Irish-Born Archbishop Resigns

By Eoin Burke
Irish Times
May 31, 2010

Pope Benedict has accepted the resignation of the Irish-born archbishop of Benin city in Nigeria following allegations of sexual abuse against him.

Archbishop Richard Burke, a member of the St Patrick's Missionary Society based in Co Wicklow, said the reason for his resignation was his failure to observe his vow of celibacy.

In a statement issued today through the Irish Catholic journal, Dr Burke said he was deeply ashamed of his behaviour.

"I have caused great pain, hurt and bewilderment to those around me," he said.

The archbishop stepped down from his position as the city's archbishop last year after an allegation of abuse from a 40-year-old woman was made against him.

Dolores Atwood alleged she was abused by the archbishop when she was 14 years old, and a patient in a hospital at Warri, Nigeria, in April 1983.

Dr Burke has admitted having a sexual relationship with Mrs Atwood but is adamant that she was over 18 at the time.

"On January 6th, 2009, I was officially informed by the Society Leader of St Patrick's Missionary Society that an allegation had been made to him by Mrs Dolores Atwood that I had sexually abused her when she was a child," Archbishop Burke said in his statement.

"I responded immediately that I have never, ever, in my life – in any way – sexually abused a child. This is still my position. It is the truth,"

Dr Burke insisted he and Mrs Atwood insisted had "caring relationship" that began when he was 40 and she was 21.

"In the last 20 years, Mrs Atwood and I met on seven occasions. On three of those occasions our relationship was again expressed sexually. This was entirely inappropriate behaviour and it is something for which I am truly sorry," he said.

However, in an interviewlast October, Mrs Atwood claimed she was sexually abused by the archbishop when she was a child. She also alleged he continued to have a sexual relationship with her as recently as 2003.

Ms Atwood, who now lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, said she believed she was "manipulated and controlled" as a teenager. She said she eventually confessed the relationship to her husband because she was wracked with guilt. She wrote to the Vatican and the society reporting the allegations.

Dr Burke (60), from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, was ordained a priest for St Patrick's Missionary Society, in 1975. He was ordained a bishop in 1997, and installed as Archbishop of Benin, Nigeria, in 2008.

Any original material on these pages is copyright 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.