|Lawsuit against Local Diocese Is Next for Victim
Diocese Denies Charges of Cover-Up Made in Civil Suit Filed by Priest's Victim
By Tim Funk
February 3, 2009
Monday's guilty plea by the Rev. Robert Yurgel ends only one chapter in the case.
Next: A court will consider a suit the victim filed late last year against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, where Yurgel was assigned when the sexual abuse took place, and the Capuchin Franciscan Friars, his New Jersey-based religious order.
One of the victim's attorneys, Seth Langson of Charlotte, , released a statement Monday, accusing the diocese and the Franciscan order of the "cancer" of covering up Yurgel's crime by failing to turn over evidence to police.
"The great tragedy here is that this abuse would never have happened if the Charlotte diocese and the Capuchin Franciscan Friars had been doing their job in 1999," he said in the statement. "If they had been more interested in protecting their youth, instead of protecting their own, we would not be (in court) today."
In the suit, Langson alleges that diocesan officials intercepted an e-mail the victim, then a high school student, sent to Yurgel in October 1999 expressing his love. Instead of investigating or notifying the police, the suit claims, then-Bishop William Curlin had Yurgel reassigned to New Jersey that same month. Catholic bishops in other dioceses often reassigned predator priests to new parishes rather than turn them into authorities, according to criminal and civil cases litigated across the country in the past 20 years.
But the Charlotte diocese released its own statement Monday, saying Curlin and other diocesan officials were unaware of any sexual abuse allegations involving Yurgel until his arrest in April 2008.
In an interview, diocese spokesman David Hains also said it was the Franciscan order, not the diocese, which made the decision to return Yurgel to New Jersey in October 1999. He was needed to work in a hospital ministry, Hains said.
"It is a complete falsehood to say he was sent to New Jersey to get him out of Charlotte," Hains said.
Hains also denied Langson's charge that the diocese withheld evidence. He also pointed out that the diocese has, in the past, notified authorities of allegations in about six cases, all of them outside Charlotte.
Since Yurgel's arrest, Hains said, the diocese has also asked – in the diocesan newspaper and in sermons at St. Matthew and Our Lady of Consolation – for anyone else abused by Yurgel to come forward. None has, said Hains.
But on Monday, the diocese again declined Observer requests for a copy of Yurgel's personnel file and for a chance to interview retired Bishop Curlin, who headed the 46-county diocese during the time Yurgel molested the victim. Curlin still lives in Charlotte.
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