Judge Upholds Part of Lawsuit against Church

By Cameron Steele
Charlotte Observer
June 23, 2009

Judge dismisses part of case, but allows claims of conspiracy and fraud to continue onto trial.

A sex abuse victims' group on Monday applauded a judge's order to allow some claims in a civil suit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte to move forward in court.

The 2008 suit alleges that diocesan officials covered up the sex crimes of the Rev. Robert Yurgel, who pleaded guilty to a sex offense in February.

The Charlotte Diocese denies that officials were aware of abuse allegations until Yurgel's arrest in April 2008, and sought a dismissal of the case filed by Yurgel's victim.

Mecklenburg Superior Court Judge David Lee last month dismissed some of the suit's claims but let stand claims of fraud, civil conspiracy and breach of fiduciary duty. The suit, which also names Yurgel and his religious order as defendants, seeks unspecified monetary damages.

“We're not here to attack the church, but to ask (Bishop Peter Jugis) to speak publicly against abuse,” David Fortwengler said at a Monday news conference. He's the N.C. director of the national Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests.

Yurgel was sentenced to at least seven years in prison. His victim, who was an altar boy at Charlotte's St. Matthew Catholic Church during the 1990s when the abuse occurred, alleges diocesan officials intercepted an e-mail the victim sent to Yurgel in October 1999 expressing his love.

Instead of investigating or notifying police, the suit claims, then-Bishop William Curlin had Yurgel reassigned to New Jersey.

Reassignment is not a new tactic: Catholic bishops in other dioceses have often sent predator priests to other parishes rather than report them, according to criminal and civil cases across the country in the past 20 years.

But Charlotte Diocese spokesman David Hains said it was the Capuchin Franciscan Friars – Yurgel's New Jersey-based religious order – that reassigned Yurgel to New Jersey. He said the Charlotte diocese has never kept any signs of sexual abuse from authorities and that he doesn't think the judge's ruling means much.

“We're as transparent as anyone could be. The civil case doesn't deal with justice the way the criminal case did,” Hains said Monday.

Fortwengler gave the diocese a letter Monday calling for Jugis to “impose the harshest church sanction” on the Rev. John Schneider, an Asheville priest, if he's found guilty of obstructing justice in an alleged sex abuse case.

Schneider of St. Eugene Catholic Church was accused last month of deleting child pornographic images from the computer of his music minister, Paul Lawrence Berrell, who is charged with exploitation and indecent liberties with a minor, according to The Asheville Citizen-Times.

The Charlotte Diocese supervises Asheville-area Catholic churches.

Jugis recently accepted Schneider's resignation, Hains said, and plans attend a vigil for parishioners.

“He is dealing with the situation,” Hains said.



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