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Authorities search Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston ‘secret archives’
Armed with a search warrant, a team of law enforcement agencies searched the offices of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston on Wednesday, looking for records related to the clergy sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church.
The unprecedented action in Texas was taken by the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, along with the Texas Rangers and Conroe Police Department. Nearly 50 investigators arrived Wednesday morning carrying boxes inside the Chancery, located at 1700 San Jacinto Street in downtown Houston.
The DA’s office said investigators were looking for documents in connection to the criminal case of Father Manuel LaRosa-Lopez, the priest charged in September on four counts of indecency with a child. In the search warrant filed Wednesday, the DA’s office sought to examine confidential documents held in the Archdiocese’s Chancery and secret archives.
“This is not a search warrant against the Catholic Church,” said Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon. “It’s a search warrant to get evidence about (LaRosa-Lopez).”
“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,” the Archdiocese’s statement said. “Pending additional information or developments, the Archdiocese will have no further comment on this ongoing investigation.”
Ligon said that cooperation hasn’t been as open and transparent as he would like. Rather than getting the keys from day one, Ligon said he had to get attorneys involved and get a search warrant.
“That’s not the type of cooperation I would hope for,” the DA said. “But it’s the type of cooperation I would expect from a sophisticated company.”
Ligon hopes to have the search of the Chancery completed by today, though the investigation into LaRosa-Lopez will continue.
“We’re treating the Catholic Church the same way we treat a bank that has records, the same way we treat a criminal enterprise,” Ligon said.
And if the investigation takes him to the Vatican, “I’ll be heading to Rome,” he said.
Ligon told reporters that his office had spoken to the local U.S. attorney, which did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment about whether it was also investigating the archdiocese.
La Rosa-Lopez’s attorney, Wendell Odom, said the priest has denied the sexual abuse allegations. Odom questioned why prosecutors conducted an on-site search instead of requesting documents through a subpoena, calling it “a little bit alarming.”
Facing mounting criticism since the arrest, DiNardo wrote a piece published Monday in the Houston Chronicle saying he removed La Rosa-Lopez from ministry after meeting with one of the accusers in August.
That accuser told the AP in September that he felt DiNardo was dismissive and said, “You should have told us sooner.”
DiNardo’s column did not address the allegations of the other accuser, a woman now in her 30s who told AP she met with DiNardo shortly after discovering in 2010 that La Rosa-Lopez had become the archdiocese’s vicar for Hispanic ministry — a position he held at the time of his arrest eight years later.
Her family had reported La Rosa-Lopez in 2001, after he allegedly fondled her several times and led her to believe they had a secret relationship.
She says DiNardo, who came to Houston in 2004, and other church officials told her then that La Rosa-Lopez had received psychiatric treatment and would no longer be allowed to work with children.
The AP typically doesn’t identify victims in sexual abuse cases and is withholding the names of both accusers.
Michael Norris, head of the Houston chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the documents seized Wednesday could be crucial to understanding the archdiocese’s handling of La Rosa-Lopez’s case over two decades.
“This is going to force DiNardo to be truly transparent,” Norris said. “Now we’re going to know everything.”
This is the fourth search warrant executed for documents pertaining to LaRosa-Lopez. A man and a woman claimed they were abused as teenagers by LaRosa-Lopez between 1998 and 2001 at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe.
Since his arrest, authorities executed search warrants at Sacred Heart, St. John Fisher Catholic Church in Richmond, where LaRosa-Lopez was a priest until his arrest, and the Shalom Center in Splendora. The Shalom Center is a treatment facility where LaRosa-Lopez spent time in 2001 after his first accuser came forward.