Episode 2 : the How
By Sarah Delia
December 3, 2019
In this episode of “The List,” we learn more about the child sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church and why dioceses across the country have been releasing lists of credibly accused clergy. We also learn more about the history of the Charlotte Diocese — which as of Dec. 1, 2019, still hadn’t released a list despite plans to do so by the end of the year. And we hear from a survivor of abuse at the hands of a former priest who once served in Charlotte — and the attorney who represented him in a lawsuit against the diocese.
The following includes descriptions about sexual violence. Please be advised.
READ THE TRANSCRIPT
EPISODE 2: THE HOW
SARAH DELIA: I told you I’ve been thinking a lot about lists. How do you decide what’s important to remember? And how do you decide what’s not? And when it comes to creating a list like the one the Charlotte Diocese has committed to release by the end of the year, one that includes the names of credibly accused clergy who at some point served at the Charlotte Diocese, how do you begin that process? How do you know when it’s complete?
TOM DOYLE: In our justice system, if you’re credibly accused of murder, people know about it. You know, your name is put in the newspaper. It’s not kept secret. The people in North Carolina have just as much a right as anybody else to know what priests who’ve been employed by that diocese have been known to have sexually violated children, minors or vulnerable adults.
DELIA: That’s Tom Doyle. Some describe him as one of the original whistleblowers of the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. Doyle is an expert in Catholic law and a former priest. He walked away from the Catholic Church and the priesthood about 15 years ago, largely in part because of the abuse and the coverup he saw.??
DOYLE: When the bishop assigns them to a parish as a pastor, as an assistant pastor, when he assigns them to work in a high school, he’s telling those people that this man is morally and spiritually fit for this position and you can trust him and you can count on the fact that he’s there for your spiritual and moral guidance.
DELIA: He’s dedicated the last 35 years of his career to helping hold the church accountable. He’s routinely used as a court expert in lawsuits. He also uses his skills in other ways. For example, the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph hired Doyle to audit personnel records. He dug through archives and documents to see what the organization’s response to sexual abuse accusations and inappropriate behavior was. The audit went all the way back to the 1880s. It was published in 2013.
DOYLE: So, we investigated every file of every Capuchin Franciscan that was still in the order, that had left the order or that had died. We went back looking at files that went back to the 19th century. We also investigated the path of every report that they had ever received on any form of sexual abuse. So, in North Carolina, the excuse that it’s taking all this long is nonsense.?
DELIA: Doyle says the historical audit, similar to the one the Charlotte Diocese is undergoing, was completed in about a year. Remember the Charlotte Diocese is young. It was founded in 1972. In May, Bishop Peter Jugis stated that the process of reviewing personnel files and other historical files was “set in motion last fall,” meaning fall of 2018.
This episode, we’re going to explore: How is this elusive list made? How does the diocese determine if an accusation against a priest is credible? And how do you protect children from the very people who are supposed to be doing the protecting?
Let’s back up for a minute. There are some dates that are going to be important for you to remember.
Originally the entire state of North Carolina was considered to be under the jurisdiction of the Raleigh Diocese. In 1972, the Charlotte Diocese formed.?
In 2002, the Boston Globe’s investigative team, Spotlight, uncovers the deeply rooted child sex abuse scandal and practice of moving priests from parish to parish when an accusation arose. Media outlets all over the country were rushing to cover the crisis.
After this explosive story, the church decided it needed to take some action. And in 2002 a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was implemented. It’s a fancy term for the guidelines and processes outlined for how to address child abuse accusations, which was lacking before 2002.
That was a watershed moment. And since 2002, there’s been a push for dioceses to release lists with the names of the credibly accused.?
In fact, the charter requires every diocese to make public the names of clergy as credible allegations are found against them.
But Charlotte remains an outlier — and for reasons that are murky. Currently, the Charlotte Diocese does not have a dedicated spokesperson. David Hains was the last one to hold the role and retired less than a year ago. Hains spoke on behalf of Bishop Peter Jugis. In various interviews Hains did, he offered some insights as to why a list hadn’t been released. He told the Charlotte Observer in January 2019 the diocese wasn’t convinced a list was needed for the healing of victims.?
