Priest Charged with Raping Child
Faces Extradition to N.C. in Nine-Year-Old Case

By Karen Keller and Meredith Mandell
The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
April 3, 2008

PASSAIC - Police arrested a priest Wednesday on child sex charges relating to a North Carolina incident nine years ago, said Bill Maer, spokesman for the Passaic County sheriff.

The Rev. Robert Yurgel, 43, a man known by parishioners as "Father Bob," has been charged with five counts of indecent liberties with a child over 6 and two charges of statutory rape of a child over 6, Maer said.

Yurgel will be extradited to North Carolina, where police set the charges Tuesday, Maer said.

The priest was arrested at 2 p.m. in the rectory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Francis Way by sheriff's officers and agents of the U.S. Marshals Service.

Yurgel worked for Mount Carmel and St. Mary's Hospital here and occasionally said Mass at St. Francis Church in Hackensack.

The priest was being held Wednesday in the Passaic County Jail.

Yurgel had worked in Charlotte, N.C., at St. Matthew Catholic Church and Our Lady of Consolation from May 1997 to October 1999, said David Hains, communications director for the Diocese of Charlotte. He was at Our Lady of Consolation for three months, Hains said.

"We were completely unaware of the allegations of really anything until about 3:30 this afternoon," Hains said Wednesday by telephone.

Last year, the southern city's diocese, which oversees 93 churches, paid $14,000 in counseling fees to victims of priest abuse in past years, he said.

The figure is low and shows that the diocese hasn't had many problems of this sort, Hains said. Three years ago, the diocese also began running criminal background checks of church volunteers.

"Nothing has been proven in this case," he said. "I can tell you there's nothing in his record in the diocese that indicates any kind of sexual misconduct with children before or while he was in Charlotte."

North Carolina police said the child Yurgel allegedly abused was 14 at the time and just recently came forward, according to a report by The Charlotte Observer reported that the child was a boy.

North Carolina authorities worked with the New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Force of the U.S. Marshals Service to coordinate the arrest, Maer said.

Created in 2002, the force investigates and captures "the region's most dangerous and violent fugitives," according to the agency's Web site.

"Apparently this is a big deal in North Carolina, because I've gotten at least six calls from media outlets there," Maer said.

On Wednesday evening, the Rev. Brian Tomlinson, who is the provincial superior father for North Jersey, said three other clergy members who live with him at the church's rectory on St. Francis Way were shocked to hear of the priest's arrest.

Tomlinson said Yurgel had lived at the rectory for several years and occasionally said Mass on Sundays at Mount Carmel, as well as at St. Francis Church in Hackensack.

Tomlinson emphasized that Yurgel never worked with children who attended the church's school across the street.

"The father was not assigned here," Tomlinson said. "He was residing here because he was a chaplain at St. Mary's. He rarely took confession. He came, did what he had to do, and left.,"

When asked if the church did background checks on Yurgel, Tomlinson said if background checks were done, they were done by the diocesan office in Paterson.

Calls to the diocese were not returned.

"He was paid by St. Mary's hospital; I had nothing to do with him being employed there," Tomlinson said.

Yurgel, who Tomlinson said speaks Spanish, said Mass for the Hispanic community. Tomlinson said the church had not notified its parishioners of the arrest.

"We don't want to jump the gun and say something we don't know," he said. "Let's face it, not everything that happens you want to broadcast."

Joseph Liptak, a member of the church choir who serves as the church's plant operations manager and is a retired Passaic police lieutenant, said he never suspected anything abnormal about Yurgel.

"I was pretty friendly with him; we used to break bread," Liptak said. "He was an outgoing, easygoing guy. I think anyone who knew him found him pleasant.

"If the allegations are true, Catholicism is a community where everyone needs to extend forgiveness."


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