Former Conroe priest pleads guilty to molesting children 20 years ago

CONROE, Texas (KTRK) -- Embattled priest Father Manuel La Rosa-Lopez entered a guilty plea for two charges of indecency with a child stemming from incidents that took place about 20 years ago.

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.

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.

La Rosa-Lopez is expected to serve 10 years in prison. He is set to be formally sentenced in December. Each of the second-degree felony charges carried a punishment of anywhere from probation to up to 20 years in prison.

"There is a feeling of justice, and there's also a feeling of hope," a survivor, who asked to remain anonymous, said. "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, 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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TIMELINE: Sex abuse allegations mount against Conroe priest

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