Former Conroe priest sued over allegation he flashed teen during confession

By Nicole Hensley And Massarah Mikati
April 9, 2019

Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, a former priest at Conroe's Sacred Heart Catholic Church, makes his way into the 435th state District Court of Judge Patty Maginnis on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019 in Conroe. La Rosa-Lopez was charged with four counts of indecency with a child.
Photo by Cody Bahn

Manuel La Rosa-Lopez is pictured in the "Clergy Pictorial Directory" by what was then known as the Diocese of Galveston-Houston after his posting to the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe, where two former parishioners say he sexually abused them.

The exterior of Conroe Sacred Heart Catholic Church is seen on Jan. 23, 2019, in Conroe.
Photo by Jason Fochtman

Authorities load evidence into a Conroe Police Department vehicle as they conduct a search of the Chancery of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston on Nov. 28, 2018 in Houston. This is the fourth search executed in a joint law enforcement investigation of Father Manuel LaRosa-Lopez, a Catholic priest who has been charged with four felony...
Photo by Mark Mulligan

A former Conroe priest already charged with molesting two teens is accused in a new lawsuit of exposing himself in a church confessional booth to another teen parishioner who was trying to come out as gay.

The man, who lives in Conroe and is identified only by his initials, said he was 15 in 2000 when he entered the confessional to speak to Father Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, who peppered him with “vulgar questions” about his sexuality, according to the suit.

“Do you fantasize about men?” La Rosa-Lopez asked, according to court documents.

The priest then made lewd remarks to the teen in Spanish before he opened the partition window to show his exposed genitals, the suit says.

The teen bolted from the booth and stopped attending Mass at the church soon after, his lawyer David Matthews of Houston said this week. The incident caused him to experience anxiety, depression, alcohol dependence and shame about his sexual orientation, according to court documents.

The accuser — now an adult studying to be a mental health counselor — kept the incident secret until 2017 when he told his therapist what happened, Matthews said. The man has since spoken to the Conroe Police Department about the allegation, Matthews said.

“He has spent and continues to spend time and money on years of therapy and medication,” the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit, filed in Harris County court, names Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe and the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, seeking unspecified damages.

The archdiocese referred questions about the lawsuit to La Rosa-Lopez’s lawyer, Wendell Odom, who did not return a phone call requesting comment.

La Rosa-Lopez was charged in September with four counts of indecency with a child stemming from allegations raised by two accusers — a man and woman — who said he molested them at the Conroe church from 1998 to 2000 when they were teens.

La Rosa-Lopez was removed from the ministry pending the outcome of the investigations, archdiocese officials said. He was among two priests facing current investigations for child sex abuse on Jan. 31, when 14 of the Catholic dioceses in Texas released the names of “credibly accused” clergy members with allegations dating back to the 1940s and 1950s.

Matthews said the archdiocese should have removed La Rosa-Lopez from the priesthood decades ago, after the first known complaint was lodged against him in 1992.

La Rosa-Lopez, then a seminarian, was accused of having inappropriate contact with an altar boy at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Houston, according to court papers. The child and his family made a complaint to church leaders at the time, prompting La Rosa-Lopez to be removed from the church.

He was ordered to undergo “spiritual and psychological evaluations” before he was allowed to continue his priestly studies, and was ordained in 1996, according to a sworn statement from police.

The allegation at St. Thomas More has not resulted in criminal charges or civil litigation against La Rosa-Lopez but details of the complaints were referenced in a search warrant that authorities used in November 2018 to enter the archdiocese chancery to seize records.

“This priest was a problem,” Matthews said. “He was a criminal who they have harbored. They had plenty of opportunities to take care of the problem.”

In 2001 — the year after the alleged incident in the Sacred Heart confessional — the father of a female teenager accused the priest of having an inappropriate relationship with his daughter while he was assigned to the Montgomery County parish. The allegation prompted the church to send La Rosa-Lopez to the Shalom Center, a rehabilitation facility for wayward clergy in Splendora, according to court papers. He left the facility after eight months and was later reassigned to St. John the Fisher Catholic Church in Richmond.

The male accuser later accused La Rosa-Lopez of repeatedly fondling him from 1998 to 2000. His allegations — and that of the other teen — formed the basis of the criminal charges against the priest.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.