December 28, 2021
By Rachel Weiner
Terry Specht, 68, of Donegal, Pa., was indicted last week by a grand jury in Fairfax County with two felony counts related to sexual abuse of a child under 13
A retired priest who for years oversaw the safety of children in Arlington’s diocese is charged with sexually abusing a child.
Terry Specht, 68, of Donegal, Pa., was indicted last week by a grand jury in Fairfax County with two felony counts related to sexual abuse of a child under 13 years old. The assault took place in 2000, according to the indictment, when Specht was chaplain and assistant principal at the 1,000-student St. Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax.
Specht “maintains his innocence,” Fairfax public defender Dawn Butorac said. “He’s a retired priest, being put through this 21 years after the alleged event.”
The Virginia attorney general began investigating in 2019 when the alleged victim called a hotline set up for that purpose; that same year, the archdiocese said it had received an allegation and reported it to law enforcement.
The diocese has turned over “all information available to us about the allegations,” Catholic Diocese of Arlington spokeswoman Amber Roseboom said.
The case is one of three church abuse investigations being pursued by Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s office.
“I want to encourage any Virginian who may have information about this or any other instance of clergy abuse to please come forward,” Herring (D) said in a statement. “No matter how long ago the incident occurred, we will take it seriously and make sure that you get the help and support you deserve.”
Specht became director of the Arlington Diocese Office of Child Protection and Safety in 2004, a role he held until 2011. The following year, he was accused of sexually abusing a teenage boy in the late 1990s, when he was a parochial vicar at St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax. He has previously denied the allegations from the 1990s.
In his child protection role, Specht was responsible for policy and instruction but did not oversee sexual abuse investigations or assign priests to churches, Roseboom said. A third-party investigator who reviewed his time in office after the 2012 allegation “uncovered no issues.”
Specht was never charged with a crime stemming from that allegation, and the Diocese of Arlington’s review board found the allegation to be inconclusive, Roseboom said. But he was placed on administrative leave in 2012 and took medical retirement; officials permanently removed his right to act as a priest.
“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,” Roseboom said.
A trial is scheduled for October 2022.