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As Cardinal DiNardo heads to Rome, a Houston-area priest is arrested for abuse

Two alleged victims fault Galveston-Houston’s archbishop for not removing the priest from ministry sooner.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, concelebrates the closing Mass at the 2017 convocation in Orlando, Fla. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Two days before Cardinal Daniel DiNardo’s planned meeting with Pope Francis to discuss clerical sex abuse in the United States, a priest of DiNardo’s Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston turned himself in to the Montgomery County Sheriff to answer four charges of indecency with a child.

Two alleged victims of Father Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, one male and one female, are accusing Cardinal DiNardo—who also serves as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops—of not doing enough to prevent the priest from abusing other children, according to the Associated Press. Father La Rosa-Lopez, who is pastor of St. John Fisher Catholic Church in Richmond, Texas and who serves as the archdiocese’s episcopal vicar for Hispanics, has denied the allegations of abuse.

According to a statement released by the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, archdiocesan officials notified Child Protective Services about both accusations against Father La Rosa-Lopez, and are cooperating with law enforcement.

The accusations stem from Father La Rosa-Lopez’s time at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe. In 2001 the female accuser and her family reported to diocesan officials that the priest had kissed and inappropriately touched the then 16-year-old girl; the priest denied the charges, and the diocese, then under the episcopal leadership of Joseph Fiorenza, relayed the information to Child Protective Services, according to the archdiocesan statement.

While the AP report states that the alleged victim “declined to detail what LaRosa-Lopez did, saying only that he touched her inappropriately,” Houston’s ABC 13 reports:

[The 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.

The girl and her family did not pursue legal action against the priest, and shortly thereafter left the country, according to the archdiocese.

The archdiocese confirmed to the AP that Father La Rosa-Lopez was reassigned to St. Francis De Sales Catholic Church in 2001. In its statement on the charges, the archdiocese states that “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.” At that point he was sent to St. John Fisher in Richmond, where he served until his arrest this week.

In 2006, DiNardo succeeded Archbishop Fiorenza as head of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. From the Associated Press report:

[In] 2010, [the alleged victim] saw a copy of the archdiocese’s internal newsletter, which announced LaRosa-Lopez’s appointment as vicar of Hispanic ministry. She thought there was a chance DiNardo didn’t know about her complaint because it had predated his time in Houston.

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 [he] 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 says she later discovered that LaRosa-Lopez remained at St. John Fisher, in the presence of children.

In its statements on the accusations, the archdiocese did not address whether or not Cardinal DiNardo told the accuser that Father La Rosa-Lopez would not be allowed to work with children.

The archdiocese did state that no new allegations of inappropriate actions with minors were made against Father La Rosa-Lopez over the last 17 years. That changed last month, the archdiocese says, when Father La Rosa-Lopez’s male accuser “formally presented an allegation” to archdiocesan officials, including Cardinal DiNardo, that the priest sexually abused him from 1998-2001, while he was at Sacred Heart in Conroe.

From the AP report:

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. He said he reported the incident to church authorities last year. The archdiocese said Wednesday it was “formally presented” with the allegation in August.

The male accuser was flown from the West Coast to Houston to meet with Cardinal DiNardo and archdiocesan officials on August 10. From the AP:

He wrote down notes from the meeting quickly after leaving, and shared a copy of the notes with AP.

“Cardinal seemed dismissive of situation,” the notes read. He also wrote down what he says is a quote from DiNardo: “You should have told us sooner.”

“It was a dismissive tone,” he recalled. “In the back of my head, I was thinking about his comment. I was so mad afterward.”

The archdiocese says it immediately reported the allegations to Child Protective Services. On Tuesday, Montgomery Country issued a warrant for Father La Rosa-Lopez’s arrest on four charges of indecency with a child.

