9 Investigates: Charlotte family speaks out about son's abuse by a priest
By Allison Latos
February 21, 2017
The disturbing crime of sexual abuse by priests has rocked the Catholic Church worldwide and in Charlotte.
Robert Yurgel was a priest at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Ballantyne.
He admitted to sexually abusing an altar boy, spent nearly eight years in prison and was released in the summer of 2016.
The parents of Yurgel's victim's family spoke publicly to Eyewitness News anchor Allison Latos about the crime that stole their son's innocence and their plea to all parents.
Robert and Anne Price raised their five children in the Catholic faith.
The family spent every Sunday at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Ballantyne, but they say it is now a place of so much pain.
"God said, 'Bring me your children.' He didn't say, 'Bring me your children so I can abuse them,'" Anne Price told Latos.
The couple's only son, Robby Price, who was an altar boy, was abused by a priest the family trusted.
In 1999, when Robby Price was 14, his family asked Fr. Robert Yurgel to pray for the teen before a surgery.
According to the Prices, from that point Yurgel manipulated their faith and sexually abused their son.
"Some of the abuse happened in that church," Anne Price said. "It happened in cars. It happened in our home. It happened in the rectory. That's why it's hard to forgive."
Robby Price was silent about the sexual abuse for almost eight years until a sibling asked him to be a Godparent.
Robert Price remembers the day he visited his son at college and discovered what happened.
"All the sudden he had something to tell me and that's what it was. That it had been going on for however long," Robert Price recalled.
Beating on the steering wheel all the way home, my knuckles were bloody. I was just beyond mad," he continued.
The Prices believe the Catholic Diocese knew of Yurgel's inappropriate contact with their son years before that.
Civil court documents show that in October 1999, the teen sent an email to the church's youth group leader by mistake, intending to send it to Yurgel.
It included the quote, "I love you."
The civil case states that after seeing the message, the youth group leader alerted her supervisor, but the Prices said no one ever told them.
"They were warned. They should have come to us and told us but they covered it up," Anne Price said. "They didn't share it. They didn't tell us. So we're devastated.”
Latos talked with Diocese spokesperson David Hains and asked about the handling of that email.
“Did it get lost in the shuffle at that point?” Latos asked.
“Sounds like it, yes,” Hains said.
Latos asked if that was a satisfactory way of handling the email.
“Absolutely not,” Hains said. “Our goal is to protect children. We do sex abuse awareness training and have been since 2003. We conduct background checks for everyone who works for us and volunteers in our churches.”
Hains said no one at the diocese had been aware of any wrongdoing on Yurgel’s part.
When the Price family learned of what had happened, they turned to police.
Yurgel was arrested and in 2009, he pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual offense.
Attorney Seth Langson represented Robby Price in an emotional three-year civil lawsuit against Yurgel and the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte.
"I've represented sex abuse victims since the 1980s and the only time I ever cried in a client interview was when I interviewed Robby," Langson said.
The case settled for $1 million and another $40,000 for therapy for Robby Price.
Yurgel is now a free man after serving almost eight years in prison.
He was released in August 2016.
"Robert Yurgel was released on my son's birthday," Anne Price said. "What a horrible birthday present to my son."
North Carolina sentencing documents show Yurgel must register as a sex offender for his lifetime.
He's listed on the state's online registry but that's where North Carolina's tracking ends.
In November, Yurgel left North Carolina for New Jersey.
Eyewitness News traveled nearly 600 miles from Charlotte to Clinton, New Jersey to try to find him.
At the address in New Jersey where Yurgel told North Carolina authorities he was moving, Channel 9 spotted a car with North Carolina plates parked out front.
A man who answered the door confirmed Yurgel lives there but said he was not home.
Eyewitness News was never were able to talk directly with Yurgel himself, but did talk with some of his new neighbors who had no clue a sex offender had moved in.
"I'm not comfortable with it because of the kids,” one neighbor said.
"It is very disturbing,” another said.
Yurgel's new neighbors didn't know about his crimes because New Jersey parole is now responsible for keeping tabs on him, and its sex offender laws differ from North Carolina's.
New Jersey attorney Greg Gianforcaro, who represents sex abuse victims, said authorities review an entire case to determine how to classify a sex offender and that process can take a year.
Sex offenders are placed in one of three tiers, but only tier three and some tier two offenders are listed on the state's public registry.
Channel 9's search of the public registry for Yurgel's name showed nothing.
The local prosecutor's office wouldn't disclose if Yurgel has been classified into any of the three tiers yet.
Meanwhile, residents are in the dark about Yurgel and any other sex offenders who are new to the state.
The news is frustrating for the Price family who said they feel heartbroken and let down by the legal system.
Yet they're proud of Robby Price's courage to come forward.
They hope sharing what happened to their son and their family will send a message to other victims.
"Stand up for yourself. Become your own self-hero," Anne Price said.
"Don't let them get away with it," Robert Price said.
They warn parents to be cautious trusting others with their children.
The Prices said they're too hurt and angry to attend Mass, but they still believe in God and still pray for answers.
"I hope one day to say to our Lord, 'Why?'" Anne Price said.
The Capuchin Franciscan Friars told Channel 9 Yurgel was dismissed from the religious order and defrocked as a Catholic priest in 2010.