DAVID HAINS: There is no empirical evidence that publishing a list brings comfort or aid to victims. We obviously have done a lot to harm victims. We don’t want to pile on and do more.?
Bishop Jugis was not made available for an interview. He did say in his statement in May that, “Through my discussions with abuse survivors, I have come to believe that a full airing of abuse from the past is crucial in the healing process for victims and for the entire Church.”
So, while you won’t hear directly from the bishop in this series, I can share with you some details about what happens when an accusation is reported to the Charlotte Diocese.?
Here’s Father Patrick Winslow. His official title is vicar general, which means he’s second in command of the diocese. He had laryngitis at the time of this interview.?
PATRICK WINSLOW: First, we notify civil authorities. Second, we engage an internal process, which features a review board. The review board comes together from different disciplines that would be expert in investigating these matters and looks into the question of credibility and it comes to a conclusion as to whether or not this allegation has the semblance of truth. Meantime, the moment the allegation comes forward any clergy is set on administrative leave pending the outcome of the review board reports investigation into the matter and finding of credibility. The moment an allegation is found credible, it’s reported to the bishop and he acts on their recommendations.
DELIA: The diocese says the review board currently consists of 11 people. Nearly all are volunteers. One is a member of the clergy. Members come from different backgrounds — counseling and psychology, investigation, business, law, community affairs, and advocacy for the rights of children and victims.?Through an email, the diocese said, “The board interviews abuse victims, clergy and other witnesses and has a professional investigator assigned to them to investigate allegations. Due to the highly sensitive and independent nature of its proceedings, the board’s work is confidential.”?
The members of this review board are not clearly listed on the website of the diocese. And because the board’s work is confidential, and the diocese declined my request to speak to a member, there’s still a lack of clarity and transparency around how the board conducts its investigation and how it presents findings to the bishop. According to the website of the diocese, the bishop makes the final determination on the accused clergy’s ability to minister in the diocese in accordance with the civil law and church law.?
And the last point I can tell you with certainty is that the diocese hired an independent investigative firm to do what they’re calling a historical review of files dating back at least to 1972. That’s similar to what Tom Doyle did for the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph in Detroit.
The firm hired by the Charlotte Diocese is U.S. ISS Agency, located in Huntersville. The staff consists of people who worked for the police, Secret Service or DEA. The company’s website says they specialize in various areas, including administrative and internal investigations, as well as sexual assaults.?
Right now, the diocese says, the agency is going through tens of thousands of pages in more than 1,000 files. That’s what Father Winslow says is taking so much time in publishing the list.?
WINSLOW: It’s an enormous task to go through so many files that are in the archives. But to the people that have been entrusted with the responsibility are professional, they’re qualified, they’re making amazing progress. We’re gonna do everything that we can to make sure that all those files can be updated with current information because these things go back so many decades. People may be deceased. People may have taken action in the past, and it’s important to make sure that they’re updated. And so, it’s not just the finding of the files that have an allegation but also making sure that the proper research is done to bring it up to date.
I wanted to speak to U.S. ISS about the work the diocese has hired them to do and to learn more about their experience handling church documents. Although we had a scheduled interview, they canceled the day before. They said that after talking to the diocese, it probably wasn’t a good idea to talk to me.
VOICE MAIL FROM INVESTIGATIVE GROUP: Hey Sarah, this is Dave Stephens with U.S. ISS Agency. You were coming to meet with us in the morning. I’m afraid we are going to have to cancel. In talking with the client, we just really think it’s probably not a good idea for us to meet.?
DELIA: Here are my two big questions for the agency that I didn’t get a chance to ask: How long would the investigation take, and when did they start working on this review for the Charlotte Diocese? Because according to Tom Doyle, who has done this type of work before, if you know what you’re looking for, it shouldn’t take too long.
