(Dec. 21, 2018) A third person has come forward this week to say that an archdiocese knew of sexual abuse allegations against a Houston-area priest, yet failed to take corrective action.
This third person has accused Manuel La Rosa-Lopez of molesting him in the early 1990s when the elder was a seminarian and he an altar boy at Houston’s St. Thomas More Catholic Church.
The man wished not to be identified. He said that Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, then a seminarian, molested him in the early 1990s when he was just twelve years old.
A Houston Chronicle headline about the accused priest caught the 37-year-old man’s attention. He read the news on the web of a Richmond priest being arrested for decades-old claims that he had molested two children at a Conroe church.
The Chronicle reported that the third accuser hardly recognized the gray-haired man in the recent Montgomery County booking photo. When he had last seen the accused priest, he was an altar boy at a Peruvian seminary, St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Houston. That news report from September unearthed years of guilt and shame that he had long tried to bury.
“My heart just broke”
“My heart just broke,” the man told the Houston Chronicle. He contacted the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office a few days later, becoming the third accuser to step forward with allegations of molestation against Father Manuel La Rosa-Lopez. The clergyman became the center of a growing investigation this past summer of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston when he was accused by two others of sexual molestation.
The latest allegations show that the leaders of the country’s fifth-largest diocese were aware of claims against La Rosa-Lopez as early as 1992, yet allowed him to be ordained into the ministry and move from church to church.
The priest’s lawyer did not respond on Dec. 20 to the Chronicle’s request for comment, though the church made a short statement yesterday:
“We cannot comment on this matter, which is still under investigation, except to say we are cooperating fully with law enforcement,” said church spokeswoman Jo Ann Zuniga.
The Chronicle reported that the father of four children sat in a Houston lawyer’s office last week and haltingly described the alleged abuse he suffered over a period of weeks at St. Thomas More. For more than 25 years, he had kept the secret even from his wife.
“It completely engulfs your life,” the man said, breaking down in the office. “I really try to do the best I can to keep working, to keep being strong for my children.”
Accusers step forward
Mr. La Rosa-Lopez was arrested Sept. 11, 2018 on four charges of indecency with a child. The charges stemmed from the man’s alleged abuse of two teens from 1998-2000 at Conroe’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
Those charges triggered three search warrants executed at the Shalom Center treatment facility in Splendora in eastern Montgomery County, along with two churches between Fort Bend County and Conroe.
Mr. La Rosa-Lopez was held in jail for two nights before being released on a $375,000 bond. He returned to court in October, but that hearing was postponed until January 2019 after Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office investigators requested more time to examine their seized records.
To the Vatican, if necessary
The investigation of Mr. La Rosa-Lopez continues. Montgomery County DA Brett Ligon has vowed, if necessary, to go “all the way to the Vatican.”
The investigation escalated in Nov. 2018 with a surprise search of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston’s headquarters in downtown Houston. The exhaustive search warrant made scant mention of the third accuser (only by his initials), and the accused priest has not been charged in this third claim.
20 Priests Treated for Sex Abuse Problems
More than 20 priests were treated for sex abuse problems, according to the documents seized from the Shalom Center. Police also seized several computers and files from the archdiocese offices of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo. He was charged with overseeing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. His stewardship in that role is now being severely tested.
More than 70 dioceses nationwide have released lists of accused priests. On Dec. 19 this week, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office announced the discovery of 500 more clergy members accused of sexual abuse, in addition to the 185 disclosed by the six dioceses. In Texas, each of the 15 Catholic Dioceses and the archdiocese announced in October 2018 that they would compile and release their own lists.
The Catholic church has announced that it is sticking to its plan to release the names of priests “credibly accused” of child sex abuse by Jan. 31, 2019, though the latest search warrant has left a stash of priest personnel records and boxes of “sex allegation files” in the hands of law enforcement. Some of the files were taken from a so-called vault at the archdiocese’s San Jacinto Street office.
Jonah Dycus, a spokesperson for the archdiocese, said, “We do not wish to compromise the integrity of this important work by discussing it before we have the full facts assembled.”
Cardinal DiNardo last month identified the Kinsale Management Consultants as the auditor tasked with tabulating the list. The firm is led by former FBI Executive Assistant Director Kathleen McChesney.
The church has pledged to give company “unfettered access” to archdiocese records, said Mr. Dycus.
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