THE IRISH-BORN Catholic Archbishop of Benin City in Nigeria has resigned. In a statement yesterday Archbishop Richard Burke (61), who grew up in Fethard, Co Tipperary, said his resignation, which has been accepted by Pope Benedict, was because he had been unfaithful to his vow of celibacy.
Early last year Archbishop Burke, a member of St Patrickâ€™s Missionary Society, based at Kiltegan, Co Wicklow, stepped aside as Archbishop of Benin City when he was accused of child sex abuse. He has always denied the allegation.
The woman making the allegation, Dolores Attwood (41), now lives in Canada with her husband and three children. In a detailed statement last October she accused the archbishop of having abused her in 1983 when she was 14 and a patient in hospital. She also alleged he had abused other young Nigerian girls.
In a statement announcing his resignation yesterday, and released through the Irish Catholic newspaper, Archbishop Burke said that â€œon January 6th, 2009, I was officially informed by the society leader of St Patrickâ€™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. I responded immediately that I have never, ever, in my life â€“ in any way â€“ sexually abused a child. This is still my position. It is the truth. I agreed to follow the society procedures for dealing with an accusation of child abuse against a member.
â€œI returned to Nigeria to put in place the necessary mechanisms for the smooth running of the archdiocese without a resident bishop. I then withdrew from ministry and followed the laid-down guidelines.â€
He said he had recently been officially informed by the society leader of St Patrickâ€™s Missionary Society that â€œfollowing their investigations in Nigeria, no corroborating evidence was found to support the allegations of child sexual abuse made against meâ€.
He said yesterday that he and Mrs Atwood â€œhad a caring relationship that began in the latter part of 1989, when she was 21 and I was 40. I was posted back to Ireland in March 1990 and returned to Nigeria in April 1996. 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.â€
He was â€œdeeply ashamed of my behaviour. I have caused great pain, hurt and bewilderment to those around me.â€ He apologised sincerely â€œfor the pain and hurt I have caused Mrs Dolores Atwood and her familyâ€ and also apologised â€œto my family, to my relatives, to my friends and to my fellow members of St Patrickâ€™s Missionary Societyâ€.
He asked for the forgiveness of the people, religious and clergy of the Diocese of Warri and the Archdiocese of Benin City. Archbishop Burke was ordained a priest in 1975.
He became Bishop of Warri, Nigeria, in March 1997 and was installed as Archbishop of Benin City in March 2008.