Former Conroe priest Manuel La Rosa-Lopez heading to prison for child indecency

CONROE, Texas (KTRK) -- A Catholic priest is heading to Texas state prison after his formal sentencing on Wednesday for committing indecency with two underage parishioners 20 years ago.

Father Manuel La Rosa-Lopez will serve 10 years in prison on two charges of second-degree felony indecency with a child. The maximum penalty for the charge is 20 years in prison.

Last month, La Rosa-Lopez took a plea deal for the charges connected to two victims, though, the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office said he committed crimes against a total of four identified victims.

When La Rosa-Lopez served as the priest for Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe, he reportedly violated the trust of the young victims. They were ages 13 to 16 at the time of the abuse that went on from 1997 to 2001.

The crimes were first reported to law enforcement in 2018. The victims reported that La Rosa-Lopez violated their trust in him as a priest by kissing them, exposing himself to them and touching them inappropriately on numerous occasions.

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Manuel La Rosa-Lopez's attorney says, "he accepts responsibility," but survivors say a lot of work still needs to be done.



The Conroe Police Department and the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office launched an investigation into the claims. Law enforcement officers from Conroe police, the Texas Rangers and several federal agencies assisted in executing several search warrants to obtain a large amount of evidence and documents. These search warrants included the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and the Shalom Center, where La Rosa-Lopez was treated after one of the victims reported the abuse to the Archdiocese in 2001. Subsequently, La Rosa-Lopez was assigned to St. John Fisher Church in Richmond, Texas, where he was a priest until his arrest in 2018.

In court Wednesday, everyone from the prosecutors to the investigators scolded the disgraced priest for violating the victims' trust.

"These children looked to La Rosa-Lopez for both spiritual and emotional guidance. He violated their trust in the worst way," said Conroe Police Det. Joe McGrew.

The prosecutors, though, praised the victims for coming out and telling their stories.

"For 20 long, painful years, these four survivors have lived in anticipation of this day. This was the day when they could finally be heard-truly heard. This was the day when they could speak publicly and without shame about the crimes committed against them privately, and the day when they could finally see a measure of justice. Their bravery in coming forward after so many years is inspiring. It has been a distinct honor to seek justice for them," said prosecutors Nancy Hebert and Wesley LeRouax in a joint statement.

"There is a feeling of justice, and there's also a feeling of hope," a survivor, who asked to remain anonymous, said previously to ABC13. "This priest decided to engage in sexual abuse within the context of a confessional booth."

The survivor was just 15 years old at the time and was attending Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Now, as an adult, he says he didn't know where to turn and never reported the abuse.

"There's a lot of shame in trying to just understand what happened. A 15-year-old boy doesn't know what to do with all that shame. So it's very difficult to come forward whenever it does happen," he told ABC13.

The survivor said he was inspired by two others who came forward in 2018 and finally went to the police.

After pleading guilty last month, La Rosa-Lopez's defense attorney released the following statement:

"He accepts responsibility for what he is pleading guilty to. He wants closure and wants to move on with his life. His remorse is to the victims, to the church and to the people he has let down. He absolutely regrets what occurred and does apologize to the victims."

But this victim said there is still work to do within the institution.

"Because we don't talk about it, it happens, and because we don't talk about it, it allows for the church to move these priests around without anyone making much noise," he said. "The church needs to confront it. The church needs to stop neglecting these victims."

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