HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Investigators spent Wednesday executing a search warrant at the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. It’s part of the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office investigation of a Conroe priest accused of child molestation.
The district attorney's office is now listing six potential victims of the priest in question, Father Manuel La Rosa Lopez. So far he’s been charged with four counts of indecency with a child in Montgomery County.
“Anybody who’s been a victim of child sexual assault knows it’s the most violent of cases,” said Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon. He spoke to reporters on Wednesday morning outside the Archdiocese in downtown Houston as investigators were seen going in and out of the building collecting evidence.
“We’re here to find out all the employment records, potential disciplinary records, anything that would give us a greater picture of potential disciplinary history,” said Ligon.
The Wednesday morning search warrant took the church employees and Cardinal DiNardo by surprise. The church issuing a statement, saying in part that they have “been cooperating, and will continue to cooperate, fully.”
“Even though the Catholic Church has cooperated to a degree, and I appreciate that, the State of Texas is not required to go through the Catholic Church,” said Ligon.
The attorney for La Rosa Lopez told FOX 26 he was also taken by surprise at the District Attorney’s unexpected seizure of evidence.
“Coming out with the police department and the Rangers and DPS—its very odd that they’re doing this,” said attorney Wendell Odom.
“I’m born suspicious as hell,” said Ligon. “I assume that people are going to lie to me. I assume that people are not going to tell the truth. I assume that people are going to hide evidence, which is why you have to have a state of Texas that’s its own sovereignty.”
La Rosa Lopez is accused of molesting a boy and a girl while working as a priest at the Sacred Heart Church in Conroe between 1998 and 2000. This fall the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office confirmed they are reviewing allegations from a third alleged victim who says he was molested by La Rosa Lopez while serving as an altar boy while the priest was still in seminary in Houston in the mid 1990s. So far the district attorney’s Office has not released details on allegations from three additional victims.
The priest’s attorney says his client denies all wrongdoing.
“He’s not denying he had contact with these people,” said Odom. “He may have hugged them or kissed them on occasion, but he is denying that there is any sexual abuse that he has done.”
The DA says this is the fourth search warrant he’s executed so far in this case.
“If there’s something to be covered up, I’m sure I’ll find it,” said Ligon. “Harris County happens to be where my investigation led me. If it led me to Rome, we’d be at the Vatican today.”
The attorney who is representing two of the alleged victims of La Rosa Lopez says her clients feel hopeful after the search warrant was executed at the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.
Attorney Tahira Khan Merritt told FOX 26 over the phone the search is “another step toward seeking justice for these victims.”
She went on to say, “These files will show a pattern and practice of cover-up of sexual abuse by the Catholic hierarchy of clergy as seen in other dioceses.”
Manuel La Rosa Lopez is currently out on bond and living in Houston, according to his attorney.
His next court date is in January.