DOYLE: You know, if you’ve got a team of people that know what they’re doing and know what to look for, and you don’t have to be an Einstein to figure out what to look for. But what they need to be told is that a lot of times the bishops, they most of the time when they’re referring to sexual abuse, they use code language — coded words. They don’t come right out and say, “Father so-and-so anally raped a 12–year–old boy.“ They’ll say nonsense like, you know, “improper touches“ or “inappropriate affection“ or crap like that. There’s a whole lexicon of stuff that they use.?
DELIA: Basically, Doyle says, you need someone who can read the language of the Catholic Church. If you don’t have someone who knows how to translate, how can you expect to get an accurate list?
Another part of the problem, Doyle says, is consistency.
DOYLE: The bishop is basically the monarch in his diocese. One of the major problems with this issue — across the board with this particular issue — is that there’s no consistent definition of what it means to be credibly accused. Now, that can mean a number of things. It can be a broad spectrum. What does it mean to be credibly accused??
DELIA: The diocese says if an accusation is found to be credible, that’s not the same thing as a finding of guilt. But there are consequences. The accused will be removed from ministry and included on the credibly accused list published by the diocese. The accusation should be reported publicly, including in the Catholic News Herald — the paper of the diocese — and parishes should be informed.?
So, even though the diocese isn’t officially calling the credibly accused person guilty, they in some ways are treated as such.?
I mentioned earlier that Tom Doyle is sometimes used as a court expert when lawsuits are filed against various dioceses. Charlotte attorney Seth Langson, who represents sex abuse survivors, has used Doyle’s services before. Langson represented Anthony from Episode 1 when he attempted to file a civil suit against Richard Farwell and the Charlotte Diocese in 2011. That lawsuit was ultimately dismissed due to statute of limitations.?
Langson says the secrecy around how the Charlotte Diocese works is nothing new to him. Langson doesn’t trust the church and questions why the diocese is taking so long to publish the list — and also if this independent investigative firm is the right one for the job.?
SETH LANGSON: I wonder what experience they actually have doing church cases or what other investigations they’ve done.?
DELIA: Langson has taken on multiple civil lawsuits against the Charlotte Diocese. Because of that, he’s seen a lot of documents. Langson says some of the documents contain information on allegations going back to the 1980s, but those documents are now sealed.?
LANGSON: They were ordered by the court after they objected to giving me names of priests who had been accused of sexual misconduct with a minor, I think it was going back to 1980. I’ve got information on that. I can’t say anything about who’s in that, whose papers I saw, what names I learned.?As far as I know, I’m the only person outside of the Charlotte Diocese who’s ever seen this information. You know, I’m not getting younger and it’s very frustrating. I feel like other people need to know.
DELIA: Point being, Langson says, he’s seen a lot. And he’s been waiting — not only for himself but for his former clients, to see who is on the list and how it measures up.?
LANGSON: I’ll be very surprised if I don’t know of one or more names of priests who’ve had what I think are credible accusations that aren’t on the list.?
DELIA: Langson’s area of expertise is child sex abuse cases. And in that line of work, there’s a lot of heartbreak — one, because of the nature of the cases, but also there are a lot of cases he says he has to turn away because of the statute of limitations.?
But Langson was able to reach a settlement with the Charlotte Diocese in one case. It’s what he calls a success story — not just because they were able to settle with the diocese for $1 million but because the abuser ended up behind bars.?
LANGSON: Yeah, it’s one success story in many ways. The client — you never get rid of the damage, to cope with the damage better than probably than almost any other client I’ve had in my career.?
Charlotte Attorney Seth Langson has one client in particular that found success going up against the Charlotte Diocese.?
That client was 35-year-old Robby Price, who now lives in Florida. I reached him via Skype. Price grew up in Charlotte along with his four sisters.
PRICE: Really close with my siblings and so we always played together and play games, board games, “Monopoly.“ So, it was just a fun childhood. Until that point.?
DELIA: Church was important to Price and his family. He was an altar boy at St. Matthew Catholic Church and attended youth group weekly.
