Teacher at Buffalo seminary charged with threatening reporter who investigated church

Charlie Specht's reporting helped spark a local reckoning over clergy abuse.

A teacher at a Catholic seminary in Buffalo, N.Y. has been arrested and charged with cyberstalking after he allegedly made a series of threats against an investigative reporter whose work focused on the ongoing scandal surrounding the handling of sex abuse claims against local clergy.

Paul E. Lubienecki, 62, of Hamburg, N.Y., is an adjunct professor at Christ the King Seminary within the Diocese of Buffalo, which recently announced that the seminary will “cease operations” at the end of the current academic year amid financial troubles.

On the same day that announcement was made, Lubienecki allegedly called Charlie Specht, an investigative reporter for local ABC affiliate WKBW who had first reported on the alleged mishandling of sexual misconduct complaints at the seminary, and left him a message in which he threatened to kill him.

“You must be so happy the seminary is closing. It’s fraudulent reporting that is the reason for that,” Lubienecki allegedly told Specht in a voicemail obtained by ABC News. “You’re a bad person. I know where you live in [town]. I’m gonna find you. I’m gonna kill you.”

According to U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York James P. Kennedy, Jr., who announced the charges on Wednesday, investigators ultimately determined that a total of 11 “harassing” phone calls had been made to the reporter from a number associated with Lubienecki between August of 2019 and February 2020.

Following a brief appearance before a judge in federal court, Lubienecki was released with conditions. The court docket notes that the court “entered [a] plea of not guilty on his behalf.” If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Specht, whose award-winning work was featured in a special edition of Nightline, told ABC News after he reported the threat, he and his family spent most of last week under close watch by local authorities as the FBI conducted its investigation.

“We were shocked, surprised and scared,” Specht said in a statement. “I got the feeling that this one person -- whoever they were -- had spent months harassing me about really personal things, and was now threatening violence. I wanted my family to be safe. We put our trust in law enforcement to find out who was doing this. We are grateful that federal prosecutors and the FBI made this a priority.”

Specht has been at the forefront of the local public reckoning over Bishop Richard Malone’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct against priests in the Diocese of Buffalo. In 2018, Malone’s own former secretary leaked internal church documents to Specht, sparking months of stories about whether there had been efforts to conceal the extent of the problem from the public.

In an interview with ABC News that aired in July, Malone admitted that he had made some mistakes but defended his leadership, telling correspondent David Wright that he had "inherited a decades old horrific problem of abuse," one that extends far beyond Buffalo.

In December, however, Malone resigned in the face of widespread criticism following a review of the diocese authorized by the Holy See and submitted to the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops. Lubienecki allegedly threatened to retaliate against Specht following that development as well.

“Oh, you must be so happy you destroyed the Diocese of Buffalo and Bishop Malone. Oh, you must be so proud. … You’re not a journalist,” Lubienecki allegedly told Specht in another voicemail obtained by ABC News. “You must be so proud of how you destroyed everything. I’m gonna destroy your career.”

In response to questions from ABC News, the Diocese of Buffalo’s interim communications director issued a brief statement.

“As this is a matter now before the courts, it is not appropriate to comment other than to confirm Mr. Lubienecki's affiliation with Christ the King Seminary as an adjunct continuing education professor has been suspended until this matter is resolved,” the statement reads.

And following the publication of this report, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, who took over the diocese as a temporary administrator following Malone's departure while the Vatican searches for a permanent replacement, condemned threats of violence against members of the media in a statement of his own.

“There is no place - nor should there be any tolerance - for threats or harassment towards members of the news media or any one else," the statement reads. "This is against who we are as Christians, but also against our nation’s founding principles that guarantee freedom to the press and freedom of speech. As a Church we must be able to withstand the glaring light of scrutiny - even as we seek to pierce the darkness with our own light, demonstrating Christ’s abundant love, forgiveness and care for us all.”

Specht, meanwhile, appears eager to return to writing headlines instead of being one.

“Criticism of news reporting is acceptable and even welcomed,” Specht said in a statement. “But making personal threats against a reporter for simply doing his job goes against the entire American belief in a free press.”