Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has been accused by two alleged victims of clerical abuse of failing to remove their priest abuser from ministry. The alleged perpetrator, Father Manuel LaRosa-Lopez, was arrested in Conroe, Texas on Tuesday on four counts of indecency with a child pursuant to an investigation launched in August of 2018. The charges relate to abuse accusations dating back nearly two decades. Despite archdiocesan awareness of accusations of inappropriate conduct with minors, LaRosa-Lopez was still in active ministry as the pastor of St. John Fisher parish in Richmond, TX, roughly 70 miles from where the original abuse was alleged to have taken place.
In a statement on August 27, following explosive accusations of high-level clerical abuse cover-ups made by former papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Cardinal DiNardo called for “a prompt and thorough examination into how the grave moral failings” of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick “could have been tolerated for so long and proven no impediment to his advancement.” DiNardo is currently in Rome for a meeting of American bishops with Pope Francis tomorrow on the sex abuse crisis once again rocking the Catholic Church.
According to a report from the Associated Press (AP), LaRosa-Lopez, age 60, is accused of “fondling two teenagers” – a boy and a girl – while he was a priest at Sacred Heart Church in Conroe in the 1990s to the early 2000s. According to the AP report, “[t]he archdiocese issued a statement Wednesday confirming that both people had come forward to report abuse by LaRosa-Lopez, one of them in 2001. The archdiocese said it reported both allegations to the state Child Protective Services, and said it was unaware of any other ‘allegations of inappropriate conduct involving minors’ against the priest.”
Nevertheless, and after one of the victims was “promised in a meeting with DiNardo, several years after she first reported abuse, that the priest would be removed from any contact with children,” LaRosa-Lopez continued to serve as pastor at St. John Fisher in Richmond. As of this writing, he is still listed on the parish website as the pastor, and his pastor’s page indicates that the parish has some 900 families. The AP confirmed with the archdiocese that LaRosa-Lopez has been at the parish since 2004. According to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston website, LaRosa-Lopez is also the episcopal vicar for Hispanics for the diocese, and it was his work in this latter position that alerted his alleged female victim to take action. The victim saw an internal diocesan newsletter announcing LaRosa-Lopez’s appointment to the role, and, according to the AP, “she thought there was a chance DiNardo didn’t know about her complaint because it had predated his time in Houston.” The AP report continues:
She contacted the church and started to meet with a therapist paid for by the archdiocese. Eventually, she met with DiNardo and other top clergy in the diocese. She says they told her that after she had come forward, LaRosa-Lopez was sent to a hospital for psychiatric treatment twice and that [he] would no longer be allowed to work with children.
Then LaRosa-Lopez was brought in for about 10 minutes, she confronted him about the abuse and he apologized.
She says she later discovered that LaRosa-Lopez remained at St. John Fisher, in the presence of children.
Of DiNardo, the woman said, “I’m tired of all of his empty words.”
“If he’s going to go meet with the Pope and pretend that all of this is OK and his diocese is clean, I can’t stand it,” she said. “I can’t be quiet.”
The Associated Press asked Tuesday to interview DiNardo and other top leaders at the archdiocese. It also submitted a list of questions about both victims’ allegations.
A spokesman for the archdiocese declined the interview requests or to address specific allegations about what DiNardo told the victims.
In his August 27 statement, DiNardo attempted to reassure the faithful, writing, “Nationwide, the Church has a zero-tolerance policy toward priests and deacons who abuse, safe environment training, background checks for those working around children, victim assistance coordinators, prompt reporting to civil authorities, and lay review boards in dioceses.”
The arrest of LaRosa-Lopez raises serious questions about DiNardo’s commitment to such policies and his qualification to lead any effort to combat the epidemic of clerical abuse.
For a more detailed accounting of the LaRosa-Lopez story, see the full AP report here.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.