Former archbishop sues RTE over ‘Mission to Prey’ programme
Co Tipperary-born Mr Burke, now aged 66, had intimate sexual relations with Dolores Atwood, who featured on the RTE programme, but not when she was under age, his counsel Jack Fitzgerald SC told a High Court judge and jury.
Mr Burke “is not a paedophile”, has never in his life ever molested a child and, at the end of case, you will be convinced that is the truth, counsel said.
As an Archbishop who had sexual relations with Ms Atwood, she had “leaned” on him and he paid her “a large sum of money”, about €176,000, but that was something not mentioned in the programme, counsel said.
The jury would hear of pressure Ms Atwood put on Mr Burke such he became “terrified” of the exposure of the relationship he had with her, he said.
The court would also hear Mr Burke paid large sums to her due to pressure she was putting him under.
There would be evidence of “further threats”, including giving him four options for her to keep quiet, one of which was to pay another €50,000 over five years on top of the €176,000 already paid to her.
Mr Fitzgerald was opening the action by Mr Burke against RTE alleging defamation arising from the Mission to Prey programme, broadcast on May 23, 2011.
RTE denies defamation and pleads the contents of the programme related to Mr Burke are true.
The programme was played to the jury during the opening of the case.
Mr Fitzgerald said Mr Burke, from Clonmel, resigned in May 2010 as Archbishop of Benin because he did not comply with his commitment to celibacy as a cleric.
He had let down himself, his family and church because of non-compliance with his celibacy commitment.
He was ashamed of that, remorseful, humiliated and in pain because of the resignation “but he is not a paedophile”.
Mr Fitzgerald said RTE was standing over the allegation made by Ms Atwood in the programme, which was about child sex abuse.
The programme, in summary, said Mr Burke is a paedophile and he could not think of anything worse to say of anybody or of any institution more powerful than RTE to say that of anyone, counsel said.
In its defence, RTE was saying, ‘Yes, we said he is a paedophile on Prime Time and we still say he is a paedophile’, counsel said.
“They repeat it in the High Court, that is why this case is so serious.”
The jury would hear of “the most outrageously bad standards of journalism” and would be “astounded” RTE was standing over this, counsel said.
The only evidence on the programme Mr Burke was a paedophile came from Ms Attwood and it was “grossly unfair” she was presented on the programme as someone establishing a fact without contest rather than someone making an allegation, he said.
Mr Burke did have a sexual relationship with her but not when she was under age or 13 or 14 as the programme recounts, he said.
Mr Burke, counsel said, had joined the Kiltegan Fathers in 1966, was ordained a priest in 1975 and sent to Port Harcourt in Nigeria before being sent to Wirri in Nigeria where he remained for 22 years.
He was in Ireland between 1990 and 1996 in Maynooth, took up office as Bishop of Wirri in 1997 and in 2007 was appointed Archbishop of Benin.
He resigned on May 31st 2010.