CONROE, Texas — A former Conroe priest at the center of a sex abuse scandal involving children is headed to prison for 10 years.
A Montgomery County judge sentenced Manuel LaRosa-Lopez Wednesday on two counts of indecency with a child. He pleaded guilty to the charges last month after a two-year investigation that involved unprecedented seizures of church records at parishes where LaRosa-Lopez served as well as the downtown offices of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.
His victims were teenagers at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe. They alleged that in late 1990s and early 2000s, LaRosa Lopez kissed them, exposed himself and touched them inappropriately on numerous occasions.
Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Nancy Hebert said one of the victims' family did report the abuse to the Catholic Church early on. But the archdiocese never notified law enforcement. Instead, it sent the cleric for treatment at a Splendora rehabilitation center and later reassigned him to a parish in Richmond in Fort Bend County.
Prosecutors said the original victim only learned of the priest’s transfer years later, when she reported the abuse again—this time directly to Conroe police.
It sparked an extensive investigation that included an unprecedented seizure of church records from the archdiocese to build the case.
LaRosa Lopez had originally faced five charges involving three Montgomery County victims. A fourth victim attended a church in Harris County. After what defense attorney Wendell Odom described as “much deliberation and soul-searching,” LaRosa Lopez pleaded guilty to two counts and the remaining charges were dismissed.
“He feels remorseful. This is a sad episode that’s over,” Odom said.
In court Wednesday, Two of the four victims emotionally described how La Rosa-Lopez’s actions impacted their lives. They also spoke powerfully about their efforts, successes, and setbacks in healing from the wounds caused by their priest’s action.
“The ability for survivors to use their voice to bring about justice and to potentially enact change has been a healing journey for me,” said one victim who asked not to be identified.
“For 20 long, painful years, these four survivors have lived in anticipation of this day. This was the day when they could finally be heard—truly heard,” Hebert said. “Their bravery in coming forward after so many years is inspiring. It has been a distinct honor to seek justice for them.”
Defense attorney Odom said his client must serve a minimum of five years behind bars before the possibility of parole. The former Conroe priest must register as a sex offender after his release from prison.
The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston released the following statement after LaRosa-Lopez's sentencing:
“The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston removed Manuel La Rosa-Lopez from all public ministry in August of 2018. Now that the criminal case is over, this matter will be referred to the proper officials in the Vatican for further review and disciplinary action.”