Galveston-Houston Archdiocese housing former Conroe priest accused of sex abuse at retirement community
By Nicole Hensley
September 28, 2018
A former Conroe priest facing decades-old child molestation accusations has been staying at a gated retirement community in southwest Houston while out on bail, according to officials.
The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has been housing Manuel Larosa-Lopez at the St. Dominic Village along Holcombe Boulevard after he was released on a $375,000 bond two weeks ago, the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office confirmed. The property is fenced off save for a guarded driveway.
The diocese touts the village, which includes a senior home and about a dozen apartments for retired priests south of the Brays Bayou, as providing “all the comforts of home” on its website.
Larosa-Lopez was arrested Sept. 11 on four counts of indecency with a child for alleged sexual misconduct dating back to 1998. The abuse lasted at least three years and targeted a boy and a girl who attended the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe, according to an arrest affidavit. The priest walked out of the Montgomery County Jail the next day after a mystery benefactor paid his bail.
The vow of poverty would have prevented Larosa-Lopez from having the financial resources to pay his way out, said Wendell Odom, the priest’s lawyer. He declined to reveal who supplied the funds, whether it was the diocese or an individual.
An archdiocese spokesman declined to comment, other than to say the church “is cooperating fully with the civil authorities in their investigation.”
“This has been a person who has done a lot of good work and a lot of people are supportive of him,” Odom told the Houston Chronicle. “The person who has paid his bail has done so in confidence.”
Four bond payments — three for $75,000 and a fourth for $150,000 — dated Sept. 12 fail to provide further insight. The documents list two addresses for Larosa-Lopez, including his latest parish assignment at the St. John Fisher Church in Richmond. A second address points to a diocese-owned property in the 6400 block of Brookside Drive in retired Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza’s name, according to Harris County Appraisal District records.
Conroe bondswoman Renell Pedigo handled the payments, but when reached last week, she said only Odom would know the source of the funds.
The source of the payments is a curiosity to Assistant District Attorney Tyler Durman, who is prosecuting the case.
“If the church is paying it, it makes your head tilt sideways,” he said, adding that “it doesn’t change how we go about our investigation.”
On Wednesday, Montgomery County Assistant Attorney John McKinney Jr. asked the state Office of the Attorney General on Wednesday to reject the Chronicle’s request to access Larosa-Lopez’s bond payment records, believing that the information would “interfere with the prosecution” of the case.
The criminal charges against Larosa-Lopez are a rarity in light of the Roman Catholic Church’s attempts to cover up sex abuse scandals. Last month, a nearly 900-page grand jury report in Pennsylvania found a pattern of protection surrounding more than 300 priests accused of sexual misconduct.
Terry McKiernan has kept logs on about 4,600 cases of abusive priests for the watchdog website Bishop Accountability, with the oldest claims dating back to the 1960s. Of that number, he said only 13 percent have wound up in the criminal justice system. He sees Larosa-Lopez’ post-jail housing with the Archdiocese as a classic attempt to “shield him from your attention.”
“Monitoring is really at subject in all this. It’s hard to tell if the priests are being kept in or if you’re being kept out,” he said. “The last they want is for him to misbehave in any way. That’s not good for them.”
After reading the three-page affidavit detailing Larosa-Lopez’s alleged abuse, McKiernan said “this is a person you don’t want to have in the streets, let alone a parish.”
Despite the shroud of mystery, Larosa-Lopez’ lawyer does not see his client’s release and continued residence on church property as a sign of protection.
“Just because he’s still living in the church property doesn’t mean they’re still supporting him,” Odom said. “The diocese is in a really difficult position here.”
The conditions of Larosa-Lopez’s release require him to wear a GPS device and not to have contact with children. He is also barred from church activities as the criminal investigation continues, Odom said.
He sees Larosa-Lopez’s arrest as a warning to clergy members.
“Beware any priest right now for any contact he has had 20 years ago with someone because it could turn on you,” Odom added. “You’re going to be in a bunker mentality.”