'You Are a Liar, a Thief of Childhoods and a Child Molester.'
The Rev. Robert Yurgel Is Headed to Prison after Hearing from the Young Man Whose World He Shattered

By Gary L. Wright
Charlotte Observer
February 3, 2009

The victim, now a tall, dark-haired man in his early 20s, stood in the courtroom Monday, finally confronting the Roman Catholic priest who'd molested him a decade ago. You robbed me of my ability to trust, he told the Rev. Robert Yurgel, his voice sometimes quivering. You stole my faith, you stole my childhood.

"To this day I suffer with horrible flashbacks and nightmares…," the victim, a teenager at the time of the molestation, told Yurgel. "You are a liar, a thief of childhoods and a child molester."

Yurgel, 44, was sentenced to at least seven years and eight months in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree sex offense. He'll also have to register as a sex offender.

4/4/08 The Rev. Robert Yurgel (rt) appears in a state Superior Court hearing in Passaic, NJ, with public defender Jon Iannaccone at his extradition hearing on Friday, April 4
Photo by Leslie Barbaro

At the end of the emotional hearing, he was handcuffed and taken away.

But before then, Superior Court Judge Bob Bell, Yurgel and a courtroom filled with the victim's friends and family, heard the victim explain why he waited nearly 10 years to report the crime.

"Until now, you have controlled my life," he told Yurgel, reading from a statement, never facing the priest. "I was unable to come forward because of the threats and mind games you played. For the past decade, I have lived in fear of you. I feared what you would do if I ever told anyone what you did to me.

"You made me believe my family would be mad at me and would hate me. But I stand here today to make a liar out of you. My family did believe me. My family did not get mad at me. And my family still loves me. Today, I take back my life."

Yurgel's case is the first involving a Catholic priest in which the sexual misconduct happened in Charlotte. Priests sexually abusing children have become such a scandal in the American Catholic Church that Pope Benedict XVI met with victims during his trip to the United States last year.

Yurgel, a member of the order of the Capuchin Franciscan Friars in New Jersey, was assigned to Charlotte's St. Matthew Catholic Church and Our Lady of Consolation Catholic Church in the late 1990s. The victim was an altar boy.

In the courtroom, the victim's mother also spoke, sobbing as she talked about the lingering damage done to her son by a priest, "a trusted leader of the Catholic Church" who had taken advantage of his close friendship with her family.

The mother, whose son and husband stood with her, hands on her shoulders, said her son has suffered "horrific mental effects."

"The despair, shame, embarrassment and fear he has dealt with stole much of his normal childhood. As a child and now adult, the happiness and peace that these evil crimes have taken from our son can never be restored."

She said Yurgel's punishment is not enough.

"You will be incarcerated for less time than what our son has suffered and will continue to suffer, perhaps for the rest of his life."

Mecklenburg Assistant District Attorney Kelly Miller told the judge that the victim was 14 when Yurgel began molesting him. The victim was 15, she said, when Yurgel molested him in a church rectory.

The prosecutor said Yurgel admitted his wrongdoing in a 2008 taped telephone conversation with the victim when he thanked him for not telling anyone, "because it would have ruined my life."

Defense attorney George Laughrun said Yurgel was in court to accept his responsibility and punishment.

Yurgel didn't look at the victim or his parents. Nor did he apologize.

His lawyer spoke for him: "He crossed the line. He knows better…He knows he has sinned."

In October, the victim, identified only as "John Doe," sued Yurgel over the sexual molestation and accused the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte and the Capuchin Franciscan Friars of covering up the sexual abuse. Attorneys for Yurgel, the diocese and the Franciscan Friars have asked that the lawsuit be dismissed. The allegations, they say, are too old.

In a statement released after Monday's sentencing, Charlotte diocese officials said they did not learn of any sexual misconduct allegations against Yurgel until his arrest in April 2008. "During Father Yurgel's time in Charlotte, the diocese was not made aware of any complaints concerning his conduct with minors," the statement said.

Prosecutor Kelly talked about why she struck a deal with the priest.

"As the mother of two young children, I certainly understand the victim's desire for a longer prison sentence," she said. "As a prosecutor, I have to base my plea negotiations on the strength of the evidence and my thoughts as to what a jury would do if they heard the evidence in the case.

"I hope that the guilty plea today gives the victim some sense of resolution and peace. He was brave for speaking out."

The victim told the judge that he hopes his decision to come forward will prevent other children from being sexually abused.

"I also hope," he said, "to send the message to all sexual predators that there are consequences for their actions."


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