The former director of the Arlington Diocese Office of Child Protection and Safety, Terry Specht, is facing charges for allegedly sexually assaulting a minor, according to Virginia’s attorney general.
A Fairfax County grand jury indicted the 69-year-old on a pair of felony charges: aggravated sexual battery of a child under the age of 13 and sexual abuse of a child whom a custodial or supervisory relationship existed.
The abuse allegedly occurred between March and September in 2000. According to the indictment, the assault took place when Specht was chaplain and assistant principal at St. Paul VI Catholic High School.
“Children should always feel comfortable around religious leaders in their life, without fear that they could somehow hurt them,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said in a news release.
“I want to encourage any Virginian who may have information about this or any other instance of clergy abuse to please come forward. 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 was accused of the abuse in 2019 and his trial is scheduled for October 2022.
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 former priest of Donegal, Pennsylvania, he served as the director of the Arlington Diocese Office of Child Protection and Safety between 2004 and 2011, where he was responsible for policy and instruction but didn’t oversee sexual abuse investigations or assign priests to churches, Catholic Diocese of Arlington spokesperson Amber Roseboom said.
In 2012, Specht 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 those allegations and was never charged. The Diocese review board found the allegation to be inconclusive, Roseboom said. But he was placed on administrative leave in 2012 and took medical retirement. Officials have 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.
The charges are part of an ongoing investigation into sexual abuse by clergy in Virginia’s Catholic dioceses by Herring and state police.
Specht is the third defendant being charged as apart of that investigation. A trial is scheduled for October.
The investigation includes a hotline and website, which can be used to report information about abuse in this case or other instances: 833-454-9064 and VirginiaClergyHotline.com.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.