Sexual Abuse Scandal Hits Houston’s Churches – Will Victims Get Justice?

by Terry Bryant

It’s heartbreaking to see stories about sexual abuse within the ranks of organizations as essential to our communities as churches. While it would be comforting to believe that these acts happened long ago in far off places, it’s now clear that Houston’s churches are not immune from the scourge of sexual predators committing unspeakable abuses against children.

The “secret archives” of Galveston-Houston’s archdiocese are currently being investigated by the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office. These files are being reviewed as part of an investigation stemming from a criminal case involving Father Manuel LaRosa-Lopez, a former Conroe priest who was arrested earlier this year and charged with four counts of indecency with a child.

Dozens of investigators swarmed the Chancery in downtown Houston on Wednesday, retrieving confidential documents and secret archives that might provide further information about the molestation charges against LaRosa-Lopez.

The Texas Rangers and Conroe Police Department are also working with the Montgomery County DA. According to KHOU 11, Brett Ligon, the district attorney of Montgomery County, said that if the investigation uncovers documents about potential criminal activity involving other priests elsewhere in the state, the Rangers would continue to pursue those leads.

The Houston-Area Priest is Currently the Target of the Investigation

Father LaRosa-Lopez has been accused by a man and a woman of sexual abuse during his time at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe. Both accusers were underage when the alleged abuse occurred.

ABC 13 provided a timeline of the sexual abuse allegations against LaRosa-Lopez.

The first alleged instance of abuse involved a young male in 1999, while the second involved a young female in 2000. The young female and her family first reported the alleged abuse to the church in 2001, after which LaRosa-Lopez was transferred, and the female accuser moved to Israel with her family.

In 2010, the female accuser again reported the abuse to the church after moving back to the area and learning that LaRosa-Lopez was still working.

In August 2018, the male accuser met with Cardinal DiNardo and, later that month, the two accusers filed separate police reports to the Conroe Police Department. On Sept. 11, LaRosa-Lopez turned himself in to police. He was bonded out of jail two days later. His next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 10, 2019.

Since the investigation began, two more individuals have made similar allegations against LaRosa-Lopez.

The Investigation Thrusts Cardinal Daniel DiNardo into the Spotlight

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, who oversees the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, is reportedly cooperating with investigators, though comments from the District Attorney indicate that the Archdiocese’s cooperation fell short of what he would consider complete.

The search warrant itself points to the fact that investigators had to clear legal hurdles to access files. LaRosa-Lopez’s accusers also allege that Cardinal DiNardo failed to take appropriate measures to ensure that the priest would not remain in contact with children. Even after Cardinal DiNardo was made aware of the allegations, LaRosa-Lopez remained in active ministry at St. John Fisher Church.

A Familiar Pattern of Abuse and a Lack of Accountability

More than 20 priests in the Houston area have faced claims of molestation, yet only three have been jailed for those charges, according to the Houston Chronicle. These developments come as no surprise to anyone that has followed previous sexual abuse scandals involving members of the church.

From Netflix documentaries like The Keepers to Oscar-winning films like Spotlight, the disturbing history of abusers within the ranks of the church and ensuing coverups by church hierarchy have been told and re-told, yet too many victims of abuse haven’t been given the justice they deserve.

For decades, sexual predators have been protected by church organizations. Children have placed trust in their pastors, priests, and churches, and that trust has been violated in the cruelest possible manner.

Hopefully, the Texas criminal justice system will ensure that the abusers and their enablers are held accountable so these abuses will end. But for those who have already suffered irreparable harm at the hands of sexual predators, there are legal options available through civil actions.

The law firm of Terry Bryant has experience handling sexual abuse cases, and we can help victims take legal action against those that have wronged them.

If you or a loved one has been abused and you want to explore your legal options, we are here to help. Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. The conversation will be fully confidential.