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.”