A bishop who has admitted having sex with a woman is now suing Irish state broadcaster RTE for libel – for claiming the woman he met on the Missions in Africa was a child at the time of their relationship.
Tipperary-born Richard Burke is reportedly taking legal action over the same television programme that accused Fr Kevin Reynolds of fathering a child through rape and abandoning the mother.
Former Archbishop Burke has instigated the action against Prime Time Investigates, the RTE programme which paid out record libel damages to Fr Reynolds when a paternity suit proved he wasn’t the child’s father.
Fr Burke was a missionary priest in Nigeria when he met the woman. He claims that the RTE programme falsely accused him of child abuse.
The Sunday Independent reports that he has admitted having a sexual relationship with the woman, but claimed she was an adult at the time and that the relationship was consensual.
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His resignation as Archbishop of Benin was forced upon him after the woman complained to the Vatican about their relationship.
Robert Dore, the lawyer who acted for Fr Kevin Reynolds against RTE, began the libel action on Fr Burke’s case in December when it went before the High Court in Dublin.
Fr Burke filed an affidavit in January outlining his complaint against the broadcaster.
A member of the Kiltegan Fathers in Wicklow, Fr Burke has admitted wrongdoing by having a relationship with a woman while he was a priest in Nigeria but he claims that he was libelled by accusations that the relationship began when the woman was under age.
The paper reports that 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.
An inquiry by the Kiltegan Fathers found no evidence to corroborate the claims.
Speaking to the Irish Catholic newspaper in 2010, Fr Burke admitted 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,” he said at the time.
“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.
“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.”
Fr Burke added: “I was told that in an inquiry by the Kiltegan fathers, no corroborating evidence was found to support the allegations of child sexual abuse.
“I have apologised to Ms Atwood for the pain and hurt I caused her. 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.”
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