A former professor at Christ the King Seminary is facing charges that he stalked a television reporter investigating the Buffalo Catholic Diocese.
Federal prosecutors claim Paul E. Lubienecki engaged in a campaign of intimidation that included death threats against the journalist, who was unnamed in court documents.
WKBW-TV identified its reporter Charlie Specht as the person who received the threats. Specht has actively been involved in investigating the diocese's sexual abuse scandal and has won state and national awards for his work.
Arrested by the FBI Wednesday morning, Lubienecki faces two felony cyberstalking charges and, if convicted, a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
“We were shocked, surprised and scared,” Specht said in a story on WKBW's website. “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.”
After the final threat arrived last week, Specht, his wife and children left their home and spent the next week living at a secret location with 24-hour protection from a private security firm, according to the story.
Without naming Specht, federal prosecutors said he received five harrassing phone calls over a six-month period, some of them threatening bodily harm and death.
"They were voicemail messages left for a member of the media," Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron J. Mango said Wednesday.
Prosecutors said the threats culminated in a final voicemail message on Feb. 4, the same day the diocese announced the closing of Christ the King Seminary. Specht gave a live report from the seminary.
"After that reporting, the caller reached out to the victim and indicated that he knew where the victim lived and that he was going to find him and kill him," said U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy Jr.
In its story, WKBW details the messages. including the one that led to Lubienecki's arrest.
“You must be so happy the seminary’s closing,” the message said, according to the story. “You’re a bad person. I know where you live ... I’m gonna find you. I’m gonna kill you.”
Gary Loeffert, special agent in charge of the FBI in Buffalo, said Lubienecki was entitled to voice his opinion but eventually stepped over the line.
"While people are passionate about their personal beliefs, freedom of speech does not include using words that intimidate, harass or threaten anyone," Loeffert said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder Jr. released Lubienecki, a Hamburg resident and adjunct lecturer at SUNY-Fredonia, on bail but ordered him to stay away from witnesses in the case.
Lubienecki said little during his initial court appearance and is expected to appear again when he has his own attorney.
When asked about Lubienecki's arrest, the diocese confirmed Lubienecki had been put on leave from his position as an adjunct professor at the seminary, but initially said it would be inappropriate to comment on the criminal case.
Later, the diocese released a statement from Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany, interim head of the diocese.
"There is no place - not should there be any tolerance - for threats or harassment towards members of the news media or anyone else." he said. "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."
A source familiar with the investigation said Lubienecki also served as a lector at St. Joseph's Cathedral downtown and produced a copy of a 2017 Palm Sunday program listing him and then Bishop Richard J. Malone.
Over the years, Lubienecki, who is not a priest, has gained a reputation as a Catholic historian and an expert on John Timon, Buffalo's first bishop.
The clergy sexual abuse scandal and the corresponding allegations of a cover-up by the Buffalo Diocese have been the subject of many news stories by local media outlets.
The allegations also led to the Malone's resignation and Scharfenberger's appointment in December.
Malone's departure came more than a year after local Catholics began calling for his removal over his handling of the sex abuse scandal.
The Rev. Norbert F. Orsolits, a retired priest, ignited the scandal when he told The Buffalo News in February of 2018 that he had molested dozens of boys.
Since then, the diocese has created a compensation fund that paid out $17.5 million to 106 victims. The diocese is also facing more than 220 lawsuits filed by others who claim they were victimized as minors.