Former Catholic priest sentenced to prison for child molestation charge

Search warrants included Shalom Center in Splendora, Texas

Former Catholic Priest Manuel La Rosa-Lopez

Former Priest Manuel La Rosa-Lopez was formally sentenced on Wednesday to 10 years in prison on two charges of Indecency with a Child, a Second Degree Felony with a penalty range of probation up to 20 years in prison. These sentences of 10 years were pursuant to a plea agreement and will run concurrently. La Rosa-Lopez is now in custody of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and is awaiting transfer to prison.

La Rosa-Lopez pled guilty to both charges on November 17, 2020, for crimes he committed 20 years ago while he was a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe, Texas. Victims of La Rosa-Lopez’s crimes, their friends and family, and law enforcement officers who worked on the investigation observed the judge formally sentence La Rosa-Lopez. Multiple media outlets were also present.

Although La Rosa-Lopez plead to charges involving two victims, La Rosa-Lopez committed crimes against a total of four identified victims. Three of those victims were Montgomery County residents at the time of their assaults. The fourth victim attended a church in Harris County. As detailed in the allegations, La Rosa-Lopez preyed on his victims, aged 13-16 years old, by kissing them, exposing himself, and repeatedly touching them inappropriately. The victims were all heavily involved in the Catholic Church when La Rosa-Lopez targeted them.

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 actions. Significantly, the victims also spoke about their present commitment to helping others.

Conroe Police Department, the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, Texas Rangers, Homeland Security, and other federal agencies investigated the crimes committed by La Rosa-Lopez. The extensive investigation included the execution of search warrants at the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and the Shalom Center in Splendora, Texas. At the time of his arrest in 2018, La Rosa-Lopez was a priest at the St. John Fisher Church in Richmond, Texas.

“These children looked to La Rosa-Lopez for both spiritual and emotional guidance. He violated their trust in the worst way. This was an extensive and collaborative investigation in which Conroe PD was committed to leaving no stone unturned to discover the truth of La Rosa-Lopez’s crimes,” said Detective Joe McGrew, Conroe Police Department.

Mark Dawson, special agent in charge for the Homeland Security Investigations in Houston said that children looked to La Rosa-Lopez for wisdom and spiritual guidance, and were horribly abused instead.

“For years, he abused that position of trust to prey on their vulnerability and innocence. Thanks to the strong partnership that HSI has with state and local law enforcement and the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, he has been removed from that position of trust and will no longer be free to victimize our children,” Dawson said.

The sentencing of La Rosa-Lopez was long overdue for his victims.

“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. This was the day when they could speak publicly and without shame about the crimes committed against them privately, and the day when they could finally see a measure of justice. Their bravery in coming forward after so many years is inspiring. It has been a distinct honor to seek justice for them,” said Prosecutors Nancy Hebert and Wesley LeRouax in a shared statement.

Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon called LaRosa-Lopez a disgrace to so many who trusted him to provide care and counsel for the meek, the weak and the vulnerable.

“His actions clearly tarnish himself, but the fact that he was allowed to prey on parishioners long after the Church was aware of his conduct but took no decisive action is particularly repulsive and vile. I pray for the victims’ wellbeing because the only real justice they are likely to get will be from the court and not the Catholic Church. I treasure my Catholic faith and can only hope that today begins a healing process for these victims and many other people who also value their faith,” Ligon said.

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