The Montgomery County District Attorney's Office is investigating a third alleged victim of sexual abuse by Conroe priest Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, chief of the special crimes bureau Tyler Dunman said Thursday.
The third accuser was abused by La Rosa-Lopez before he ever became a priest, according to the accuser's attorney Adam Dinnell. He says it happened while the alleged pedophile was still in seminary in Houston, and when the victim spoke out about it, it was ignored.
“There were four to five instances of what’s been described as inappropriate touching,” said Dinnell, speaking on behalf of his client who wishes to remain anonymous.
The inappropriate touching happened in the mid-1990s while alleged victim was a 12-year-old altar boy and while La Rosa-Lopez was studying priesthood, said Dinnell.
“He told his guardians first about what had happened," said Dinnell. "He didn’t want to be an altar boy anymore. He didn’t even want to step foot in the church anymore.”
Dinnell says the boy and his guardians told the head of the parish about the inappropriate touching, but the parish did nothing. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez went on to become an ordained priest.
According to court documents, La Rosa-Lopez is accused of then molesting another boy and girl between 1998 and 2000. Those two victims went to law enforcement this year, and La Rosa-Lopez was charged with four counts of indecency with a child in Montgomery County.
The news of La Rosa-Lopez' arrest spurred Dinnell's client—who's now 37—back into action.
“As a 12-year-old when he didn’t see anything moving when he first brought it out, I think--like a lot of victims--he tried to just bury this away," said Dinnell. "It wasn’t until he saw Mr. La Rosa on TV, he finally had the courage to stand up and say, ‘Look, other people went through what I went through. I can stand up and tell people that this happened.’”
Michael Norris of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) says he suspected something may have happened in the mid-1990s. Records show La Rosa-Lopez spent just one semester at Saint Mary's Seminary in Houston and was then shipped off to Wisconsin.
"What really bothers me is the fact that they knew about this back when he was in the seminary," said Norris. "They allowed him to become a priest. They allowed him around children. He abused at least two other victims that we know about. Those two other victims—their lives are changed forever because of the irresponsibility of the church."
Norris says La Rosa-Lopez is still a priest and still collecting a paycheck from the Catholic church after he bonded out of jail on those four counts of indecency with a child.
The District Attorney's Office has not yet made a charging decision in the latest accusation against La Rosa-Lopez, said Dunman.
Norris says the concern is that the statute of limitations may have run out in the latest case because it is an older case.