Father Tim column /  Angry? Anglican? The Catholic Church wants you! / Click here

An Irish-born Archbishop has been suspended by the Vatican over an  allegation that he carried on a 20-year relationship with a woman that began when she was only 14.

The archbishop is currently said to be in the U.S. and once served in New Jersey.

Archbishop Richard Burke, from Fethard, County Tipperary, a member of the Kiltegan Fathers, a missionary order in County Wicklow, has been removed from his post as Archbishop of Benin in Nigeria after church officials described the person who made the allegations, Dolores Attwood (40) now resident in Canada as as "a credible witness."

It is believed the abuse started in 1983 when Ms Atwood was just 14 and a patient in a Catholic hospital in Nigeria. She kept notes, tickets and other documentation of the relationship which she gave to Catholic authorities.

Atwood stated she was 14 and in hospital in Wari Nigeria in April 1983 when Burke, then a priest, kissed her in her bed and fondled her when the lights went out.

"I was sick in the hospital with fever and Fr. Burke came to visit me. When he and I were alone in my hospital room he touched and kissed me in a very inappropriate manner," she said.

She says that they had full intercourse a month later.

She said the relationship went on for five more years until Burke left Nigeria for the U.S.

Atwood states, "During the past 25 years I did not tell anyone of our relationship, because he told me not to talk about it to anyone no matter what and also fear of the negative impacts on him and the Catholic Church. Richard Burke left Nigeria in 1989 when he was sent to New Jersey in the USA and then back to Ireland with St. Patrick’s Society.

"In 1993 I met my husband, who was a Canadian volunteer working in Nigeria, while I was studying at University. My husband and I were married in 1995 in Canada and have had 3 children together. From 1989 to 1995 Father Burke and I continued communications by letters.

"When I told him that I was planning to get married in 1994, he became upset with me and told me that I should never tell anyone about the relationship between himself and I.

"Richard Burke returned to Nigeria in 1996 as Bishop of Warri Diocese. From 1996 to 1998, my husband and I left Canada and worked in Thailand.

"In 1998 Bishop Burke and I began regular communications by phone again. In 2000 while I was expecting my second child, Bishop Burke said that he would help get my youngest sister to come to Canada for a visit.

"I suspected that there was something not right when things did not work out and Bishop Burke began to take a keen interest in my youngest sister's well being. Once again, our relationship intensified with frequent amorous telephone conversations.

"In 2005 I found out that Bishop Burke had had a sexual relationship with my youngest sister.

The “friendship” between Bishop Burke and myself began to deteriorate as, once again, I started to become aware of other young girls that he was molesting.

In fact, I suspect that Richard Burke has molested or sexually abused hundreds of young
Nigerian girls during his time as a priest and Bishop in Nigeria. "

The Vatican-based "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith" now has jurisdiction over the matter and has suspended Archbishop Burke who was appointed to his current position in 2007 by Pope Benedict XV1.

Monsignor Charles Scicluna, a Vatican prosecutor has stated that the file on Archbishop Burke, who has been in Holy Orders for 34 years has been received and is being investigated.