Former bishop tells court of sexual experiences in Nigeria

RTE News
June 29, 3015

Richard Burke denies he had sex with a woman featured in the programme when she was 14 Richard Burke denies he had sex with a woman featured in the programme when she was 14

A former Catholic archbishop has told the High Court he had sexual experiences with a number of other people while he was a bishop in Nigeria.

Richard Burke, 66, from Tipperary is continuing his cross-examination in his action for defamation against RTÉ in which he claims he was wrongly branded as a paedophile in a television documentary.

Mr Burke denies he had sex with a woman featured in the programme, Dolores Atwood, when she was 14. He claims she was 20 when they first had sex.

He told the court he had also "embraced and inappropriately touched" her sister after Ms Atwood had moved to Canada.

Mr Burke accepted in cross-examination that his relationship with Dolores Atwood was not the only sexual relationship he had.

It was put to him by counsel for RTÉ Paul O'Higgins that he had a relationship with a lot of others, numbering "in the teens".

Mr Burke denied that he had introduced Ms Atwood to sex when she was a child.

He said consensual relationships between two adults was on a completely different scale to sexually abusing a child.

He did not disagree that he did wrong or did not refute it in anyway.

He was repeatedly asked what age he believed it became "less wrong" to have sex with someone. 

He said for him as a priest it was wrong at any age.

Mr Burke agreed Dolores Atwood was upset because of his sexual experiences with others and that it had led to a souring of their friendship.

He also agreed that he had "embraced and improperly touched" her sister who remained in Nigeria after Ms Atwood had moved to Canada. 

Mr O'Higgins asked "wasn't she terrified that what had happened with her was going to happen all over again with her sister?" Mr Burke rejected this.

Mr O'Higgins said that Dolores Atwood would say there was a progression towards sex with her and it did not happen suddenly one day, as Mr Burke had said in evidence on Friday.

Mr Burke denied this.

Mr Burke became angry and raised his voice for a number of minutes when Mr O'Higgins suggested he had come to court to look for money from the jury.

Mr Burke said money was the furthest thing from his mind when he took his legal action.

He said he could have let the whole thing go rather than cause more hurt and pain but "a voice deep down" told him a wrong had been done to him.

He said RTÉ accused him of being a paedophile and did not give him a chance or a voice to refute those allegations.

Mr Burke also admitted sending an email to Ms Atwood's husband denying a sexual relationship with her.

He said he engaged in this deception because he felt under pressure after Chris Atwood became suspicious about their friendship.

Mr Burke said he did not want to be named as the person who was the cause of a family break-up.

He said: "I was engaging in a deception but there are two sides to every deception."

Mr O'Higgins said the "deceiver and the deceived". Mr Burke said Ms Atwood was the original deceiver because she was inside the marriage.

Mr O'Higgins asked: "So she was the deceiver and you were the unfortunate victim?"

Mr Burke replied: "That was a fact".

Mr O'Higgins suggested that Mr Burke did not care about anything other than the safety of his own skin.

He said it was not the only married woman Mr Burke had a sexual encounter with.

Mr Burke accepted he had sex with another married woman in Nigeria who was a mother of eight children.

Mr O'Higgins said his evidence that he did not want to damage a family was "bunkum".

Earlier, Mr Burke said he could not remember if there was a "protocol" for letters between him and Ms Atwood with a stipulation that no names or addresses were to appear on the letters.

The jury was shown a copy of a letter, which Mr Burke accepted was in his handwriting, that began with "Hi there," and had no signature or address.

Court hears Atwood travelled to Dublin

Counsel for RTÉ, Mr O'Higgins, put it to Mr Burke that during the time he made payments of money to her, Dolores Atwood was a deeply troubled person who was deeply angry with him.

Mr Burke said there were times she was angry but also periods of calm.

He said she had travelled to Dublin to meet him in July 2008 and he had paid her €50,000.

He said this was not the actions of an angry woman but someone who was very rational and clear thinking.

He said on that occasion he had repeatedly refused to go to her hotel room and she was disappointed with that but not angry.

It was put to him that she was a vulnerable child exploited by him and as a result she had a skewed approach to relationships.

Mr Burke said he did not exploit her vulnerability and did not exploit her as a minor.

He said when he entered the relationship with her she was very experienced sexually.

The jury was also played a recording made by Mr Burke of a telephone conversation between Mr Burke and Dolores Atwood's husband Chris Atwood during which Mr Atwood challenged him about his relationship with his wife.

Mr Atwood said Dolores had told him Bishop Burke was bribing her but Mr Burke said it was he who was being blackmailed, bullied and extorted.

He also told Mr Atwood he had proof of this and had recorded phone calls.

He said: "I know she will have her side of the story but I have mine too."

He told Mr Atwood that Dolores was about 20 when they first had sex and denied that she was 14 years old.

Mr Atwood repeatedly told the then bishop that he did not believe him and said he "fitted the mould of a paedophile".

Mr Atwood said he had preyed upon people who looked up to him and respected him and used it for his own gratification.

"You do not know the damage you have done to people's lives. I feel very sorry for you that can’t recognise the fact that you may have committed grave sins," he said.

Mr Burke said he had to repeat again that "what Dolores had said about me abusing girls willy nilly and using my authority and bringing in girls just like that, I assure you, I absolutely assure you that is not true".

Mr Atwood told him that he was in a position of power when his wife was a young girl facing trauma in her family and she needed someone for consolation and found herself embroiled in a relationship.

The bishop told Mr Atwood he took responsibility for his actions.

Mr Atwood said as a result his wife did not recognise a loving healthy relationship and accused the bishop of putting himself in a position of power to abuse young girls.

Mr Burke replied that he could not defend himself although some of what Mr Atwood was saying was untrue.

He said he was profoundly sorry for all that had happened to Dolores and for the part that he had to play in it.

Mr Atwood told him eventually the truth would be known.

Mr Burke replied: "All I can say is that I am profoundly sorry, I deeply regret all my sinfulness in my life.

"But again I repeat I am not that type of person I am not a predator.

"I totally and utterly regret and abhor my part in whatever wrong I have done to Dolores."














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