Church was so ingrained in his family’s life that when he needed to have a biopsy on a swollen lymph gland, Price’s mother asked Robert Yurgel, a priest assigned to St. Matthew, to come to the hospital and pray for the family. The year was 1999. Price was 14.
From then on, Yurgel took a special interest in Price, which, from the outside, didn’t appear suspicious.
PRICE: It looked like a good thing to have somebody who’s a clergy, a man of God, guide with my parents, a kid through his early teenage years.?
DELIA: But things quickly took a turn with Yurgel. It started with hugs that lasted too long. “Indecent“ is the word Price used to describe them.?
PRICE: Being someone who always looked up to priests and those in the church as extensions of God and those whom we obey and we try to live our lives like, I didn’t know if it was right or wrong or what I should be doing. No child should ever have to be put into the question of whether this was right or wrong. But that’s the position in which I was forced into by this man.?
DELIA: According to Price and the civil lawsuit, Price’s family had no idea the abuse was going on. The family held Yurgel in high regard and trusted him completely. Price’s parents would let Yurgel pick Price up and drop him off at youth group.?
That alone time in the car, Price said, was when Yurgel molested him, and it continued inside the church in a room behind the altar. The abuse included masturbation, oral sex, attempted digital penetration and sexual activity.?
Yurgel told Price he couldn’t tell anyone, and that people might be mad at him if he did.
And Price, being young, impressionable and not fully grasping what happened, believed him.
Yurgel’s abuse focused around controlling and manipulating Price. Yurgel demanded Price check in with him regularly. He demanded Price write him affectionate emails.??
PRICE: Telling him how much I cared about him. And if I didn’t do those things, he would — he would get upset and he would start questioning whether I cared about him. And, you know, that was another form of manipulation of trying to portray feelings or to kind of take the, I’m assuming, guilt off with him, you know, maybe this child wants it, which, obviously, a child could never consent to something like that.?
DELIA: Robby inadvertently sent one such email to a diocese employee, M.J. Dawson, on Oct. 6, 1999. In the email, Price thanked Yurgel for talking to him. He also wrote “I LOVE YOU” in all capital letters. The lawsuit says Yurgel was distressed about this email being sent to the unintended person and instructed Robby Price to send another email to Dawson asking her not to read it. But Dawson did, and she forwarded both of the emails to her supervisor, a woman named Pat Tomlinson, who was also concerned about the context of the emails. Tomlinson passed the emails on to a pastor. According to the lawsuit, none of the adults reported their concerns to authorities and no investigation into any kind of sexual abuse was conducted.
Robert Yurgel was transferred from Charlotte to New Jersey that same month. As we know from the Boston Globe’s reporting, this was a common practice back then.
Having Yurgel out of state changed things for Robby Price. He didn’t want anything to do with Yurgel. The lawsuit says Price was tormented by the abuse by that point. Yurgel was still trying to communicate with Price through email, and Price says he would delete the messages. Even still, Yurgel continued to stay in touch with Price’s family, even speaking with Robby Price’s mother on the phone occasionally.?
Fast–forward to Thanksgiving 2007. Price is around 21 years old. The trauma from the abuse had built to a boiling point in Price. He was tortured by what Yurgel did and was tired of being afraid, so he decided to tell his family about what happened when he was a teenager. He started by confiding in one of his sisters.??
PRICE: They all immediately gave me hugs and said, “Robby, we’re so sorry. We love you. What can we do to help?“ Which was something that Yurgel always said would never happen. He would always tell me that my family would be upset with me or wouldn’t believe me and they would be mad at me, and, you know, through my sister’s actions showed me that that was not accurate, that that was another form of manipulation that he was using to hide his misdeeds.?
DELIA: His family got in touch with Seth Langson, who helped Price connect with the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office and the police. A criminal investigation was opened. As part of the investigation, Price called Yurgel and spoke to him for the first time in years to try and get him to confess with police officers listening. Price said they wanted to eliminate all doubt in order to prove the abuse occurred — and what better way to do that than to get a confession?
And it worked.
