Arlington priest who oversaw child protection office indicted for sex abuse

Priest collar Credit Lisa F Young via wwwshutterstockcom CNA Lisa F. Young via

The Diocese of Arlington’s former director for the Office of Child Protection, Father Terry Specht, was indicted last week on two charges of sexual abuse. 

A grand jury in Virginia indicted Specht Dec. 20 on one count of aggravated sexual battery of a child under the age of 13 and one count of sexual abuse of a child over whom a custodial or supervisory relationship existed. 

Michael Kelly, Chief of Staff for the office of Virginia’s attorney general, Mark Herring, told CNA that the maximum penalty for the first count is 20 years in prison, and five for the second.

A Dec. 28 press release from the attorney general’s office said that the complainant in the case brought the allegations against Specht in 2019. The diocese said allegations against Specht were brought to it in 2019, which were immediately referred to law enforcement. Specht was out of ministry at the time.

Specht, who is retired in Pennsylvania according to the attorney general’s office, was placed on administrative leave in 2012 after an allegation of sexual assault was brought to the diocese that year. A diocesan review board investigated the allegation, finding it “inconclusive”. The diocese said that law enforcement brought no charges in relation to the allegation.

The diocese says that after he was placed on leave, Specht requested medical retirement due to an illness, which the diocese granted him. Since then, Specht has been out of ministry and will not return. He had served as a priest since 1996.

Specht, 69, had served as the director of the diocese’s Office of Child Protection from 2004 to 2011. The diocese says that Specht’s responsibilities in the role were as a policy administrator and instructor. 

“He never oversaw the investigation of allegations of sexual abuse of a minor nor did he have a role in priestly assignments,” the diocese said.

The diocese stated that after Specht was accused in 2012, a third party investigator was brought in “to review the Office of Child Protection’s policies, staff and procedures to ensure nothing was compromised.”

The diocese said that the investigation “uncovered no issues.”

Specht underwent criminal background checks every five years and completed VIRTUS safe-environment training, per diocesan policy.

“The Diocese of Arlington has a zero-tolerance policy for abuse and continues to be fully committed to training our clergy, staff and volunteers to identify and report suspected instances of abuse,” the local Church said. “No one with a credible accusation of abuse of minors is serving in the Diocese.”

The diocese is cooperating with the attorney general’s office by providing all information related to both the 2012 and 2019 accusations against Specht, it stated.

The state's prosecution of Specht is part of the attorney general’s ongoing investigation into clergy abuse. 

Specht is scheduled to go on trial in October 2022.

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