Tuesday 25 September 2018

Priest kissed me and touched my breast in hospital, court told

A WOMAN has told the High Court a priest kissed her and touched her breast when she was a teenager in hospital in Nigeria in 1983.

Dolores Atwood (46) said she first met Richard Burke, a member of the Kiltegan Fathers order, after mass at a Catholic church in Nigeria in 1982 and enjoyed conversations with him.

She was giving evidence in a defamation action by Mr Burke (66), a former Archbishop of Benin, Nigeria, who claims an RTE programme meant he was a paedophile. RTE denies defamation.

She told the court when she became ill in 1983 with typhoid fever, she was "surprised" when the then Father Burke visited her in hospital.


While he was there, the light went off and he kissed her, touched her breast and was "touching me inappropriately".

When the light came back on, he had gone back to the position where he was standing before the light went off, she said.

Ms Atwood has begun her evidence in the action by Mr Burke, a native of Co Tipperary, alleging he was defamed in the Prime Time Investigates: Mission to Prey programme broadcast on May 23, 2011.

The jury has heard Mr Burke was ordained in 1975 after which he served in Nigeria as a priest before being appointed Bishop of the diocese of Warri.

He was later appointed Archbishop of Benin city but resigned in May 2010 over failure to adhere to his vow of celibacy.

Mr Burke denies claims by Ms Atwood (45), who now lives in Canada with her husband Chris, that he sexually molested her when she was aged 13 and first had sex with her when she was 14.

He says they first had sex in autumn 1989 when she was aged 20 and he was 40.

Ms Atwood said she grew up in Warri in southern Nigeria.

She has six sisters and three brothers. Her parents were Muslim but she herself never really embraced any religion, she said.

Becoming upset, she said they were a happy family until problems began between her parents in 1982 and they divorced.

Asked about religion, she said she was "always really attracted to the crucifix". "I just love it," she explained, and that led to her going to a Catholic church in 1982.

She bought a rosary and approached a priest after mass and asked him to bless her it, she said.

That priest was Fr Richard Burke. He asked her to come to mass the next Sunday and she did so. She spoke with him afterwards and he encouraged her to attend mass regularly.

Whenever she went, Fr Burke gave her a hug which she found "very relieving" and they would discuss the church and her family.

At the time, she had no one who was emotionally supporting her and would look forward to going to church, she added.

In 1983, two days after she was taken to hospital with typhoid fever, Fr Burke came to see her when the touching her breast incident occurred, she said.


At that time she did not know what was happening to her, she said. When they met on a subsequent occasion, they talked after mass and he hugged and kissed her, she said.

At that point, the jury were asked to go out and legal discussion continued in their absence. Later, they were told by Ms Justice Iseult O'Malley to return to court today.

In re-examination earlier by his counsel Jack Fitzgerald SC, Mr Burke also read his May 2010 letter of resignation as Archbishop in which he apologised to Ms Atwood and her family. The letter said they had a relationship which began in 1989 when she was 21 and he was 40.

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