Cardinal’s meeting with Pope accused of ignoring abuse

This undated photo from the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office shows Father Manuel LaRosa-Lopez. LaRosa-Lopez, was arrested Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, by the police in Conroe, Texas and is accused of fondling two people, when they were teenagers, and he was a priest of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe. He is charged with four counts of indecency with a child. (Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

HOUSTON – As the U.S. Catholic leaders head to the Vatican for a meeting with Pope Francis about a growing church abuse crisis, the cardinal leading the delegation was accused by two people of not doing enough to stop a priest who was arrested this week on sexual abuse charges.

The two people told The Associated Press that they reported the priest, and a meeting with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. One of them says that she was promised in a discussion with DiNardo, a few years after they first reported abuse, that the priest would be removed from any contact with children, only to discover that the priest remained in active service in another parish, 70 miles away.

The priest, Manuel LaRosa-Lopez, was on Tuesday arrested by the police in Conroe, Texas. Both people who spoke to the AP to cooperate with the police.

LaRosa-Lopez, 60, is accused of fondling both people when they were teenagers, and he was a priest of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe. He is charged with four counts of indecency with a child. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

LaRosa-Lopez is now the pastor of the St. John Fisher Catholic Church in Richmond. He is also the archdiocese’s episcopal vicar for Hispanics.

The archdiocese, in a statement Wednesday, confirmed that both people had come forward to report abuse by LaRosa-Lopez, one of them in 2001. The archdiocese said it reported the two allegations to the Child Protective Services, and said that it was not aware of any other “accusations of inappropriate conduct involving minors” against the priest. A spokesman for CPS on Wednesday could not immediately confirm whether the reports had been made. LaRosa-Lopez not immediately return a telephone message Wednesday.

“To anyone who is affected by some form of abuse by someone who stands for the Church of the Archdiocese of regrets, such a fundamental breach of trust, and undertake to eliminate such unacceptable actions,” the archbishop said.

In addition to his responsibilities in Houston, DiNardo is head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a position that has made him a prominent figure in the church reaction to a new wave of accusations that the Catholic leaders covered up sexual abuse. He has a meeting with Pope Francis Thursday at the Vatican.

Both the critics who will say that they went to DiNardo are now in their 30s. The Associated Press usually does not identify victims of sexual abuse cases, and both the people who asked their names be withheld.

One was flown by the church of the west coast to Houston to meet with DiNardo and the victims assistance coordinator for the archdiocese. They met at the archbishop’s palace on the afternoon of Aug. 10.

He wrote the notes from the meeting, soon after leaving to make a copy of the notes with AP.

“Cardinal seemed dismissive of the situation,” the note read. He also wrote on what he says is a quote from DiNardo: “You should have told us sooner.”

“It was a dismissive tone,” he recalled. “In the back of my head, I was thinking about his response. I was so angry then.”

Both said they thought that their cases would be too old to prosecute under statute of limitations laws. But the Texas Legislature in 2007 removed the statute of limitations for indecency with a child cases. Montgomery County prosecutors say that change means that their affairs continue to be eligible to be prosecuted now.

The group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, has called for the Texas attorney-general for research of the Houston archdiocese and others or they are covered with sexual abuse in their ranks.

“DiNardo needs to come clean about what he knows,” said Michael Norris, a member of SNAP.

Both victims say they were teenagers when LaRosa-Lopez tried to be friends with them over a period prior to the initiation of physical contact.

The male victim said that he became interested as a teenager in the accession to the clergy and to the seminary. He began to attend Mass and got to know LaRosa-Lopez. Finally he got a job where he worked nights in Sacred Heart as an assistant.

He remembered LaRosa-Lopez is known as the “touchy-feely,” and that the priest’s contact with him was more physical in the time: the first touch on the arm, then hugging, then a kiss on the cheek.

One night, he said, the priest showed him pictures of young seminarians that “he had a lot of fun with it,” and tried to get the teen clothes off and put his hands on his pants. He pushed back and quickly left the residence. He said that he reported the incident to the church authorities last year. The archdiocese said Wednesday that it’s “officially presented” with the accusation in August.

The female prosecutor said LaRosa-Lopez befriended her during her weekly confession at Sacred Heart. “He actually was my only friend,” she said.

The female victim declined to detail what LaRosa-Lopez did, he said only that he touched her inappropriately, shortly before Easter, after she had turned 16.

She says that her father discovered what had happened, and the family reported to the church. Church officials told her that LaRosa-Lopez would be moved.

The archdiocese confirmed on Wednesday that LaRosa-Lopez was reassigned in 2001 to a other church, St. Francis de Sales, and then moved in 2004 to the St. John Fisher, his current assignment. It would not confirm that he was hit by a abuse complaint.

They eventually resumed going to her church with LaRosa-Lopez was transferred to a new location.

But in 2010, she saw a copy of the archdiocese of the internal newsletter, which announced LaRosa-Lopez appointed vicar for the Spanish ministry. They thought there was a chance DiNardo did not know about her complaint, because it predates his time in Houston.

She contacted the church and began with a meeting with a therapist paid for by the archdiocese. Eventually she came in contact with DiNardo and other priests in the diocese. She says that they told her that after they had come forward, LaRosa-Lopez was sent to a hospital for psychiatric treatment twice, and that would no longer be allowed to work with children.

Then LaRosa-Lopez was brought in for about 10 minutes, they confronted him about the abuse and he apologized.

She says she later discovered that LaRosa-Lopez remained in St. John Fisher, in the presence of children.

Of DiNardo, said the woman, “I’m tired of all his empty words.”

“If he’s going to go meet with the Pope and pretend that everything is OK and that his diocese is clean, I can’t stand it,” she said. “I can not be silent.”

The Associated Press early Tuesday to interview DiNardo and other leaders of the archdiocese. Also drew up a list of questions about both the victims accuse.

A spokesman for the archdiocese declined the interview requests or address specific allegations about what DiNardo told the victims.

LaRosa-Lopez was not present at Mass in the St. John Fisher on Saturday night or Sunday. A reporter who visited both days, saw that there was a parking lot, marked with a sign reserving the space for “Father Manuel,” was empty.

The parishioners were told at the Sunday morning Mass that LaRosa-Lopez was “a retreat.”

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