Former Virginia priest found not guilty of child sexual abuse

Washington Post

October 6, 2022

By Olivia Diaz

A retired Catholic priest who for a time oversaw the Arlington diocese’s efforts to protect children on Wednesday was found not guilty of sexually abusing a child two decades ago.

Terry Wayne Specht, 69, of Pennsylvania was found not guilty by a juryin Fairfax County ofone felony count of aggravated sexual battery of a child younger than 13, court records show. Investigators claimed the assault took place in 2000, according to an indictment, whenSpecht was chaplain and assistant principal at St. Paul VI Catholic High School.

Dawn Butorac, Specht’s attorney, said she thought the jury had reached the correct decision.

“It was obvious to me that Mr. Specht was not guilty, and the prosecution should not have even brought the case,” Butorac said. “They put a man who has dedicated his life to service of his community, both in the Navy and as a priest, in jeopardy by threatening his liberty.”

The Virginia Attorney General’s Office began investigating the matter in 2019 after someone called a hotline to allege that they had been abused. Specht was charged in late 2021.

“While disappointed in the outcome, the attorney general is proud of his team for fighting for victims,” said Victoria LaCivita, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Jason S. Miyares (R). “There are many difficulties that come with prosecuting decades-old sexual assault cases, and our team worked diligently to support this victim and provide them a voice.”

Specht was director of the Arlington Catholic Diocese Office of Child Protection and Safety starting in 2004, and held the role until 2011. As part of that job, he was responsible for policy and instruction but did not oversee sexual abuse investigations or assign priests to churches, a diocese spokeswoman has said previously.

While working at the diocese in 2012, Specht was accused of sexually abusing a teenage boy in the late 1990s at St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax County.

Specht was placed on administrative leave after that accusation. He ultimately took medical retirement and stopped working as a priest, officials with the diocese said. He denied those allegations at the time and was never charged.

The Arlington diocese said in a news release that Specht will not return to ministry.

“Father Specht was found not guilty, I nevertheless convey my heartfelt and sincere sorrow to anyone who has suffered sexual abuse,” Bishop Michael F. Burbidge said.

The diocese said it will continue to have a zero-tolerance policy for abuse. The diocese also said it was committed to training its clergy, staff and volunteers to identify and report instances of abu