Ex-Archbishop suing RTE says Prime Time documentary 'is a lie'
A FORMER Catholic Archbishop has told a High Court jury he was falsely portrayed during an RTE television programme as leading a young girl up a stairs to his bedroom where he raped her.
"I could not believe my eyes," said Richard Burke, former Archbishop of Benin, Nigeria.
"This did not happen, what is portrayed there is a lie."
When his counsel Jack Fitzgerald SC asked: "Are you a paedophile?", he replied: "No."
Mr Burke (66), from Co Tipperary, said he was living in London with a member of his order, the Kiltegan Fathers, when the Prime Time Investigates Mission to Prey programme was screened on May 23, 2011.
He could not access RTE One TV but his niece sent him texts which, as the programme went on, progressed from: "This is bad" to "This is really bad" to, in essence, "This is as bad as it can be".
On getting those texts, "my heart began to sink and sink and sink into darkness, utter fear". He was unable to watch the full programme until about a month later when he saw it at his sister's home. His impression was he was being accused of being a paedophile, especially in a part of the programme involving a dramatisation where a young girl was led up a stairs.
He felt "angry beyond belief" but also "totally powerless" and wondered how he would be able "to get a counter voice out" after the broadcast.
A reference by the reporter that he had declined to be interviewed "gave me a hook to hang on to" because he got no invitation to respond to the claims being made, he said.
Mr Burke has begun his evidence in his action against RTE alleging he was defamed in the Mission to Prey programme which included an interview with a Nigerian woman, Dolores Atwood.
Mr Burke claims that the interview, and other material in the report, wrongly depicted him as a paedophile and rapist who sexually assaulted Ms Atwood at the age of 13 when she was in a hospital bed and had sex with her the age of 14.
The programme, he claims, wrongly meant he groomed Ms Atwood and was a sexual predator who abused his position of trust and power to take advantage of a vulnerable girl whose parents were divorced and who regarded the church as a sanctuary.
Mr Burke claims he had sexual relations with Ms Atwood, now aged 45, as an adult but not when she was underage.
Having spent decades in Nigeria after his ordination in 1975, he tendered his resignation as Archbishop of Benin in April 2010 over failure to adhere to his vow of celibacy.
RTE denies defamation and pleads a defence of truth concerning the contents of the programme related to Mr Burke.
It denies the content bears some of the meanings alleged by Mr Burke, including it meant he was a rapist.
In his evidence, Mr Burke said he remains a member of St Patrick's Missionary Society, known as the Kiltegan Fathers, and has lived in Surrey, England, since January 2011.
The jury heard RTE has said reporter Aoife Kavanagh tried to contact Mr Burke various times between March 14, 2011 and May 4, 2011 but could not reach him.
The case continues.