to court for money, but “because RTÉ accused me of having a sexual relationship with the girl when she was 13 or 14” and “gave me no opportunity to answer that allegation”.

He came to court because there was “some deep voice within me saying a wrong has been done to you”, an allegation had been made “which I know before God and the world is not true”.

Yesterday, the jury heard recordings of phone conversations of November 2007 between Mr Burke and Chris Atwood, husband of Dolores Atwood, where the cleric had been asked about the relationship with Ms Atwood.

Mr Burke told Mr Atwood he and Ms Atwood had an intimate relationship “going back 22-23” years but there had been no relationship for years. However, he claimed “from Dolores’ point of view, it has never stopped in her heart”.

It had recently taken a turn that was “not good at all” and he felt he was being blackmailed by her, Mr Burke said.

When Mr Burke referred to making payments to Ms Atwood, Mr Atwood said his wife had described Mr Burke as “bribing” her. Mr Burke said he totally rejected that. Mr Burke said he believed Ms Atwood “is totally obsessed with me and has been for years”.

When Mr Atwood asked about his wife’s claim she was 14 when they first had sex, Mr Burke said that was untrue.

Asked by counsel was this his only amorous relationship, he said he had “experiences with other people” and Ms Atwood “reacted badly” to that. When put to him he had had experiences with “quite a lot” of other people, he said “some other people”.

The case continues.


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