Texas police officers arrested a Catholic priest on Tuesday in connection to allegations of sexual abuse of children two decades ago. A young girl had also accused the priest in 2001 of kissing and touching her inappropriately when she was 16.
Father Manuel LaRosa-Lopez turned himself in to Conroe law enforcement officials on September 11 after a court issued an arrest warrant regarding charges that he sexually abused at least two children nearly 20 years ago, the Catholic News Agency reported on Wednesday. A woman accused the priest in 2001 of kissing and touching her inappropriately at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe when she was 16-years-old, the Catholic news outlet reported. He is also accused by a now 36-year-old man of sexually abusing him for several years beginning in 1998.
Following the 2001 allegation, Texas authorities and an archdiocesan review board investigated the matter and in 2004, allowed the priest to return to his post. The young girl moved away following the alleged incident but returned in 2010 to find that the priest had been transferred to St. John Fisher parish in Richmond, Texas, the report states. The woman then contacted the archdiocese, which reportedly referred her to counseling services. During that period, she met briefly with LaRosa-Lopez who reportedly apologized.
The 36-year-old man, who also remains anonymous, came forward on August 10 and accused the priest of sexually abusing him for several years from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. The abuse of the boy also allegedly occurred at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe.
Leadership with the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston said they immediately referred the matter to Children’s Protective Services. The archdiocese claims the priest denies 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 LaRosa-Lopez from ministry,” officials stated. They did not say when they removed the priest, the Catholic News Agency stated.
The man who is accusing the priest said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo seemed “dismissive” about the allegations, KHOU CBS11 reported. After meeting with the Cardinal on the afternoon of August 10, the male accuser’s notes reportedly said: “Cardinal seemed dismissive of the situation.” He also jotted down a “quote” from Cardinal DiNardo where he allegedly said, “You should have told us sooner.”
The man told KHOU, “It was a dismissive tone. In the back of my head, I was thinking about his comment. I was so mad afterward.”
The Texas Legislature changed the law regarding the statute of limitations for indecency with a child in 2007, Montgomery County prosecutors told KHOU. They believe that change allows them to move forward with the charges.
The male accuser told KHOU the circumstances of his abuse. KHOU reports:
The male victim said he became interested as a teenager in joining the clergy and going to seminary. He started to attend Mass and got to know LaRosa-Lopez. Eventually, he got a job where he worked nights at Sacred Heart as an assistant.
He remembered LaRosa-Lopez being known as “touchy-feely,” and that the priest’s contact with him became more physical over time: first touching on the arm, then hugging, then a kiss on the cheek.
One night, he said, the priest showed him pictures of young seminarians that “he had a lot of fun with,” and tried to take the teenager’s clothes off and put his hands down his pants. He pushed back and quickly left the residence.
The female accuser told the local CBS affiliate that she met the priest during a weekly confession session at the parish. She said he befriended her and “basically was my only friend.” She did not disclose the details of her encounters with the priest but said that he touched her inappropriately shortly before Easter after she turned 16.
She said that when she learned that LaRosa-Lopez had been assigned to the Richmond parish, she returned to the archdiocese with her accusation.
She contacted the church and started to meet with a therapist paid for by the archdiocese. Eventually, she met with DiNardo and other top clergy in the diocese. She says they told her that after she had come forward, LaRosa-Lopez was sent to a hospital for psychiatric treatment twice and that would no longer be allowed to work with children.
Then LaRosa-Lopez was brought in for about 10 minutes, she confronted him about the abuse and he apologized.
She said she later learned that the priest was still with the St. John Fisher parish in Richmond — in the presence of children.
“I’m tired of all of his empty words,” she said referring to Cardinal DiNardo. “If he’s going to go meet with the Pope and pretend that all of this is OK and his diocese is clean, I can’t stand it. I can’t be quiet.”
Father LaRosa-Lopez is charged with four counts of indecency with a child by sexual contact. Officials released the priest on a $150,000 bond. The criminal complaint obtained by KHOU is attached below. A judge in the 359th District Court will hear the case.