Conroe Priest Accused of Sex Abuse of Teens Makes Court Appearance
By Chauncy Glover
January 9, 2019
A Conroe priest who is accused of abusing two parishioners when they were teenagers faced a judge in Harris County Thursday.
Prosecutors called the case "slow moving," and said it could be towards the end of the year before it officially goes on trial.
Father Manuel La Rosa-Lopez was charged with four counts of indecency with a child.
La Rosa-Lopez turned himself in to authorities at the Montgomery County Jail in September 2018.
His court appearance Thursday was procedural, and consisted of his defense attorney updating the judge on their status.
One of the alleged victims, who is only going by "Ann," spoke exclusively to ABC13 in September about coming forward about the alleged abuse, which happened nearly two decades ago.
"I can't believe it's happening," she said. "I'm kinda in shock right now and very numb."
Ann and another person were allegedly abused as teens in separate locations at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in the late 1990s to early 2000s.
According to court documents, back in April 2000, Ann told her family Lopez had sexually abused her. In 2001, they told the church. Lopez was transferred, but no police report was ever made.
"I had a lot of guilt because I felt I was doing something wrong," she said. "I hated myself. I felt dirty and I was always terrified that if people find out about this, what are they going to think about me?"
Court documents say Ann reported the abuse to the church again in 2010, after discovering that Lopez was working at a church in Richmond. She decided to file a police report when a friend advised her that the statute of limitations no longer applied.
Seeing the recent coverage of sex abuse claims by priests in Pennsylvania also compelled her to speak out.
"I'm disgusted. I'm disgusted that there is so much of this and so little action. I'm tired of all the empty words and reassurance we'll do all these things. It's not a very victim-friendly church," she told ABC13.
Ann says she has a message for other victims, if they're out there: Don't be afraid to speak up.
"I'm just one voice and it's just one priest. If we don't all speak out, nothing is going to change. And that's very sad," she said.
Ann says she knows this is only the beginning, but she is ready to fight a battle that is long overdue.
"I would say to my 16-year-old self, 'It is not your fault and you are lovable,'" she said. "Because that is what I went so long without feeling."
The second alleged victim also filed a police report, claiming Lopez sexually abused him when he was young.
The Galveston-Houston Archdiocese provided ABC13 a detailed statement about the allegations.
"In 2001, a then-16 year old girl and her family notified this Archdiocese that Fr. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez had kissed and touched her inappropriately when he was assigned as Parochial Vicar at Sacred Heart in Conroe. We immediately referred this information to Children's Protective Services for further investigation. Father La Rosa-Lopez denied touching the girl inappropriately, and the girl's family decided not to pursue the matter, relocating out of the country that same year. 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.
Following her return to the U.S., the Archdiocese, in accordance with our commitment to provide pastoral outreach, provided the young woman with counseling services for a period of time, until she decided to discontinue her therapy.
For the last 17 years, no other allegations of inappropriate conduct involving minors were presented against Father La Rosa-Lopez until 2018.
During an interview in Houston on August 10, 2018, a 36 year old man formally presented an allegation to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston stating that Fr. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez sexually abused him from 1998 through 2001, when he was a high school student and Father La Rosa-Lopez was still assigned at Sacred Heart in Conroe. The Archdiocese immediately reported this allegation to Children's Protective Services as well. Father La Rosa-Lopez has denied these allegations of sexual abuse.
Yesterday, the district attorney of Montgomery County issued an arrest warrant for Father La Rosa-Lopez, which we understand is the result of the above reports. Father La Rosa-Lopez voluntarily turned himself into the Conroe Police Department last evening.
We take these matters very seriously, which is why we reported the information we received from both individuals to CPS -- and removed Father La Rosa-Lopez from ministry. We are pledged to cooperate with the civil authorities in their investigation.
The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston recognizes it clearly has both a legal and a moral obligation to address any incidence of abuse -- sexual or otherwise -- to God's children. Such behavior simply will not be tolerated. To anyone affected by any form of abuse by anyone who represents the Church, the Archdiocese deeply regrets such a fundamental violation of trust, and commits itself to eliminating such unacceptable actions."
The meeting is part of a Vatican summit between the Pope and American bishops and cardinals.
Lopez's next court date is set for March 28.