Former Conroe priest pleads guilty to 2 counts of child indecency

CONROE, Texas — A former Conroe priest at the center of a sex abuse scandal involving children is headed to prison.

Manuel LaRosa-Lopez has pled guilty to two counts of indecency with a child, and according to prosecutors Tuesday, has agreed to serve 10 years in prison.

He is scheduled for a formal sentencing on Dec. 16.

LaRosa-Lopez was charged back in May 2019. He is accused of abusing children while he was a priest at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe. 

"It is incredibly rare for clergy abusers to see jail time for their crimes and we applaud the brave victims who came forward to ensure that this dangerous man would face justice," Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said in a statement. "We believe that these survivors have surely saved other children from the lifelong scourge of sexual abuse and hope that they will now be able to focus on their own healing."

His victims were teenagers at the Sacred Hearth Catholic Church in Conroe. They alleged that in late 1990s and early 2000s, LaRosa Lopez kissed them, exposed himself and touched them inappropriately on numerous occasions.

“These victims waited 20 years for this,” said Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Nancy Hebert. “And so the message should be it’s never too late to tell someone what’s happened to you so others can be empowered.”

Hebert said one of the victim's family did report the abuse to the Catholic Church early on. But the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston never notified law enforcement. Instead, it sent the cleric for treatment at a Splendora rehabilitation center and later reassigned him to a parish in Richmond in Fort Bend County.

“Why were the authorities not immediately notified? That is a slap in the face to victims everywhere when you get treated like that,” said Eduardo Lopez de Casas with SNAP Houston.

Prosecutors said the original victim only learned of the priest’s transfer years later, when she reported the abuse again—this time directly to Conroe police.

It sparked an extensive investigation that included an unprecedented seizure of church records from the archdiocese to build the case.

In the end, an abusive priest owned up to his sins in a court of law. LaRosa Lopez is set to be formally sentenced December 15 in Montgomery County. 

“We want our victims to know that there is hope,” Lopez de Casas said. “If you have faith, there is hope that one day you will see justice.”

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo initially declined to comment on the guilty plea and referred questions to defense attorney Wendell Odom.

“This was after much deliberation and soul-searching on his part,” Odom said of his client. “He is accepting responsibility for what happened all those years ago, he wants closure on this and to move on.”

The archdiocese on Tuesday evening released the following statement:

"Today we were informed that Father Manuel La Rosa Lopez accepted an offer from the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office to enter a plea of guilty to 2 of the 5 charges pending against him, with the remaining charges to be dismissed.

"This was a personal decision made by Fr. Manuel after careful reflection and consultation with his attorney. By pleading guilty to 2 of the charges, Father Manuel will accept the punish...

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