In his capacity as president of the US Catholic bishops’ conference, Cardinal DiNardo will lead a delegation meeting with Pope Francis on Thursday, September 13 to discuss this summer’s revelations of clergy sex abuse in the US, including the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on decades of abuse of some 1,000 children by priests and ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s alleged abuse of a minor as well as seminarians. On August 16, Cardinal DiNardo stated his intention to meet with Pope Francis to address the problem of clerical sex abuse, and asked the Vatican to launch an apostolic visitation to the US to further investigate. Calling the situation in the US Church “a moral catastrophe,” DiNardo said: “I have no illusions about the degree to which trust in the bishops has been damaged by these past sins and failures. It will take work to rebuild that trust.”

According to the AP, the female accuser of Father La Rosa-Lopez said of Cardinal DiNardo: “I am tired of his empty words.”

“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,” she said. “I can’t be quiet.”

 

About Catherine Harmon 571 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.

15 Comments

  1. If Cardinal DiNardo were a priest, these legally verified and credible allegations would require his immediate suspension a divinis and result in his expulsion from clerical status and laicization. Why is he above the law of God and the Church? Why is he not being held accountable to the same norms and standards he has imposed on others? Why is he demanding an investigation of McCarrick when he is avoiding an identical investigation of his own conduct? Is it any wonder that the outrage and disgust of the faithful continues to climb to fever pitch?

    • After reading the content – It seems to me Cardinal DiNardo acted appropriately in each of the reports published. Empty words? – CPS/Law enforcement was contacted as is required and I do agree these abuse & abuse allegations need to be objectively handled by an independent third party who is trained and experienced to handle these serious problems – not the church. – “empty words” seems to me he took the required “ACTION” to report the information to CPS when it was brought to his attention – not empty words but “ACTION”.

      • Not so. The article cites the fact that DiNardo failed to follow his own Archdiocese’s sexual abuse norms and violated his explicit promise to one victim to sanction LaRose-Lopez. The female sexual abuse victim was “promised in a meeting with DiNardo, several years after she first reported abuse, that the priest would be removed from any contact with children,” LaRosa-Lopez continued to serve as pastor at St. John Fisher in Richmond. As of this writing, he is still listed on the parish website as the pastor, and his pastor’s page indicates that the parish has some 900 families. The AP confirmed with the archdiocese that LaRosa-Lopez has been at the parish since 2004. According to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston website, LaRosa-Lopez is also the episcopal vicar for Hispanics for the diocese, and it was his work in this latter position that alerted his alleged female victim to take action.

  2. “In 2001 the female accuser and her family reported to diocesan officials that the priest had kissed and inappropriately touched the then 16-year-old girl; the priest denied the charges, and the diocese, then under the episcopal leadership of Joseph Fiorenza, relayed the information to Child Protective Services, according to the archdiocesan statement.”

    So: the female accuser reported her accusation to the diocese who relayed the information to Child Protective Services. So, did they investigate? Did they find the allegations credible, or not? “The girl and her family did not pursue legal action against the priest, and shortly thereafter left the country, according to the archdiocese.”

    If the CPS investigation didn’t find the allegations credible, what was the diocese supposed to do? If the CPS did find the allegations credible, then why would the family have to be the ones to “pursue legal actions against the police?” And if what they mean is swear out a complaint, why didn’t the family do that? Was the diocese told that the allegations were credible, or not?

    “Then LaRosa-Lopez was brought in for about 10 minutes, she confronted him about the abuse and he apologized.”

    In the presence of witnesses? Did he admit guilt? Do the witnesses corroborate this statement?

    “The archdiocese did state that no new allegations of inappropriate actions with minors were made against Father La Rosa-Lopez over the last 17 years. That changed last month, the archdiocese says, when Father La Rosa-Lopez’s male accuser “formally presented an allegation” to archdiocesan officials, including Cardinal DiNardo, that the priest sexually abused him from 1998-2001, while he was at Sacred Heart in Conroe.

