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Search warrant reveals scope of priest sex abuse probe

November 30, 2018

A sweeping search warrant used to enter the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston was aimed at learning everything about the accused pedophile priest, Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, from his time as a seminarian to his final parish assignment in Richmond.

The search warrant affidavit released Thursday was what allowed local law enforcement officials to walk out of the church headquarters Wednesday on San Jacinto Street with several boxes of evidence. As their 12-hour hunt for records ended that night, Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon called the search “fruitful.”

“We found several things specifically on point,” said Ligon, as investigators packed up.

Among the records being sought were the names of therapists who may have treated La Rosa-Lopez and what their opinion was after he underwent counseling in the early 2000s. A diary that La Rosa-Lopez was required to keep while working as a priest was on their list, but it eluded investigators at three prior raids at the Shalom Center in Splendora, Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe and St. John Fisher Church in Richmond.

It was not clear if the diary was found when authorities searched the archdiocese.

Some of the records investigators were looking for would have been stored in the office of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the head of the local archdiocese and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He and Sister Maureen O’Connell have met with child sex abuse accusers, including the two whose claims prompted the criminal investigation over the summer.

In the affidavit, Conroe police Detective Joe McGrew said he believed “there would be notes, recommendations, impressions, or any records of action or investigation taken” during their meetings. Those documents would “be in the care of Sister O’Connell or Cardinal DiNardo in their respective offices,” he wrote in the 12-page single-spaced document.

La Rosa-Lopez has been charged with four counts of indecency with a child for incidents that began in 1998 and spanned three years. He was ordered to undergo treatment at the Shalom Center after the family of an accuser confronted the church about his misconduct.

A third accuser came forward in October to say La Rosa-Lopez, then a seminarian, molested him in the early 1990s. The accuser has since been interviewed by the Texas Rangers.

La Rosa-Lopez has not been charged in connection to the latest accuser, but McGrew’s request to search the archdiocese acknowledges his claim.

So far, McGrew has obtained two documents related to the third accuser, which he described as two 26-year-old letters. The first correspondence was from a lawyer hired by the archdiocese to investigate “whether the church was required to notify CPS” of La Rosa-Lopez. The other letter was from former Bishop Joseph Fiorenza stating that another “psychological examination will be conducted before admittance into the seminary.”

The search warrant reveals archdiocese lawyers have handed detectives other correspondence to-and-from the Vatican about whether La Rosa-Lopez was fit to return to “priestly services.”

“A ‘moral opinion’ was sought from the Holy See relating to whether a Canon Law was violated during the confessional,” the document reads, adding that the record would be retained at the church offices.

The detective deduced from several documents that an archdiocese review board recommended La Rosa-Lopez be “placed back in service.” He was then assigned to the St. John Fisher Church.

DiNardo, in an opinion column in Tuesday’s Houston Chronicle, said “this archdiocese takes every allegation of wrongdoing brought to our attention seriously and is fully cooperating—with any and all investigations related to the clergy abuse of minors.

“We recognize the only way to resolve the abuse crisis and restore trust with the faithful is to address any and all accusations of abuse squarely and transparently

nicole.hensley@chron.com

jay.jordan@chron.com

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