An Irish Catholic Priest Richard Burke has revealed the series of threats and blackmail by a Nigerian lady, with whom he himself admitted he had an ‘inappropriate sexual relationship’, because as a priest he had sworn to celibacy.
In a defamation suit against RTÉ, alleging he was wrongly depicted as a paedophile in the 2011 Prime Time Investigates programme Mission to Prey, Co Tipperary-born Richard Burke, now 66 years old told the court how he was pestered for money by the Nigerian lady, now Mrs. Dolores Atwood based in Canada.
In direct examination, Mr Burke told his counsel Jack Fitzgerald SC Ms Atwood sought €200,000 from him in 2009 after he had paid her some €176,000 over a number of years.
When he told her he could not get the money, she asked him, and he agreed, to have sex with her in an hotel in Halifax, Canada, he said.
He felt “terrorised” by Ms Atwood and feared she would disclose their sexual relationship which would bring disgrace and shame on himself and his ministry.
He was appointed a Bishop in Nigeria in 1996 and Archbishop in December 2007.
After having sex with Ms Atwood in autumn 1989, they had sex three more times before he returned to Ireland in spring 1990.
While home, letters passed between them.
Ms Atwood later married and moved to Canada about 1995 and he had some contact with her between 1996 and 2003.
In 2003, she phoned asking him to spend three nights with her in an hotel in Lagos and give her $4,000 dollars in cash, which he did, he said.
Between 2003 and 2005, there was increasing phone contact between them with calls once weekly or ten days and lasting one or two hours and sometimes longer, he said.
The calls sometimes became “very uneasy and unpleasant” for him because she was “expressing a feeling for me I could not reciprocate, she was demanding intimacy”.
He said Ms Atwood later phoned him seeking money and he met her in Halifax airport, Nova Scotia, in October 2007 and gave her a bank draft for €26,000 which she said was the full amount of all the phone calls.
He was “incredibly worried”, if he did not hand over the money, she would reveal they had an intimate relationship.
More phone calls came from October 2007 that were “menacing” and “demanding”.
During one call she said, for the first time: ”You’re a paedophile”, he said.
He decided to give her €50,000 in one payment intended to end this.
After about a month, Ms Atwood phoned again demanding €100,000 which he gave her in London after raising the funds partly from his own and partly from diocesan funds.
Burke who was ordained a priest in 1975, had lost his priesthood in 2010 after Dolores Atwood, born in Ondo state and an international relations graduate of the Obafemi Awolowo University, went public a year earlier about her sexual dealings with him.
Dolores had filed a letter of complaint on the web site www.catholicreport.org at 07:10 am on Tuesday, June 23, 2009.
“I am writing this note concerning the past and present conducts of ArchBishop Richard Burke S.P.S of the Arch Dioceses of Warri and Benin in Nigeria a Irish citizen. I am a 41-year-old woman who has been living in Canada since 1995 with my husband and 3 children. In 1982 as a young girl from a Muslim home I began my journey into the Catholic faith and first met Father Richard Burke a Catholic priest at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Warri Nigeria. In 1983 when I was 14 years old, I became the victim of (what I now know to be) a sexual assault. When I was 14, I was sick in the hospital with a fever and Father 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 the relationship became more intimate thereafter.
But Burke insisted he started having a relationship with the lady when she was about 20 years old in 1989, when he himself was 40.
He told the court how he felt “uneasy” by the demeanour, which “gave an impression of being flirtatious” when the then 20-year-old Dolores Atwood came unexpectedly to his private apartment on a Sunday afternoon in Warri city in Nigeria in September or October 1989.
He told the court after she came to his apartment, he left her in the room while he went to see if he could find a “chaperone” but he later returned alone to the room “in turmoil”.
Her “smile, eyes, expression suggested something to me”, indicated she “wanted to be intimate with me” and he felt “flattered”.
After she made an “embracing gesture”, he responded he would “accept her invitation” and they went to his bedroom where they “made love including full sexual intercourse”.
He later felt a mix of confusion and guilt, knew what had happened was wrong, believed she was falling in love with him and told her he was leaving for Ireland in spring 1990.
The sexual relationship was inappropriate because he was a priest with a commitment to celibacy, he said.
Asked by Paul O’Higgins SC, for RTE, was there any other reason, he said it was also inappropriate because he was twice her age.
He said he first met her some two years earlier.
There was no intimacy of any description between them before autumn 1989 and he had not had sexual thoughts about her, he said.
He had “genuinely believed” she was born in 1968 but later learned it was August 1969.
She was from an Islamic family but was attracted to the Catholic church.
The case continues on Monday before a judge and jury.
*Reported by the Press Association
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