    “The archdiocese says it immediately reported the allegations to Child Protective Services. On Tuesday, Montgomery Country issued a warrant for Father La Rosa-Lopez’s arrest on four charges of indecency with a child.”

    Okay; so in this instance a warrant was issued. Why not in the previous one? And the diocese apparently reported the allegations immediately, which is what they were supposed to do.

    “The male accuser wrote, ““Cardinal seemed dismissive of situation,” the notes read. He also wrote down what he says is a quote from DiNardo: “You should have told us sooner.”

    ““It was a dismissive tone,” he recalled. “In the back of my head, I was thinking about his comment. I was so mad afterward.””

    A dismissive tone is a matter of opinion.

    So: One accuser and her family makes an accusation, and from the article we have no way of knowing what the results of CPS’ investigations are, but the family doesn’t do anything else about it. The second accuser waits seventeen years to say anything, and until he did so the diocese would have had no way of knowing about the alleged abuse. And then they accuse Cardinal DiNardo “of not doing enough to prevent the priest from abusing other children.”

    Father da Rosa-Lopez may be as guilty as sin. Or he may be innocent. But I really don’t see how Cardinal di Nardo is to blame, and unless the CPS reported to the diocese that the allegations of the first witness were credible or substantiated, I don’t see how they are to blame, either, unless they are supposed to presume that he was guilty because someone accused him.

    • Interesting speculations, but the gist of the two victims’ allegations is that Cardinal DiNardo as Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston failed to follow or to implement the sexual abuse norms established by his own Archdiocese and binding upon him as a matter not of Texas state law but as a matter of Church law.

      Child Protective Services is a Texas state agency charged with criminal and civil investigation of sexual abuse violations under Texas state law that is separate from and independent of the Catholic canon law and moral law investigation by the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston Victim Assistance Coordinator and Archdiocesan Review Board.

      The “Policy and Procedure For Investigating Allegations of Sexual Abuse By Clergy Against a Minor Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston” state:

      “6. The Bishop or his delegate shall arrange to promptly meet with the accused cleric to inform him of the allegation. In this meeting the accused cleric should be:
      a. informed of the allegation against him;
      b. encouraged to retain the assistance of civil and canonical counsel;
      c. encouraged to utilize spiritual direction; and
      d. informed if any restrictions are placed upon him or his ministry during the period of investigation, up to and including being relieved of ministry and/or the parish.
      7. If the cleric admits the allegation, the Bishop will consult with the Review Board regarding the appropriate action to be taken. The cleric will be urged to have a medical and psychological evaluation. If it is deemed advisable, he will be urged to participate in a residential treatment program. He will be removed permanently from ministry, and if the case so warrants, dismissed from the clerical state (Canon 1395). The cleric will be informed that he may not wear clerical garb, nor may he present himself publicly as a priest.”

      • Cardinal Di Nardo wasn’t the bishop in the case of the first accusation.

        “Child Protective Services is a Texas state agency charged with criminal and civil investigation of sexual abuse violations under Texas state law that is separate from and independent of the Catholic canon law and moral law investigation by the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston Victim Assistance Coordinator and Archdiocesan Review Board.”

        Yes, but Catholic canon and moral law don’t apply if the accused person didn’t do anything. So there has to be an investigation of the allegations. The Church clearly can’t do the detective work while the CPS investigation is going on, or they would be accused of interfering in an investigation. I would think that if the CPS investigation found no credible case, then the Church would also consider the priest innocent of the charges; or else they would also investigate and perhaps also found no credible case. Or perhaps both CPS and the diocese found a credible case, or perhaps one decided credible and the other not. Which is why before we can judge one way or the other we need to know whether the girl’s charges were actually credible, either in CPS’s eyes or of the Church. We can’t tell that from the article.

