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Lay seminary prof in Buffalo charged with cyberstalking investigative reporter

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The FBI in Buffalo has arrested a lay, adjunct seminary professor who is accused of making a death threat against a local investigative reporter.

Highlights

By CNA News
2/14/2020 (1 month ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: DIOCESE OF BUFFALO, BUFFALO, N.Y., US


Buffalo, N.Y., (CNA) - The FBI in Buffalo has arrested a lay, adjunct seminary professor who is accused of making a death threat against a local investigative reporter.

Paul Lubienecki appeared in federal court in downtown Buffalo Feb. 12 and was charged with cyberstalking, WKBW reported. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison.

Lubienecki was an adjunct professor at Christ the King Seminary and also served as an adjunct at State University of New York Fredonia.

WKBW investigative reporter Charlie Specht, who has been covering the Buffalo diocese for well over a year, began receiving threatening voicemails from an unknown number during August 2019.

WKBW reported that Lubienecki also has left threatening messages for former diocesan employee Siobhan O'Connor, who leaked confidential chancery documents to the press during November 2018, and for Father Ryszard Biernat, an assistant to Emeritus Bishop Richard Malone who leaked secret recordings of the bishop to the press.

Buffalo's apostolic administrator, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, announced earlier this month that Christ the King Seminary will close its doors at the end of the spring semester.

On Feb. 4, the day that Scharfenberger announced the seminary's closure, Specht reported live from the seminary on television. Moments later, the mystery caller left Specht a voicemail.

"You must be so happy the seminary's closing. You're a bad person. I know where you live...I'm gonna find you. I'm gonna kill you," the voicemail said as reported by WKBW.

Specht called the police, and WKBW's parent company, the E.W. Scripps Co., made plans for Specht, his wife and children to receive around-the-clock protection at an undisclosed location from a private security firm, WKBW reported.

An agent from the FBI Buffalo Field Office was assigned to investigate the matter, and obtained records that allowed the identification of Lubienecki as the suspect.

Bishop Scharfenberger decried Lubienecki's actions in a series of tweets 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."

In its Feb. 4 statement, the Buffalo diocese said that Scharfenberger is forming a committee "to 're-imagine' and provide specific recommendations as to how priestly formation will continue for seminarians of the Diocese of Buffalo, while also providing ongoing education in pastoral ministry and theological training for lay women and men, as well as for those seeking ordination to the permanent diaconate."

There are currently 26 seminarians enrolled at the seminary; 15 of whom are studying for the Diocese of Buffalo. The diocese said it will look for other schools for its seminarians.

Bishop Richard Malone, who resigned during December 2019, faced numerous accusations from whistleblowers of mishandling abuse cases during his time as bishop, and was the subject of an apostolic visitation by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn during October 2019.

During Bishop Malone's tenure, the diocese faced charges that Christ the King faculty engaged seminarians in salacious and inappropriate conversation during a party at a parish rectory.

In April 2019, seminarians described the conversation as "pornographic," and described lewd sexual references in a written report, other priests who attended the party told reporters they did not hear all of the salacious talk the seminarians claim to have heard, and say they wonder whether some aspects of the conversation were misinterpreted.

Malone removed the priests from ministry after the allegations of their misconduct was made.

Another seminary-related controversy began in August 2019, when Malone's secretary leaked audio of conversations among himself, Malone, and diocesan lawyers and staff.

In the audio of the conversations, Malone admitted that a seminarian's accusations of grooming and the violation of the seal of confession against a diocesan priest were probably true, but months later the priest remained in active ministry.

"We are in a true crisis situation. True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop," Malone said, noting that if the matter which could appear to be a "love triangle" between the seminarian and two priests were leaked to the public, "it could force me to resign."

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