Dozens of state and local law enforcement swarmed the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston’s downtown office Wednesday to seize records related to Father Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, the priest accused of sexually abusing at least two children who attended a Conroe church.
Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon said the surprise search was aimed at a trove of employment and disciplinary records related to La Rosa-Lopez and his time at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe.
If evidence of additional victims or accused priests were found outside Montgomery County, the Texas Rangers were there to seize it, Ligon said. They came armed with a search warrant at the nation’s fifth largest diocese.
A set of confidential documents kept by each diocese, known as “secret archives” in Canon law, was among the records sought.
“I am a lay Catholic myself, but today I stand here as a district attorney of Montgomery County,” Ligon said. “This is not a search warrant against the Catholic Church, but this search warrant is to review files that belonged to a defendant.”
The morning search came as Cardinal Daniel DiNardo — who is currently serving as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — pledged a new era of transparency in the investigation of priest abuse allegations dating as far back as the 1950s.
“This archdiocese takes every allegation of wrongdoing brought to our attention seriously and is fully cooperating — and will cooperate — with any and all investigations related to the clergy abuse of minors,” DiNardo wrote in an opinion column in Tuesday’s Houston Chronicle. “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.”
The search on San Jacinto Street began around 9:30 a.m. and continued through the afternoon, with at least two boxes of evidence carried out.
Standing outside the church as about 60 law enforcement officials — including unspecified federal agents — searched inside, Ligon expressed trust in DiNardo’s vow of transparency but said his confidence has limits, even as the archdiocese prepares to release the names of priests deemed to have been credibly accused.
Ligon told reporters that “the Catholic Church has cooperated to a degree.”
“Even if DiNardo is cooperative, the people working for him may not,” Ligon said. “He can be transparent all he wants, but what he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know. I’m born suspicious as hell. I assume people are going to lie to me and not tell the truth.”
Archdiocese spokesman Jonah Dycus acknowledged the search warrant and the ongoing investigation in a statement Wednesday.
“The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston continues to cooperate, as we have since the outset, with this process,” according to the statement. “In fact, consistent with Cardinal DiNardo’s pledge of full cooperation, the information being sought was already being compiled.”
Michael Norris, who leads the Houston chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, lauded the search.
“All too often, police and prosecutors pursue child molesting clerics but ignore the church supervisors and co-workers who hide their crimes,” Norris said in a statement.
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SOURCE: Houston Chronicle, by Nicole Hensley and Samantha Ketterer