Retired priest in Virginia acquitted on sex abuse charge

A jury has acquitted a retired Catholic priest from northern Virginia who was accused of sexually assaulting a child more than 20 years ago.

A Fairfax County jury found Terry Specht not guilty Wednesday. He had been accused of sexual abuse of a minor under age 13. Prosecutors had alleged he committed the assault in 2000, when he was chaplain and assistant principal at St. Paul VI Catholic High School.

Public Defender Dawn Butorac said the jury deliberated for less than an hour before returning its verdict.

“The jury got it right,” she said. “Mr. Specht’s innocence was clear from the beginning.”

The Arlington Diocese issued a statement saying Specht has been on medical retirement since 2012, and will not return to ministry.

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

The case was prosecuted by the Virginia Attorney General’s Office.

“While disappointed in the outcome, the Attorney General is proud of his team for fighting for victims,” Victoria LaCivita, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Jason Miyares, said in a statement. “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 had previously faced accusations 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 denied those allegations and was never criminally charged. A Diocese review board found the allegation to be inconclusive.

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