Accused Priests Identified in Records Seized at Shalom Center in Montgomery County
By Nicole Hensley
December 13, 2018
|Investigators execute a search warrant at the Shalom Center in Splendora on Sept. 19, 2018 in connection with the arrest of Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, a former priest at Conroe’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church. La Photo: Jason Fochtman, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer|
The investigation of a Houston area priest on sexual assault allegations led law enforcement to a cache of files on more than 20 clergy members who faced claims of misconduct over the past decade, including some criminal allegations, according to court records.
The files seized from the Shalom Center in Splendora include details on at least five priests publicly accused of sexual misconduct in Texas, California and Missouri, a Houston Chronicle review found.
The files were listed in an exhaustive inventory stemming from a search warrant executed in September on the Shalom property by Montgomery County law enforcement and Texas Rangers. The files identified priests treated at the center, according to Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Tyler Dunman.
The recent court filings do not disclose the reason for the treatment or when the clergy were at the facility, and Dunman said not all the priests faced criminal allegations.
The pastoral retreat, a wooded property at 13516 Morgan Drive in eastern Montgomery County, is billed as a residential renewal and treatment center that draws its name from the Hebrew greeting. The center provides treatment for up to 20 Catholic priests, nuns and other religious figures for psychological, emotional and sexual problems; addictions; stress; grief; trauma; and interpersonal conflicts, according to its website.
The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, whose offices were also searched last month, does not own or operate the facility although it has sent priests there, including Manuel La Rosa-Lopez after he was accused of molesting a young Sacred Heart Catholic Church parishioner in Conroe. He is now facing four counts of indecency with a child.
Search warrants were also executed in September at the Sacred Heart church and St. John Fisher Church in Richmond, where La Rosa-Lopez was assigned at the time.
Shalom Center Executive Director Daniel Kidd said Thursday he could not discuss individual cases, but said the center treats a wide range of issues, primarily “depression, anxiety and burnout.”
He said the facility does not typically treat pedophilia or ephebophilia, a sexual interest in adolescents, but said some may have checked into the facility.
“Out of 1,800 people in 28 years, yeah, there probably have been an occasional person to be assessed and referred elsewhere if the problem is pedophilia and ephebophilia,” he said.
Kidd said some of the documents seized have been returned to the center.
‘Several bags of shredded documents’
The files seized at the Shalom Center were apparently created in the past decade. According to court documents, Kidd told law enforcement that records were shredded after 10 years, and “several bags of shredded documents” were found during the search in a dining room and under a desk. Several computers, phones, books on sex addiction and a binder labeled “resident intake” were also seized.
Investigators believed Kidd had handed over all of his records on La Rosa-Lopez, but a search of a file cabinet in his office revealed an undisclosed memorandum, according to a sworn statement submitted by a Conroe police detective to obtain the search warrant. The document described a 2001 interview of one of La Rosa-Lopez’s accusers and a note that she “was credible.”
Kidd told an investigator that he had forgotten about the document and later assumed officials would “find it anyway,” according to court papers.
Kidd is listed as the nonprofit’s principal officer in its last available tax record posted in 2014, when it reported an operating budget of $1.3 million.
Nearly a dozen more priests whose files were seized in the search appear to have active assignments at parishes in Texas, Georgia, California, Florida and New Mexico. The Chronicle is not identifying priests who were not named in court records or by church officials.
Houston area allegations
Two former priests from the Houston area — La Rosa-Lopez and Stephen Horn — were among those whose files were seized.
Soon after Cardinal Daniel DiNardo was promoted to his post with the archdiocese in 2008, he announced that Horn had been removed from the ministry after “credible evidence” that he sexually abused a boy from 1989 to 1993 at Christ the King Catholic Church in north Houston.
Horn had been assigned to St. Luke the Evangelist Catholic Church in southeast Houston when the allegations emerged, but was removed from that post when the claim was reported to the archdiocese in November 2007. Details were not available on when he was sent to the Shalom Center.
Our editorial only at HoustonChronicle.com:
Information on La Rosa-Lopez’s treatment at the Shalom Center was found at his residence at St. John Fisher Church in Richmond, according to the sworn statement. He was sent to the facility from April 2001 to January 2002, the records show.