        “6. The Bishop or his delegate shall arrange to promptly meet with the accused cleric to inform him of the allegation. In this meeting the accused cleric should be:
        a. informed of the allegation against him;
        b. encouraged to retain the assistance of civil and canonical counsel;
        c. encouraged to utilize spiritual direction; and
        d. informed if any restrictions are placed upon him or his ministry during the period of investigation, up to and including being relieved of ministry and/or the parish.”

        Do we have any information that this didn’t happen?

        (And the “encouraged to utilize spiritual direction” really doesn’t seem to fit in with those other things. Especially if the person is innocent, when the spiritual direction would presumably be to bear suffering patiently and forgive those who accuse him falsely. Not that I’m claiming in this case that the priest was innocent; I have no way of knowing, but it does seem like an odd place to put that requirement.)

        “7. If the cleric admits the allegation, the Bishop will consult with the Review Board regarding the appropriate action to be taken. ”

        The article indicates that the cleric in question denied the allegation. All of the rest of the things in that paragraph therefore do not apply. It all hinges on the CPS investigation and whatever investigation the diocese did.

        Once again, I’m not claiming that he is innocent or that he is guilty. I am presuming his innocence until I see some evidence other than an accusation.

        • You are ignoring the fact that LaRosa-Lopez in fact did admit his guilt in the investigation under Fiorenza, apologized in front of Archdiocesan officials to the victim, and was sanctioned by Fiorenza and DiNardo with a prohibition against contact with minors.

          • I read the article and the linked articles, and nowhere did I see any confirmation of the victim’s claim that he admitted his guilt, apologized, and was sanctioned. We are hearing one person’s version of the story. It may be true. It may not.

            “You are ignoring the fact that LaRosa-Lopez in fact did admit his guilt in the investigation under Fiorenza,”

            “the priest denied the charges, and the diocese, then under the episcopal leadership of Joseph Fiorenza, relayed the information to Child Protective Services, according to the archdiocesan statement.” Judging from the article, he did not admit his guilt in the investigation under Fiorenza. The female accuser says that he apologized to her (in a meeting with diocesan officials including DiNardo. It may be true. It may not.

            Again, I am not defending Fr. La Rosa-Lopez. I’ve never met him, I’ve never heard of him before, I have no way of knowing whether he is guilty or innocent. I am just refusing to consider him guilty without more evidence than the articles provide and without any sort of trial.

          • Why? So I can rush to convict someone before there’s a trial, on the presumption that to be accused is to be guilty?

    • All of this is speculation based on media reports that we all know slant people’s opinions through their own lens of prejudice, misinformation and political gain. Words are twisted, half truths ruin people’s lives and reputation and the truth is rarely sought after with respect and dignity. Just because an accusation is made, it does not prove guilt. Innocent until proven guilty seems to have been twisted here as well. This story has too many holes to point the finger and declare a mass guilty verdict. I wouldn’t be surprised if, by the grace of God, the truth comes to light.

  3. I have known Father Manuel for 15 years. Never have I had any reason to think he would do such a thing. Yes, the “allegations” need to be investigated, however the damage is done to Father Manuel even if he is not guilty. The diocese did the correct thing when the 1st accuser family did not press-charges and left he country. How can you do a proper investigation with no complainant and no evidence to look into? I still support Father in prayer and believe he is not guilty. I’m sad that I will not get to hear his homilies and that great sense of humor.

    • “The diocese did the correct thing when the 1st accuser family did not press-charges and left he country. How can you do a proper investigation with no complainant and no evidence to look into?”

      Apparently the answer is, “You just assume that if he’s accused, he’s guilty,” according to some poeple.

      If he is innocent, I hope that he is vindicated, and publicly. If he is guilty, I hope he is found to be so and all the appropriate punishments are given, and that he repents.

      • I agree Leslie. Sadly though if he is found not guilty he is ruined for life in the public eye. There is no “story” for the press if he is not guilty, only salacious news sells these days. I do feel that if he truly did this he would take his punishment without delay and not be a coward. If you knew him and attended his masses you would feel his devotion to his parishioners and our church, and God.

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