Conroe priest accused of molesting teens in sex abuse scandal

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Richmond priest charged with indecency with a child

A possible sex abuse scandal involving a local priest is unfolding.

Two people have come forward, saying that Father Manuel La Rosa-Lopez sexually abused children while working at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe in the late 1990s to early 2000s.

La Rosa-Lopez is charged with four counts of indecency with a child. He turned himself in to authorities at the Montgomery County Jail on Tuesday.

La Rosa-Lopez currently is assigned to a church in Richmond.

According to court documents, the two alleged victims are not linked, but each came forward recently after seeing news coverage of sex abuse by priests.

READ THE CHARGING DOCUMENT


One of the alleged victims says La Rosa-Lopez began touching him and making intimate gestures in 1999, when he was under the age of 17. He says on one occasion, La Rosa-Lopez took him into his living quarters at the church and showed him photos of partially naked men from his seminary. The victim says La Rosa-Lopez fondled him and wouldn't let him leave the room until a relative arrived to pick him

The victim told authorities that when he contacted church leaders, he was put in touch with Sister Maureen O'Connell, who was the Galveston/Houston Archdiocese Victims Assistance Coordinator, and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo. He says he was offered psychological counseling services and was told reports were filed with Conroe police and Child Protective Services. According to court documents, a police investigator searched for those records but did not find any such reporting.

A second alleged victim told authorities that La Rosa-Lopez began touching and kissing her in 2000. She says he told her he had to wait until she was 16 to have sex.

The victim says after a rehearsal for the Passion of the Christ play, La Rosa-Lopez reached under her clothes and fondled her while they were alone in the church kitchen.

The victim told authorities she believed she was in a romantic relationship with La Rosa-Lopez and recorded their 'trysts' in her diary under a code name. Her father discovered the diary and after determining who the man was she was writing about, he confronted La Rosa-Lopez.

The woman says her father reported the accusations to the church, resulting in visits from religious leaders, including then-Bishop Joseph Fiorenza. She says the result of the meetings was that La Rosa-Lopez was transferred from Sacred Heart, and her father told her never to speak of it again.

In 2010, according to court documents, the woman learned that La Rosa-Lopez had been promoted to a church in Richmond, Texas. She then followed up with the Catholic church, and during an interview with Cardinal DiNardo and Sister Maureen O'Connell, she says she was told that La Rosa-Lopez had been sent to a mental institution and was placed in an administration position without contact with children or teenagers.

Upon verifying that La Rosa-Lopez was, in fact, the priest of St. John the Fisher Church in Richmond, the victim says she decided to make a police report.

ABC13 Eyewitness News reached out to the Galveston/Houston Archdiocese for comment. They provided the following statement:

"In 2001, a then-16 year old girl and her family notified this Archdiocese that Fr. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez had kissed and touched her inappropriately when he was assigned as Parochial Vicar at Sacred Heart in Conroe. We immediately referred this information to Children's Protective Services for further investigation. Father La Rosa-Lopez denied touching the girl inappropriately, and the girl's family decided not to pursue the matter, relocating out of the country that same year. After an internal review, including presentation of the above allegations to the newly founded Archdiocesan Review Board in 2003, Father La Rosa-Lopez was permitted to return to parish ministry in 2004.

Following her return to the U.S., the Archdiocese, in accordance with our commitment to provide pastoral outreach, provided the young woman with counseling services for a period of time, until she decided to discontinue her therapy.

For the last 17 years, no other allegations of inappropriate conduct involving minors were presented against Father La Rosa-Lopez until 2018.

During an interview in Houston on August 10, 2018, a 36 year old man formally presented an allegation to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston stating that Fr. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez sexually abused him from 1998 through 2001, when he was a high school student and Father La Rosa-Lopez was still assigned at Sacred Heart in Conroe. The Archdiocese immediately reported this allegation to Children's Protective Services as well. Father La Rosa-Lopez has denied these allegations of sexual abuse.

Yesterday, the district attorney of Montgomery County issued an arrest warrant for Father La Rosa-Lopez, which we understand is the result of the above reports. Father La Rosa-Lopez voluntarily turned himself into the Conroe Police Department last evening.

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. 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."


Stay with ABC13 Eyewitness News for more on this developing story.

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