Additional records found at the Splendora facility stated a review board considered whether La Rosa-Lopez should be re-assigned to a new parish. The following year, La Rosa-Lopez was assigned to the Richmond parish.
Three accusers have now spoken to investigators about La Rosa-Lopez. Two say the priest sexually abused them while at Sacred Heart and a third says he was abused at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, where La Rosa-Lopez worked while in seminary, according to court records.
The Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office is continuing to investigate La Rosa-Lopez.
Other Texas priests accused
A priest from the Corpus Christi area was also among those whose name appeared in the 23 pages of evidence seized at the Shalom Center.
John Feminelli was sued twice for alleged misconduct at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Corpus Christi. The mother of an accuser claimed Feminelli, then a deacon, was grooming her teenage son for a sexual relationship by buying him lavish gifts, the Houston Chronicle reported in 1992.
Despite the mother’s protests, Feminelli was ordained in 1987 because the church did not believe her son to be a credible witness. The church, however, recommended that Feminelli undergo “intense counseling with regards to his prudence and his ability to form adult relationships,” the Chronicle reported at the time.
Feminelli has since retired but celebrated mass at Immaculate Conception Church in Gregory near Corpus Christi, according to a church newsletter published last year.
A North Texas priest was also named in the inventory of seized documents.
Priest Matthew Bagert was caught looking at a nude photo of a child on a computer at the rectory of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Grand Prairie in 2005. Another priest saw him and alerted the Diocese of Dallas, according to court documents.
A search uncovered another 600 images and Bagert admitted to investigators that he had been viewing child pornography since 1997, when he was a priest assigned to St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Plano.
Bagert pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography in 2009. During sentencing, Bagert told a federal judge he had received counseling at the Shalom Center and was in therapy to treat his urge to view child porn, the Dallas Morning News reported at the time.
Bagert was released from a federal prison in 2013 and is a registered sex offender in Plano, under the name Father Matthew Allen Bagert.
Out of state
The files also included a member of the Society of Precious Blood religious order who spent time at the Shalom Center.
The Diocese of Jefferson City in Missouri announced last month that the priest, Deusdedit Mulokozi, had been expelled from the church as one of 33 clergy who had been credibly accused. Church officials said he was found to be “unsuitable for ministry out of concern for the safety of our youth.”
A priest identified in the files as Louis Perreault appeared on a list of credibly accused clergy released last month by the Diocese of San Bernardino in California.
Perreault was accused of child sexual abuse from 1990 to 1992 while he was assigned to Our Lady of the Valley in Hemet, California, according to the diocese. Church officials said they became aware of the claim in September 2011 and reported it to police that month.
By then, Perrault had already retired, having left in 2000 because of health problems. He was not authorized to perform priestly duties, a diocese spokesman said, and was “permanently banned from ministry in the diocese” in 2011.
Other documents seized included papers described as a “psych eval” for a priest removed from his Conway Springs, Kansas, parish in January.
The priest, Andrew Seiler, was removed from St. Joseph Catholic Church after taking a group of boys on a hiking trip with no other adults in 2017. No abuse was reported after the hike, but he was ordered to undergo “a personal and priestly assessment,” the Wichita Eagle reported.
The evaluation was found on a desk at the Shalom Center, according to court records.
The Diocese of Wichita announced in May that Seiler was reassigned as an associate to the Catholic Care Center, a retirement facility in Wichita.
Eager to ‘excuse’
The Shalom Center operated at a Montrose location when it was first established in 1980 after former Bishop John Morkovsky commissioned a study on the needs of church personnel. It saw 50 to 75 clients a month for counseling and treatment of what was described as “severe emotional problems,” according to a Chronicle article in 1987. It also provided screening of clergy candidates.
The Splendora inpatient facility opened in 1990.
A survey commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Bishops in 1995 identified the Shalom Center in Splendora as one of eight facilities that treated clergy with issues that included sexual and other addictions, and those who faced “accusations of present or past alleged inappropriate sexual behaviors.”
The conference’s Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse heard from 127 dioceses nationwide that reported using one or more of the eight facilities, including the Shalom Center. The Splendora retreat garnered a satisfaction rating of 3.8 out of 5, according to the review.
The committee, however, recommended in its report that the Shalom Center not be used for severe cases.
“Sometimes too eager to ‘excuse’ priest offender,” the review noted.