Charlotte Diocese Pays $1 Million to Sex Abuse Victim

By Gary Wright
News Observer
May 8, 2010

Robby Price was a 14-year-old altar boy in 1999 when a Catholic priest in Charlotte molested him.

For eight years, he told no one.

He endured flashbacks, nightmares and depression. He was afraid and sometimes thought about killing himself.

On Friday, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte announced it will pay Price $1 million to settle the lawsuit over now-imprisoned Robert Yurgel's actions. It is believed to be one of the largest settlements paid in North Carolina by a religious organization for sexual abuse of a child.

The Diocese also has put aside $47,500 to pay forPrice's counseling and medication over the next five years.

'You are a liar'

At Yurgel's sentencing last year, Price confronted the priest: "You are a liar, a thief of childhoods and a child molester," Price said in a quivering voice in the courtroom.

Price, now 25, says he is beginning to feel closure.

"I want the struggle I have endured to be a symbol to other abuse survivors," he said Friday. "It is possible to bring criminal and civil justice to victims of sexual abuse."

The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer do not generally disclose the names of sexual assault victims.

But Price agreed to reveal his identity so other victims might come forward and tell their stories.

Yurgel, a priest at St. Matthew and Our Lady of Consolation Catholic churches in the late 1990s, was sentenced to nearly eight years in prison after pleading guilty last year to a second-degree sex offense.

Church was unaware

And while church officials were unaware of the abuse at the time, Price's lawyers contend the diocese is partly responsible because it failed to suspend Yurgel for a sexual encounter he had with an adult male parishioner.

That failure, the lawyers say, enabled Yurgel to continue molesting the teen.

In settling the case the diocese admitted to no wrongdoing and avoided the expense of a lengthy trial, church officials said in the diocese's weekly newspaper.

Diocese officials stress they didn't know aboutPrice's molestation until Yurgel, who had moved to a New Jersey post, was arrested in 2008.

"My prayers continue to go out to the plaintiff in this case and to all victims of sexual abuse in the hope that they may find the healing they seek," Charlotte Bishop Peter Jugis said.

Nationwide scandal

Revelations of child sexual abuse by priests - and sometimes cover-ups by their bishops - have scandalized Catholic dioceses across the country.

The Catholic Church has paid more than $2 billion in abuse settlements in the United States alone in the past decade. The dioceses of Raleigh and Charleston have paid millions to settle victims' claims.

Langson said his client's lawsuit centered on allegations that Yurgel committed an act of sexual misconduct with an adult male parishioner at St. Matthew before he molested the teenage altar boy.

"Despite the fact that the sexual misconduct policies that applied to Father Yurgel called for his suspension from active ministry, a decision was made not to apply those policies," the lawyers said in the statement. "Father Yurgel was allowed to continue in his ministry, the lay people who worked with him were never informed of his misconduct, and he continued his molestation of Robby Price."

David Hains, the diocese's spokesman, said he would not discuss allegations of noncriminal sexual misconduct by a priest.

"We disagree with Mr. Langson's interpretation of the diocesan policy," Hains said.

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