Former Buffalo seminary professor pleads guilty to stalking investigative reporter

Joe Bukuras   By Joe Bukuras for CNA

St. Joseph Cathedral, Buffalo / CiEll/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Aug 5, 2021 / 13:32 pm (CNA).

Caution for readers: This article records the use of profane language.

A former New York seminary professor pleaded guilty this week to charges of stalking a local news reporter, after a criminal complaint accused him of making a death threat and other threats over the phone.

Paul Lubienecki, a former adjunct professor at the now-closed Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, New York, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to stalking local investigative reporter Charlie Specht with the outlet WKBW. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Lubienecki will face sentencing on Nov. 9 at 12:30 p.m.

On six separate occasions, Lubienecki left harassing voicemails for Specht during Specht’s investigation into allegations of clerical sex abuse in the Buffalo diocese and at Christ the King seminary.

“I know where you live in [TOWN],” the Feb. 11, 2020 complaint accused Paul Lubienecki of telling Specht in a voicemail. “I’m going to find you. I’m going to kill you.”

Lubienecki’s six voicemails for Specht were left using a pre-paid no-contract cell phone between Aug. 20, 2019 and Feb. 4, 2020. The TracFone that he used would not reveal the number he was calling from.

A special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) was able to trace the phone to Lubienecki using subpoenaed phone records and his email address. In February, the FBI arrested Lubienecki and charged him with cyberstalking.

The voicemails contained expletives, attacking Specht’s professionalism and accusing him of malicious intent.

“So [Richard] Malone is still bishop … and you’re still a bad Catholic and a horrible reporter,” another one of Lubienecki’s voicemail said, according to the complaint. “You ought to get a job at Wal-Mart, that’s about the best you’ll do. I hope to God I don’t see you walking around [TOWN].”

Specht was not specifically named in court documents; however, WBKW confirmed that he was the target of Lubienecki’s threats.

Bishop Richard Malone resigned in December 2019, following a Vatican-ordered investigation into the diocese amid allegations of episcopal misconduct. There were extensive media reports – including by WKBW – that Malone had mishandled accusations of clerical sex abuse, and the diocese also faced a RICO lawsuit.

Following Malone’s resignation, the Diocese of Buffalo was administered by Albany’s Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, until he was eventually replaced by current prelate Bishop Michael Fisher.

WKBW previously reported that Lubienecki left threatening messages for two former employees of the chancery who became whistleblowers alleging a diocesan cover-up of clerical sex abuse. The two former employees were Siobhan O’Connor, Bishop Malone’s former executive assistant, and Father Ryszard Biernat, the former priest secretary to Bishop Malone.

The complaint against Lubienecki records that two other anonymous witnesses received a harassing voicemail in December 2019. In the document, a voicemail left to an anonymous subject identifying as “witness 1” is recorded as saying, “…you destroyed a good bishop, a good man. You must be so proud of being such an asshole. Leave the priesthood or we’ll get you.”

It is not confirmed whether “witness 1” and “witness 2” in the complaint are Fr. Biernat and Siobhan O’Connor respectively. The U.S. Western District of New York only said that Lubienecki has pleaded guilty to charges against Specht.

Biernat, who was suspended by Malone after leaking recordings to the press, told WKBW that during his time in the seminary in 2003, he was sexually abused by one of the priests in the Diocese of Buffalo, Fr. Art Smith, at the rectory of St. Thomas Aquinas parish.

When Fr. Biernat went to the former auxiliary bishop of Buffalo Edward Grosz with the allegations in 2004, Grosz allegedly blamed him for not locking the door. He threatened his vocation if he did not keep silent about it, suggesting he might be deported to Poland.

Bishop Grosz has since “categorically” denied the claim by Fr. Biernat. Fr. Smith was later removed from ministry for other credible accusations of abuse.

As of early July, Grosz faces an allegation that he abused a child in 1990, the diocese announced. Grosz denies the allegation.

After Lubienecki’s arrest last year Bishop Scharfenberger decried the professor’s actions in a series of tweets on Feb. 13.

“There is no place – nor should there be any tolerance – for threats or harassment towards members of the news media or any one else. 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,” Scharfenberger said.

“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 has continued his investigations into diocesan sex abuse. Fr. Biernat has not yet resumed public ministry, but in a January interview with NPR, the current bishop did not rule out returning him to ministry.

“All I can say is that I am open to meeting with any of them, that would like to come and talk to me so that we can evaluate their situation,” Fisher said.

Currently, Biernat is listed as a “priest in service” on the website of St. Timothy Church in Tonawanda. His name is not included on the “clergy and staff” web page.


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