A retired priest and former director of the Arlington Diocese Office of Child Protection and Safety has been charged with sexual abuse of a minor, state prosecutors announced Tuesday.
Terry Specht, 69, of Donegal, Pennsylvania, was indicted by a grand jury of aggravated sexual battery of a child under age 13 and sexual abuse of a child over whom a custodial or supervisory relationship existed.
The victim came forward about the alleged assault in 2019, the Attorney General’s Office said. The alleged abuse occurred between March and September 2000.
"Children should always feel comfortable around religious leaders in their life, without fear that they could somehow hurt them,” Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement announcing the charges.
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"We publicized that investigation because we wanted [...] victims to know that we are undertaking this investigation, and if they had been a victim of clergy abuse or really anyone, to come forward," Herring told News4.
The Diocese of Arlington said in a statement Tuesday they received two separate allegations involving Specht, one in 2012 and another in 2019. Both times, the diocese said law enforcement was immediately notified.
The 2012 allegation was made while Specht was a parochial vicar at Saint Mary of Sorrows Catholic Church, in Fairfax. He later worked at Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Church in Annandale and St. Paul VI Catholic High School in Chantilly.
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Following the first allegation, Specht was placed on administrative leave and the diocese’s Review Board conducted an investigation, which found the allegation to be inconclusive, the diocese said. Criminal charges weren’t brought in relation to that allegation.
The diocese said it reported to law enforcement the second accusation against Specht in 2019 and “was never notified as to the status of the investigation.”
The diocese said it found out about Specht’s indictment through the news media.
Specht served as a priest in Arlington from 1996 to 2012 and as director of the Diocese’s Office of Child Protection from 2004 to 2011. In 2012, after he was placed on administrative leave, he was granted medical retirement due to an illness and has not served in priestly ministry since then, the diocese said.
In Specht's capacity as director of the diocese's Office of Child Protection, he had an administrative role and was an instructor, and “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 charges stem from an alleged teen victim coming forward as an adult.
The harm done to a young victim can last a lifetime, Herring said.
“Oftentimes it takes decades for the emotional and psychological harm to really be addressed,” he said.
This is the third defendant charged as part of Herring and Virginia State Police’s investigation into possible sexual abuse of children by clergy in the state's Catholic dioceses.
Specht was released on personal recognizance with pretrial supervision. A trial date was set for October 2022.