Houston police open criminal probe into Catholic priest
The Houston Police Department’s Special Victims Division has opened a criminal investigation of a Catholic priest after two alleged victims accused the cleric of sexually abusing them as children, officials said.
Investigators would not identify the priest, but the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has already disclosed that it forwarded two complaints to Houston police about Father John Keller, a priest at Prince of Peace Catholic Community who has been temporarily removed from ministry pending an investigation.
The two complaints are among four reported to the Special Victim’s Division since Jan. 31, when the archdiocese released the names of 40 priests “credibly accused” of child sex abuse and identified two others — including Keller — who were under investigation.
A third victim has not responded to calls from investigators, police spokeswoman Jodi Silva said. A fourth person mailed a letter outlining an allegation that was too old for criminal charges to be considered but authorities will look into the claim to help build a case, she said.
Police would not say how many priests were identified by the four accusers.
The results of the investigation, which Silva said could take months, will be presented to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to determine if the priest will be charged with a crime.
Meanwhile, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office has found “insufficient evidence to support criminal charges” against another Catholic priest from a 2015 complaint about inappropriate conduct. Authorities took a second look at the claim “in light of the church’s recent decision to publicly release information about past allegations,” said sheriff’s spokesman Jason Spencer. No criminal charges were ever filed.
The allegation was referred to the agency from a third party that was not the archdiocese, Spencer said. The priest in that case was likewise not identified.
Law enforcement authorities would not disclose the years during which the alleged abuse took place. Archdiocese officials said the allegations against Keller dated back 25 to 40 years.
More than 300 priests were identified as “credibly accused” on Jan. 31, when 14 of the Catholic dioceses in Texas released the results of internal investigations into past allegations since the 1940s and 1950s. Many of the accused priests transferred from church to church, and sometimes from diocese to diocese, and most are now dead.
Among the 40 priests identified by the Houston-area archdiocese were several who faced criminal charges, including Fernando Noe Guzman, who was convicted of molesting a 14-year-old girl in her grandfather’s house in Navasota in 1992. He died in 2006.
The archdiocese received at least two sex abuse complaints against Keller in more than 10 years. The first known allegation was reported in 2001 by a woman who accused Keller of engaging in an inappropriate relationship with her ninth-grade son, but the archdiocese said at the time that the allegation could not be confirmed. A recent CBS News report identified a man who said he came forward to church leaders in December with a claim of sexual abuse against the pastor.
It was not known if the claims now under investigation by Houston police are either of those two alleged victims.
In addition to Keller, one other priest was identified by the archdiocese as being under investigation. Former Conroe priest Manuel La Rosa-Lopez is awaiting trial on four counts of indecency with a child for abuse alleged to have taken place at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe.
La Rosa-Lopez was most recently assigned to a parish in Richmond. He has also been removed from the ministry.