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Former Arlington priest who led child protection office charged with sexually abusing minor

Retired priest Terry Specht is accused of sexually abusing a young boy while working as the assistant principal at an Arlington high school.

ARLINGTON, Va. — A retired priest who served for years as the director of the Catholic Church’s child protection office in Arlington, Virginia, was indicted last week on two felony counts of sexual battery and abuse of a child.

According to an indictment returned by a Fairfax County grand Dec. 20, prosecutors presented sufficient evidence to charge Terry Specht, 69, with sexually abusing a child under the age of 12 while working at the Arlington Diocese in 2000. Specht is facing a second felony charge because he had a “custodial or supervisory relationship” with the child at the time.

In 2019, amid a national reckoning about long-simmering allegations of abuse by Catholic clergy, the Diocese of Arlington released the names of 50 priests who had been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse of minors. At the time, the diocese noted that Specht, who served as the director of the Arlington Diocese’s Office of Child Protection and Safety from 2004 to 2011, had been accused of sexual assault in 2011, but that the Arlington Diocesan Review Board was “not able to come to a decision as to the credibility” of those accusations. Specht was placed on administrative leave and entered medical retirement shortly thereafter.

At the time of the alleged 2000 assault, Specht was serving as an assistant principal at Paul VI Catholic High School in Chantilly, Virginia.

“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 Tuesday. “Our joint investigation with the Virginia State Police into potential clergy abuse in Virginia remains ongoing, and I am proud of the work that we have done so far. 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.”

According to the Diocese of Arlington, Specht was the subject of an additional allegation of abuse in 2019. The Diocese said it reported that allegation to law enforcement upon receiving it and turned over documents and files related to Specht's tenure.

The Diocese also said Specht did not oversee investigations into abuse allegations during his time as director of of the Office of Child Protection and Safety.

"Following the 2012 allegation, to ensure the integrity of the office, the Diocese authorized a third-party investigator to review the Office of Child Protections' policies, staff and procedures to ensure nothing was compromised," the Diocese said in a written statement. "The investigation uncovered no issues."

The Diocese also said Specht underwent criminal background checks every five years, per policy.

If convicted of aggravate sexual battery of a minor, Specht faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

Earlier this year, Herring’s office charged former Catholic priest Paul David Ryan with two felony counts of carnal knowledge by force of a minor under the age of 18. The charges stemmed from alleged sexual contact between Ryan and a minor victim on a church-sanctioned ski trip while he was working at the Star of the Sea School in Virginia Beach.

In July, former cardinal and Washington D.C. Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was charged with sexually assaulting a teenage boy during a wedding reception in the 1970s. McCarrick, who was defrocked following a Vatican investigation, was the first cardinal in the U.S. to ever be criminally charged with a sexual crime against a minor.

The Virginia Attorney General’s Office maintains a Clergy Abuse Hotline at 1-833-454-9064 and online at www.VirginiaClergyHotline.com.

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