Re­hab site raided in church abuse probe

Mont­gomery County of­fi­cials seek­ing data about Con­roe priest

Houston Chronicle - - CITY | STATE - By Cather­ine Dominguez STAFF WRITER [email protected]­non­line.com

Mont­gomery County au­thor­i­ties on Wed­nes­day raided a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­ter in East Mont­gomery County in search of ev­i­dence re­lated to a for­mer Con­roe priest who has been charged with sex­u­ally as­sault­ing two teenagers some 20 years ago.

It was not known what ev­i­dence was col­lected from the Shalom Cen­ter off Mor­gan Drive. Ac­cord­ing to a 1995 U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bishops sur­vey on treat­ment cen­ters, the cen­ter dealt with priests in­volved in sex-re­lated crimes.

More than two dozen rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Mont­gomery County sher­iff ’s and dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fices, the Con­roe Po­lice De­part­ment and the Texas Rangers took part in the oper­a­tion.

Con­roe po­lice this month charged Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, a for­mer priest at Sa­cred Heart Catholic Church in Con­roe, with four counts of in­de­cency with a child. He turned him­self into the Mont­gomery County jail Sept. 11 after an ar­rest war­rant was is­sued; he faces up to 20 years in prison on each count if con­victed. The al­leged in­ci­dents took place from 1998 to 2000.

La Rosa-Lopez, 60, most re­cently served as the pas­tor at St. John Fisher Catholic Church in Rich­mond and as the epis­co­pal vicar for His­pan­ics.

The priest has de­nied the al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual abuse, the Arch­dio­cese of Hous­ton-Galve­ston said in a state­ment. He is free on $225,000 bond.

Seek­ing doc­u­ments

Tyler Dun­man, the Mont­gomery County Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice spe­cial crime bureau chief, said it is be­lieved Lopez re­ceived treat­ment at the fa­cil­ity, though it was not clear what type he re­ceived.

“We be­lieve there are doc­u­ments here that would be im­por­tant to our in­ves­ti­ga­tion into this priest,” Dun­man said. “We are … ask­ing the pub­lic to con­tinue to come for­ward.”

Dun­man said sev­eral tips have come from out­side Texas. Au­thor­i­ties are con­tin­u­ing to fol­low up on those, said Dun­man, who de­clined to pro­vide any de­tails.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion comes as the Ro­man Catholic Church faces new ques­tions about its han­dling of al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual abuse by priests. A Penn­syl­va­nia grand jury re­port re­leased this sum­mer de­tailed al­le­ga­tions against more than 300 “preda­tor priests” and said there were at least 1,000 child vic­tims, and likely far more, in that state alone. Car­di­nal Daniel DiNardo, the arch­bishop for Galve­ston-Hous­ton, has spo­ken out against the “grave moral fail­ures of judg­ment on the part of church lead­ers” in deal­ing with such al­le­ga­tions and was part of a U.S. del­e­ga­tion that met this month with Pope Fran­cis at the Vatican about the mat­ter.

DiNardo leads the U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bishops as well as the re­gion’s 1.7 mil­lion Catholics.

La Rosa-Lopez’s two ac­cusers, a man and woman, spoke last month to Con­roe po­lice about the al­leged abuse, ac­cord­ing to an ar­rest war­rant for La Rosa-Lopez.

Fe­male, male ac­cusers

The fe­male accuser told po­lice that she and her fam­ily re­ported in 2001 that she had been abused by La Rosa-Lopez when she was a teenager, after which he was trans­ferred from the church and her fam­ily moved out of the coun­try. But she said that upon re­turn­ing to Con­roe around 2010, she con­tacted church of­fi­cials after read­ing that the priest had been pro­moted and as­signed to his own church. She said she was in­ter­viewed by DiNardo and was as­sured by church of­fi­cials that La Rosa-Lopez had been placed in an ad­min­is­tra­tive po­si­tion and had no con­tact with chil­dren or teenagers.

The fe­male accuser “de­cided to make a po­lice re­port be­cause of the per­ceived du­plic­ity of Car­di­nal DiNardo” given his re­cent pub­lic state­ments about re­cent priest sex scan­dals and be­cause of “the church’s fail­ure to ad­e­quately pro­tect chil­dren” from La Rosa-Lopez, ac­cord­ing to the ar­rest war­rant.

Po­lice said the male accuser came for­ward in Au­gust and al­leged he was sex­u­ally abused from 1998 to 2000 when he at­tended Sa­cred Heart as a teenager. The male accuser told the Hous­ton Chronicle last month that he met with DiNardo but that the prelate was dis­mis­sive and told him, “Well, you should’ve told us ear­lier.”

The Arch­dio­cese said in a state­ment that it had re­ferred both cases to Child Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices and de­fended the church’s han­dling of the al­le­ga­tions.

“We take these mat­ters very se­ri­ously, which is why we re­ported the in­for­ma­tion we re­ceived from both in­di­vid­u­als to CPS — and re­moved Fa­ther La Rosa-Lopez from min­istry,” the Arch­dio­cese state­ment said. “We are pledged to co­op­er­ate with the civil au­thor­i­ties in their in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The Arch­dio­cese of Galve­ston-Hous­ton rec­og­nizes it clearly has both a le­gal and a moral obli­ga­tion to ad­dress any in­ci­dence of abuse — sex­ual or oth­er­wise — to God’s chil­dren. Such be­hav­ior sim­ply will not be tol­er­ated.

“To any­one af­fected by any form of abuse by any­one who rep­re­sents the Church, the Arch­dio­cese deeply re­grets such a fun­da­men­tal vi­o­la­tion of trust, and com­mits it­self to elim­i­nat­ing such un­ac­cept­able ac­tions.”

Ja­son Focht­man / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

In­ves­ti­ga­tors work at the Shalom Cen­ter in con­nec­tion with the ar­rest of Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, a for­mer priest.

La RosaLopez

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