Former Archbishop Takes Defamation Case against RTE over "Mission to Prey"

RTE News
June 24, 2015

The defamation case began in the High Court today

A former Catholic archbishop who was based in Nigeria has commenced a defamation case against RTE arising out of allegations of paedophilia in the 2011 Prime Time Investigates programme on clerical sexual abuse entitled "A Mission to Prey".

Opening the case, counsel for Richard Burke, Jack Fitzgerald SC, told the jury that the RTE programme had claimed that his client was a paedophile - but he was not.

He said this case was at the extreme level of defamation because the allegation was so serious, and there was nothing worse you could say about anyone.

Mr Fitzgerald acknowledged that Mr Burke was a man who had resigned as Archbishop of the diocese of Benin City in Nigeria in 2010 because he had not complied with his commitments to celibacy as a cleric.

He said for that reason he had let down himself, his family and his church because of his non-compliance with his celibacy commitment.

He said Mr Burke was ashamed, remorseful, humiliated and in pain because of that resignation.

However, he was not a paedophile.

He also said this case was at the extreme level of defamation because there is no one more powerful in Ireland to make the allegations than RTE, adding that they would hear later of the hundreds of thousands of viewers who would have seen the programmes in question.

He said the jury would hear of the most outrageously bad standards of journalism in this case - and when they heard the details they would be astounded that RTE would stand over them in this case.

He said the allegations against Mr Burke had been made by a woman named Dolores Atwood, who claimed that he had sex with her when she was 14.

He said Mr Burke accepted that he had had an intimate sexual relationship with her, but stressed it was not when she was under age at 13 or 14 as stated in the programme.

Counsel said the only evidence that he was a paedophile came from Ms Atwood who was presented not as someone making an allegation, but as someone was establishing a fact - adding that this was grossly unfair.

The jury heard that the former Archbishop had not met Ms Atwood until 1986 or 1987 and alleged that she had instigated the consensual relationship.

He also alleged that she had leant on the then Archbishop for money to keep the relationship secret - and sought an additional ˆ50,000 on top of ˆ176,000 he had already paid her.

He said the programme broadcast that Mr Burke had declined to do an interview for it but that was not correct; he said you have to be invited to do an interview to decline.

He said that in RTE's legal defence document, they said that they know that is not true.

However, he said that since that document was filed three or four years ago, RTE had done nothing to acknowledge that error.

He said that in its legal documentation at the centre of the case, RTE acknowledges that it did say Mr Burke was a paedophile on the programme but said RTE was still saying he was a paedophile today.

Mr Fitzgerald told the jury that defamation cases involve people who are alleged to have said things so as to injure the plaintiff’s reputation, or expose the person to hatred contempt or ridicule.

He said that defamation cases were heard by juries because they are so serious - adding that this case was at the extreme level of defamation cases.

After the jury watched "A Mission to Prey", Mr Fitzgerald resumed his opening statement outlining extensive correspondence between Mr Burke's solicitor and RTE in December after the programme was broadcast.

Mr Burke was accompanied in court by his sister.

Mr Fitzgerald will resume his opening statement tomorrow morning at 11am.








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