Ex-Conroe priest accused of rape, propositioning clergy for sex
By Nicole Hensley
December 15, 2019
|Former priest Manuel La Rosa-Lopez is seen during a hearing in the 435th state District Court of Judge Patty Maginnis, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, in Conroe. Trial for La Rosa-Lopez is set for Feb. 18, 2020.|
Photo by Jason Fochtman
A Houston-area priest allegedly propositioned another priest for sex in the months before he was arrested and jailed in 2018 on multiple counts of indecency with a child, according to court records mistakenly made public this week.
In the newly filed documents, Montgomery County prosecutors also say Manuel La Rosa-Lopez raped a woman in 2005. Prosecutors outlined both allegations in a “notice of extraneous conduct and/or bad acts” ahead of the priest’s February trial. The latest encounter happened in May 2018 when La Rosa-Lopez allegedly exposed himself to another priest at a Galveston County hotel and asked for oral sex. After the priest declined, the accused cleric then asked him if he would “like to be assigned to a larger parish.”
The priest, identified by initials in court records, reported the incident to Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston officials that same month, court records show. La Rosa-Lopez, then assigned to St. John the Fisher Catholic Church in Richmond, continued to work for at least three more months until he was removed from ministry ahead of his Sept. 11 arrest on allegations that he molested two children at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe.
The 10-page document indicates that the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office has identified at least five accusers with allegations of inappropriate encounters dating back nearly 30 years. It also includes a list of potential witnesses — among them Cardinal Daniel DiNardo — who prosecutors say may have had knowledge of the incidents.
Prosecutor Nancy Hebert said the document, signed on Thursday and uploaded to La Rosa-Lopez’s case file, was supposed to be sealed and not publicly available. A signed order to seal the record also was uploaded and made public.
The same document also alleges that in 2005, La Rosa-Lopez “groped and raped” a woman at a Sugar Land church where he was attending meetings. About a week after La Rosa-Lopez’s arrest, a report of that allegation was lodged with Sugar Land Police Department.
The allegation was too old to produce charges, Sugar Land police spokesman Doug Adolph said. Conroe Police Department detectives, however, were contacted because of their investigation into the priest, he said.
Archdiocese officials on Friday referred questions to La Rosa-Lopez’s lawyer, Wendell Odom, who denied the rape allegation.
“We adamantly deny raping anybody at any time,” Odom said. “If the state believes that happened, I think they’re the only who does.”
Odom said he only learned about the alleged misconduct involving another priest this week.
“If it’s true, that’s clearly a church issue,” he continued. “I don’t think that’s a crime.”
Eduardo Lopez de Casas, head of Houston’s chapter of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, found the latest allegations “disappointing.”
“Here in Houston, nothing surprises us anymore because we know there is so much extra baggage still in the closet,” Lopez de Casas said.
La Rosa-Lopez, since his arrest, has been indicted on five counts of indecency with a child involving three accusers — two men and a woman. One of the men whose allegation resulted in a criminal charge said La Rosa-Lopez groped him in 1999 when he was a child helping out at the Montgomery County parish. The accuser said La Rosa-Lopez tried being inappropriate with him on a trip to Rome and that the priest called the boy’s mother to say he should be “less rebellious.”
The priest also was charged in connection with two incidents involving confessional — in 2000 when he allegedly exposed his genitals to a boy who was confused about his sexual orientation, and again in 2001, when he allegedly groped a girl.
Another incident outlined in the prosecutors’ list happened in 1992, but has not resulted in a criminal charge. The priest, then a seminarian at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Houston, inappropriately touched an altar boy, according to court records.