PRICE: I remember distinctly feeling that he was very scared. He sounded very timid. He sounded very quiet and shy and soft-spoken, like I remember thinking, was there somebody else around that he had to, you know, talk in code, essentially??
DELIA: To avoid a trial, Yurgel accepted a plea deal and pleaded guilty to second-degree sex offense. He served almost eight years in prison and is registered as a sex offender.??
Yurgel was removed from ministry in 2008. The Charlotte Diocese says it was unaware of any allegations of abuse until 2008 when Yurgel was arrested in New Jersey.
I reached out to Yurgel via phone, email and certified mail to alert him of this series. Besides a postal confirmation that he received my letter, I never heard back from him.?
The day of Yurgel’s criminal sentencing, Price addressed the court and Yurgel.?
PRICE: The statement was more so about me reclaiming my life and saying something to the man who had?essentially ruined my childhood for me and ruined religion for me and trust issues that I should have never had to deal with. And so I wanted to ensure that I could tell Yurgel that this was me taking back my life, and I wanted not only everybody in the courtroom that day but anybody who is reading an article to know that he’s a child molester, he needs to be in prison, and he should be punished for everything that he’s done. In order to hold back the tears and all the emotion, I remember just gripping that piece of paper that I had written all of my thoughts and my feelings and my statement on. I remember looking over at him at one point before and after I had read it. And then I remember very distinctly them handcuffing him which was a moment that I’ll never forget.?
DELIA: After the criminal proceedings, Price, with the help of his lawyer, Seth Langson, filed a civil suit. That resulted in a $1 million settlement with the Charlotte Diocese. It was important to pursue a lawsuit, Price said, to hold the Catholic Church accountable — to make sure as many people as possible knew about the abuse and Robert Yurgel’s name and the name of the Charlotte Diocese.?
Robby Price has a life he loves now. And in a lot of ways, he says, he feels lucky.?
PRICE: I have a very supportive husband and an extended family now and an amazing son who’s now 3 years old. The abuse is still something that sits with me every day. I go to therapy and discuss aspects of what happened to me or the ramifications of what happened to me to this day. The abuse did a lot of terrible things but because of the way in which I was able to tell my story and have the support from my family and friends and my lawyers at the time, I feel like I was able to take back portions of my life that otherwise, I wouldn’t have ever been able to.?
DELIA: And you heard Price say he has a son. And he takes protecting his son — and, really, any young person in his life — very seriously. In fact, when he was born, Price made his son a promise.?
PRICE: “I promise I’ll protect you from things that will hurt you.“ And I said that for all of my nieces and nephews the first time I ever met them. It’s my job to help protect them, and I do everything in my power to make sure that they‘re protected. And, you know, that’s my job as a dad but also as a person living on this earth.?
DELIA: It’s important to Price that even though he had “successful” criminal and civil cases that the Charlotte Diocese release a list of credibly accused clergy — not just for validating what happened to him but also to alert the public that Yurgel is a dangerous man. The list in a way is a warning. It’s a way to protect others from possible abuse.
For now, there is one list that’s already public that Price is able to check whenever he wants to see Robert Yurgel’s name. It’s the sex offender registry.?
Price gets some comfort making sure Yurgel is on that list and still more than a thousand miles away, because even though Price has his a new life and is processing his trauma with the help of a therapist, the memory of the abuse isn’t ever going to completely go away — like when Yurgel was released from prison in 2016. Out of all the days of the year Yurgel could have been released, it fell on Price’s birthday. That’s a reminder that will always be there, no matter how much time has passed.
Price has some theories as to why the list hasn’t been released. So do other survivors and experts I’ve spoken to. We’ll get into the why next time: Why does this abuse occur in the first place, why do some people leave the Catholic Church because of the abuse, and why do people stay despite it??That’s next time.
We want to hear your comments, questions, and stories. If you’ve experienced abuse within the Catholic Church or have a particular question you’d like explored, leave us a voice memo at 704-448-6511. You don’t have to leave your name but know your audio may be published online or the air. You can email Sarah directly at email@example.com.?