District attorney searches Houston archdiocese

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Investigators have executed a search warrant on the chancery offices of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. A search warrant obtained by the district attorney's office for Montgomery County was served Wednesday morning by officers from the Texas Rangers and Conroe Police Department.

The district attorney's office said Nov. 28 it is seeking documents related to the case of Fr. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, who was arrested by Conroe police in September on four charges of indecency to children.

Montgomery County prosecutor Brett Ligon told reporters Wednesday that the archdiocese has cooperated with the investigation, KHOU 11 News reported.

"This is not a shot at the Catholic church... this is an investigation into a Catholic priest," Ligon said.

"Even though the Catholic Church has cooperated locally," he said. "in my mind, I would have just liked to have been given the keys on day one, and brought in on a voluntary basis."

Noting that the archdiocese had communicated with Ligon through attorneys, the prosecutor added "that's not the type of cooperation that I would hope for, but it's the type of cooperation that I would expect with a sophisticated company."

Ligon reportedly said that his search for records could extend beyond archdiocesan archives.

"If it's at the Vatican, I'll be heading to Rome.  It could be like the A&M game...seven overtimes," he said, according to KHOU.

Ligon reportedly also invoked the Christmas season in his remarks.

According to KHOU, the prosecutor noted that "the patron saint of children is St. Nicholas...St. Nicholas is also known as Santa Claus. Well, Santa Claus is here to tell you, that the state of Texas will go to any length to protect children." 

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston released a statement Wednesday in response to the search.

"This morning, the District Attorney of Montgomery County executed a search warrant for records and information related to an ongoing investigation. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston continues to cooperate, as we have since the outset, with this process. In fact, consistent with Cardinal DiNardo's pledge of full cooperation, the information being sought was already being compiled."

In response to media reports that documents were being sought in the archdiocesan secret archives, the statement said 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."

The district attorney's office has already conducted searches at two churches where La Rosa-Lopez had been previously assigned – St. John Fisher in Richmond and Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe – as well as the Shalom Treatment Center in Splendora, where La Rosa-Lopez was sent for evaluation and treatment in the early 2000s.

While stationed at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe, Father Manuel La Rosa-Lopez was accused in 2001 of kissing and inappropriately touching a 16 year-old girl. Following consideration of the allegation by both civil authorities and the archdiocesan review board in 2003, La Rosa-Lopez was allowed to return to ministry in 2004.

On Aug. 10, 2018, a 36-year-old man alleged to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston that Fr. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez sexually abused him from 1998-2001, when he was a high school student and La Rosa-Lopez was assigned to Sacred Heart Parish.

The archdiocese said in a statement following La Rosa-Lopez's arrest Sept. 11 that it had immediately reported the man's allegation to Child Protective Services.

In October, a third individual came forward with allegations that La Rosa-Lopez had sexually abused him on several occasions during the mid-1990s. According to reports, a lawyer for the third accuser said that the family of the alleged victim had reported La Rosa-Lopez at the time.

La Rosa-Lopez is currently released on bail and scheduled to return to court in January.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. bishops' conference, has found himself at the forefront of the American hierarchy's response to the sexual abuse crisis. He chaired the U.S. bishops' conference general assembly in early November, during which he announced that the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops had instructed them to delay voting on a proposed code of episcopal conduct or on the creation of an independent commission for investigating allegations of misconduct against bishops.

Last week, DiNardo was the subject of a television report claiming he had knowingly left two priests in active ministry despite "credible accusations" of abuse having been made against them. Cardinal DiNardo denied that either case was "credible."

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This story is developing and has been updated.

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