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Police search Conroe church after ex-priest accused of sexual assault

The district attorney is urging other possible victims or witnesses to come forward.

CONROE, Texas - Conroe police and investigators with the Montgomery County district attorney's office searched the Sacred Heart Catholic Church Monday after a former priest there was accused of sexual assault.

Manuel La Rosa-Lopez is charged with sexually abusing two parishioners when they were teenagers at Sacred Heart.

Credit: Provided
Manuel La Rosa Lopez

Investigators Monday obtained documents related to his time at the Conroe church during the early 1990s to the early 2000s.

“To us, it’s important for the community to know that we’re going to follow this case wherever it goes,” said Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon.

Ligon said authorities are trying to unravel a pattern of behavior.

“It’s important to look at employment records, to look at all potential complaint history to see if not only can we corroborate the things that the victims say…but also to see if there other complaints about them, in regards to this particular priest," he said.

Officials said Sacred Heart and St. Fisher Church in Richmond where Rosa-Lopez is currently a priest are cooperating with the investigation.

On Monday, the archdiocese revealed where Lopez was between 2001, the year the 16-year-old came forward about the alleged abuse, and 2004, when Lopez was reassigned to his most recent church in Richmond.

The archdiocese says Lopez was in "residential treatment," although details as to what that means and where it took place weren’t provided. He was then assigned to administrative work at the Chancery until 2004.

The district attorney is urging other possible victims or witnesses to come forward.

Both alleged victims who recently came forward said they were inspired after seeing news coverage of the church scandal in Pennsylvania.

Credit: Scott, Brandon
Father Manuel La Rosa-Lopez bonded out of jail Thursday. He's been charged with sexually abusing two parishioners in Conroe.

KHOU 11 News spoke with one of them last week by phone. She said she’s not yet ready to do an on-camera interview or be identified. For the purposes of our report, she’s going by the name "Anne."

“The only thing that I want from him is just to stop him from being around children,” she told us.

"Anne" said she first reported the abuse back in 2001. Her family moved out of the country soon afterward. In 2010, she says she again reported the past abuse to Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

“I was told he wouldn’t be near children anymore. That he would be removed from parish ministry," "Anne" said. "That obviously didn’t happen and I feel very betrayed."

Instead, Cardinal DiNardo relocated La Rosa-Lopez to another parish, according to the Associated Press.

Anne says she recently confirmed that La Rosa-Lopez was currently a priest at St. John the Fisher Church in Richmond. She says that fact, along with now knowing there are no statute of limitations in Montgomery County to take legal action against him, are what prompted her to file a police report.

“I blamed myself for a very long time and when I became a mother, I realized that I was a child," she said. "If that happened to my child, what wouldn’t I do to make sure it was stopped?”

She and the male accuser allege that the abuse took place from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. The Galveston-Houston Archdiocese says that La Rosa-Lopez has denied the allegations against him in both cases.

The male accuser, now 36, first reported the abuse last month.

Church officials released a detailed statement that said they contacted Child Protective Services to investigate Anne’s accusations when they were reported to them years ago. They said after “an internal review," the priest was allowed to return to parish ministry.

“Hopefully, justice will be served. We’ll get to the bottom of what really happened,” said Conroe City Councilman Jody Czajkowski. The councilman says that he and his family are active members of Sacred Heart Parish, and that no one currently in leadership was present at the time La Rosa-Lopez served there as a priest.

"Anne" says she wants to see broader changes in how the Catholic Church responds to sex abuse allegations.

“I want to see that the church protects the people that it claims to want to, because they’re not doing a good job of that.”

La Rosa-Lopez bonded out of jail Thursday. His next court date is set for Oct. 9.

MORE:

Conroe priest out on bond after sexual assault accusations

More details emerge about Conroe priest accused of sexually abusing teens

Ahead of meeting with Pope, Cardinal DiNardo accused of knowing about sex abuse allegations

AP: Cardinal DiNardo relocated Conroe priest after sexual abuse accusations

Full arrest warrant for Manuel LaRosa-Lopez

Parishioners angered by child indecency charges against local priest