The Vatican is investigating an allegation of child sexual abuse against an Irish Archbishop based in Nigeria.

St Patrick's Missionary Society, also known as the Kiltegan Fathers, has confirmed that a complaint was made about one of its members, Archbishop Richard Burke, by a 41-year-old Nigerian woman, Ms Dolores Atwood.

Archbishop Burke, 60, from Fethard in Co Tipperary, is one of the most senior members of the Catholic hierarchy known to be facing an accusation of this kind. He denies the allegation.

A statement released by the Society in response to a report in today's 'Irish Mail On Sunday' said that Ms Atwood had made a complaint alleging that Archbishop Burke had begun abusing her when she was a 14-year-old patient in hospital.

The statement said that once the complaint was made, two representatives of the Society promptly met Ms Atwood, who now lives in Canada and is married with three children.

It said that the complaint was received in December and that the Archbishop voluntarily withdrew from ministry six months after it was made while it was being investigated.

The Society expressed its deep sorrow and regret for the suffering that Ms Atwood and her family were going through.

It also confirmed that within the past fortnight, the Society had sent all papers relating to the case to the Vatican following a request from the Catholic Church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, its second most important office.

Archbishop Burke was ordained a priest 34 years ago and was made a Archbishop of Benin in 2008.