New sexual abuse allegation surfaces against former Charlotte priest Robert Yurgel

By Michael Gordon
Charlotte Observer
December 22, 2020

[with audio]

The Charlotte Catholic Church’s sexual-abuse scandal among priests continued to widen Tuesday as another accuser surfaced to say he had been abused by Robert Yurgel, a now-defrocked priest who served almost eight years in prison for assaulting another child at St. Matthew.

According to the lawsuit filed in Mecklenburg County, a California man said Yurgel abused him multiple times at the Ballantyne church when the man was between 5 and 7 years old. The abuse began in July 1997 and lasted about two years, says the accuser’s attorney, Nate Foote of Harrisburg, Pa.

“What Yurgel would do is basically lie to our client and tell him they needed to engage in this behavior as part of confession. That’s how he got him alone,” Foote told the Observer on Tuesday.

The abuse did not take place in a confessional booth, Foote said, but in a room at the church. The accuser, now in his late 20s, is identified in the lawsuit by the initials A.I.

The timeline for the new allegations roughly coincides with Yurgel’s abuse of former St. Matthew altar boy Robby Price. Yurgel, who had been reassigned to New Jersey, was extradited to Charlotte in 2008. He later pleaded guilty to charges of assaulting Price and was sent to prison.

Foote, whose firm has been at the forefront of allegations of sexual abuse against priest, other religious figures and the Boy Scouts of America, says he expects other victims of Yurgel to come forward.

“Robert Yurgel is a convicted pedophile and a registered sex offender who no doubt abused multiple children,” Foote said. “It would not be a surprise if there are other kids still out there.”

Foote said the new lawsuit is possible only because North Carolina joined a few other states in eliminating the statute of limitations for child-abuse claims.

Yurgel, who the lawsuit says now lives in New Jersey, could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit also names the Charlotte Diocese and Yurgel’s former order, the Capuchin Franciscan Friars Province of the Sacred Stigmata of St. Francis, as defendants. The friars assigned Yurgel to work in Charlotte, said Patricia Guilfoyle, a spokeswoman for the Charlotte Diocese.

In a statement to the Observer, Guilfoyle said Catholic leaders learned about the new allegations against Yurgel earlier this year when Foote wrote them. She said Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have informed the diocese that they planned to investigate the accusations.

“The diocese takes all allegations of child sexual abuse seriously, no matter when they might have occurred, and continues to encourage anyone who has information about possible abuse to report it to police,” Guilfoyle said.

CMPD did not respond to an Observer email Tuesday.

The Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s office said no new charges have been filed in the case and declined further comment.

The Charlotte Diocese serves more than 400,000 Catholics in 46 counties in Western North Carolina. A year ago, it released a list of 14 priests who had been “credibly accused” of child abuse since the Diocese’s creation in 1972. Yurgel was among them. Almost all of the cases dated back decades.

The diocese also listed 23 clergy members who served in Charlotte without incident but who were accused of misconduct elsewhere. Six other clergy who served in Western North Carolina were accused of abuse before the diocese was formed.

”It is painful to even try to comprehend such gravely immoral behavior,” Charlotte Bishop Peter Jugis said at the time. “However, in speaking with survivors and hearing their stories, it is clear to me that making known the names of their abusers can promote healing for them and their families.”

In 2010, the diocese announced it would pay Price $1 million to settle a lawsuit over his molestation by Yurgel. The diocese admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement.

According to the lawsuit, the diocese could have prevented Yurgel’s assaults on A.I. because of previous incidents that had been brought to the diocese’s attention.

Shortly after he allegedly began assaulting A.I. in July 1997, Yurgel became close to a family at St. Matthew and initiated sexual conduct with the husband, the lawsuit claims.

Yurgel sent emails to the man swearing his love and saying he wanted to leave the clergy and run away with him, according to the lawsuit.

The family alerted diocesan and parish officials. In 1999, a diocesan official assured the couple that Yurgel’s behavior “would be appropriately handled.”

That same year, according to the lawsuit, the diocese learned of Yurgel’s inappropriate behavior with the altar boy.

In 2019, St. Matthew’s congregation was rocked anew when its pastor, the Rev. Patrick Hoare, was removed after a Pennsylvania man accused him of sexually abusing him before Hoare became a priest. The accuser was a boy at the time.

In July, Jugis banned Hoare from the active ministry.


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