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Search warrant at Texas archdiocese seeks ‘secret archives’ of priest accused of sex abuse

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The Rev. Manuel LaRosa-Lopez faces four counts of indecency with a child.

The “secret archives” of a Catholic priest accused of sexual abuse were the subject of a search warrant executed Wednesday at the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston in Texas, according to a prosecutor.

The warrant is the fourth executed in the investigation of abuse allegations against the Rev. Manuel LaRosa-Lopez, who was accused of sexually abusing an unnamed woman in Conroe, Texas, in 2000. The woman’s father reported the alleged abuse to the church before the family left the country, and LaRosa-Lopez was moved from the parish, according to the arrest warrant filed in September.

Investigators with the Conroe Police Department, Texas Rangers, Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office and other agencies on Wednesday sought documents, records, electronics and other evidence from the archdiocese in the investigation of LaRosa-Lopez.

“We do believe, based on our research, that there will be a secret archive that will have information on this case,” J. Tyler Dunman, special crimes bureau chief for the Montgomery County District Attorney, told CNN.

The archdiocese in a statement said it “continues to cooperate, as we have since the outset” with investigators, adding that the cooperation was “consistent with Cardinal (Daniel) DiNardo’s pledge of full cooperation.”

Archdiocese: Why records are confidential

The archdiocese also noted that “‘secret archives’ is merely a Church term pertaining to confidential documents kept in a secure manner for the protection of the privacy of individuals — not unlike medical records.”

“Finally, please note any use of the term ‘raid’ is an inaccurate and unprofessional reference to a request for records to a party that has been cooperating and will continue to cooperate fully,” the statement said.

DiNardo, who became archbishop of Galveston-Houston in 2006 and is president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, has come under fire for allegedly covering up abuse.

Pope Francis will convene a meeting of bishops from around the world in February to address the sexual abuse crisis, which has roiled the church on several continents, including North America, South America and Australia.

DiNardo’s role as head of the bishops’ conference puts him at the fore of the response by the Catholic Church in America to clergy sex abuse scandals.

Efforts to increase accountability

US Catholic bishops have been heavily criticized for failing to hold themselves accountable for the sexual abuse of children, especially after a grand jury report in Pennsylvania released this summer found widespread evidence of abuse by priests and cover-ups by bishops.

Earlier this month, the conference planned to vote on measures to increase accountability in response to the abuse crisis — including, according to the bishops’ conference, a hotline to report bishops accused of abuse or mishandling abuse cases. But the Vatican ordered the conference to delay the vote until the Pope convenes the February meeting of bishops

In the US, the “zero tolerance” policy adopted in 2002 by the bishops’ conference mandated that priests credibly accused of abusing minors are supposed to be removed from ministry.

When LaRosa-Lopez’s accuser moved back to Conroe in 2010, she read in a church newspaper that he had been promoted and moved to a church in Richmond, 70 miles away.

The woman said she was interviewed by DiNardo and a Catholic nun and was advised that LaRosa-Lopez “had been sent to a mental institution” and was then “placed in a(n) administrative position from which he had no contact with children or teenagers,” according to the arrest warrant.

LaRosa-Lopez was arrested in September and charged with four counts of indecency with a child — after another accuser came forward in August. He was released within days after posting $375,000 bond, according to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office.

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