Monday, October 26, 2009

Archbishop accused of abusing 14-year-old girl

Archbishop accused of abusing 14-year-old girl
Monday October 26 2009

THE Irish Church's standing in Rome has been dealt a further damaging blow with a high-level Vatican investigation into a complaint of child sexual abuse against a Tipperary-born archbishop.

This is the first instance of an official charge of clerical child molestation being made against an archbishop of Irish nationality, and it comes as the Irish Church is preparing "for the worst" with publication of the Murphy report on abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin.

It was learned yesterday that Richard Burke, the 60-year-old Archbishop of Benin, a city in southern Nigeria, stepped aside earlier this year pending the outcome of an ecclesiastical trial by the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog body, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Kiltegan missionary archbishop from Fethard, Co Tipperary, who is believed to be in the United States, has not commented on the allegation.

He is accused by Dolores Atwood, a 40-year-old married woman now living in Canada, of sexually abusing her when she was a minor, aged 14, and ill in a Nigerian hospital that he visited as a priest.

She also alleges that she suffered "emotional torture" during a 20-year secret affair that he conducted with her contrary to his vow of celibacy.

Last night, St Patrick's Missionary Society in Kiltegan, Co Wicklow, also known as the Kiltegan Fathers, revealed it received a complaint from a 40-year-old woman against Archbishop Burke on December 16 last.

"We expressed the deep sorrow and regret of the society for the suffering the complainant and her family are going through and we affirmed the society's commitment to child protection," a statement said.

"We assured her that the society's child protection policy and procedures would be adhered to. The society offered to provide counselling for the complainant."

The statement confirmed that the society had complied with a request from the Doctrinal Congregation to send to Rome all relevant documents relating to the allegation so that Rome could exercise full jurisdiction.

"Although a member of St Patrick's Missionary Society, Archbishop Burke ceased to be under the jurisdiction of the society when he became a bishop and is now under the direct jurisdiction of the Holy See," the Kiltegan Fathers said.

It was the late Pope John Paul II who consecrated Richard Burke Bishop of the Nigerian diocese of Warri in March 1997, and in December 2007 Pope Benedict XVI promoted him to Archbishop of Benin City.

According to Monsignor Charles Scicluna, a senior advocate for the congregation, the Pope has been informed of the charges against Archbishop Burke, who will be called to Rome for interrogation before it completes its investigations under oath of confidentiality.

Disclosures

If the congregation upholds the complaint, Archbishop Burke will face permanent removal from his duties as archbishop.

But Vatican officials fear that the detailed disclosures made by Ms Atwood in a Sunday newspaper undermine his chances of a fair hearing.

Pope Benedict XVI told the Irish bishops shortly after the publication of the report into the diocese of Ferns to get to the roots of the clerical child abuse scandals.

Earlier this year the Pope also expressed his anguish at the systematic abuses contained in the Ryan report on child institutions run by religious orders.

Last February, the pontiff ordered the removal of former papal secretary, Bishop John Magee, from jurisdiction of the diocese of Cloyne pending a government investigation into his failure to enforce child protection procedures.

The Burke case is the latest sexual scandal to rock the Irish Church going back to 1992 when Bishop of Galway Eamon Casey resigned after having a son with American divorcee, Annie Murphy.

In 2002 Bishop Brendan Comiskey resigned from the diocese of Ferns over his failures in handling paedophile priests such as the late Fr Sean Fortune.

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