Friday, September 14, 2018

What The Hell Is Going On in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston?

A mass email to parishioners hit my inbox just minutes after a friend shared a breaking news article on the same topic via Facebook.

Local News coverage by KPRC Houston
Why did it take my parish 18 years to notify parishioners of sexual abuse? Why did it take two decades, a police report, and media attention to ask if there may be more victims? Why did it take two decades, a police report, and media attention for a reassigned priest to be removed from ministry?

When I first received the news report, parish email, diocesan statement, and arrest warrant, it appeared everything was simply a matter of crossed timelines and unfortunate coincidences.

The victim didn’t press charges. The victim’s family left the country. The priest denied all allegations. What was the diocese to do but quietly move him to another unsuspecting parish 71 miles and two counties away, as recommended by the lay commission created to oversee these investigations? Who knew that another victim would come forward 18 years later?

In the diocesan statement, they say there have been no further allegations against this priest in his 18 years of ministry. But how would they know if there are other victims? They didn’t notify parishioners at Sacred Heart 20 years ago. In fact, according to the Archdiocesan Policy and Procedure For Investigating Allegations of Sexual Abuse By Clergy Against a Minor, when an allegation occurs, notification of parishioners is nowhere listed on the detailed action list. Bishop consults with legal counsel? Check. Priest retains legal counsel? Check. Outreach to others who may have been victimized by the same clergy? Not anywhere in the 1200-word document.


The further one reads into the details, the more loopholes that appear in the diocesan statement.

Once two separate victims – unbeknownst to each other (according to police investigation noted on the arrest warrant) – had both alerted the archdiocese to abuse by the same priest, why was he still not removed from ministry?

If, as the diocesan Victims Assistance Coordinator claims, a report was made to both the Conroe Police Department and Child Protective Services following a meeting with the victim on August 8, 2018, why is there no record with either the police department or CPS of that report?


Excerpt from the Arrest Warrant for Fr Manuel
If the highest administrative authority in our diocese on cases of sexual abuse -- the Victims Assistance Coordinator -- failed to report this most recent case of sexual abuse, how many other cases over the years have failed to be reported? Someone needs to open up the archives and find out. 

One of the victims reported that Fr Manuel showed him naked photos of other seminarians taken during his time in seminary. Who was in Fr Manuel's seminary class? Are these seminarians more victims? Are they now priests in our diocese and possibly perpetrators of more abuse? Where is this pornographic seminary project now? Are there copies? 

What if these victims of Fr Manuel had not pursued the further action of reporting abuse to civil authorities themselves, trusting the diocese' claim that it had already been reported? Would our archdiocese with its 1.7 million Catholics continue quietly in our naive status quo – both parishes completely unaware that a priest with credible accusations of sexual assault against him and possibly more victims in his wake is in a ministry position within the archdiocese that’s led by the president of the USCCB, the same man entrusted to spearhead Vatican action addressing the crisis of clerical sexual abuse throughout the international Church?

How could Cardinal DiNardo meet with a victim six weeks ago, the second victim to come forward with allegations against this priest, fail to act on the information received, finally remove the priest from ministry over this past weekend (telling parishioners he was “on retreat”) – due to an impending arrest and media storm – and then, on Tuesday, have the audacity to release this letter to every parishioner in the diocese assuring us that everything is under control?

Where is the transparency? Where is the accountability? Where is the care for victims so loudly declared in every diocesan sexual abuse manual crammed into the hands of every diocesan volunteer from Bulletin-Shuffler to RE Teacher for the past two decades that even our own archbishop can’t seem to follow?

As I wrote earlier this summer, and as is further evidenced by even this latest revelation of abuse, the crisis in our Church is clericalism and abuse of power, not homosexuality. The number of bishops who covered for Cardinal McCarrick -- and who still, to this day, deny any knowledge of his abuse -- clearly enable this culture of sexual abuse to spread like fungus throughout our Church. 

We, the laity, must remain vigilant in our insistence that the magisterium clean house and establish new protocols for full investigation, transparency, and accountability regarding the abuse of children and adults. There's a candlelight vigil, organized by local laity, at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston, Texas on Friday, October 5, at 6:30 PM as a public statement that the laity will not tolerate this culture of abuse within our Church any longer. My family will be there. I hope you'll come too. 

Below is a timeline of events from the abuse at Sacred Heart parish in Conroe 20 years ago up to this week, according to the arrest warrant and archdiocesan statement.

1999-2000: Fr Manuel La Rosa-Lopez sexually abuses a teenage girl and a teenage boy in his parish multiple times over several years.

2001: The abuse is reported to the diocese by the girl’s family who then moves out of country.

There is no record of an announcement at the parish at that time to check for other victims.

2003: An internal review board clears Fr Manuel for active ministry.

2004: Father Manuel is reassigned to a new parish.

2010: The female victim moves back to the area, is surprised to see Fr Manuel in parish ministry, and contacts the diocese again. She meets directly with Sister O’Connell (Victims Assistance Coordinator) and Cardinal DiNardo. She is assured he is in an administrative position, not in contact with any children or teenagers.

2018: The male victim, who no longer lives in the Houston area, is put in contact with Sister O’Connell after reporting the abuse to his current diocese.

August 8, 2018: The male victim meets with Cardinal DiNardo and Sister O'Connell. He was told he should have spoken up sooner. Sister O’Connell tells the victim that she filed a report with the Conroe Police Department and Child Protective Services. No record of this can be confirmed by the police department or CPS.

August 9, 2018: Fr Manuel remains in his ministerial position as parish priest despite two credible accusations against him.

August 27, 2018: The male victim files a police report, recognizing that the diocese is not going to act.

August 29, 2018: The female victim files a police report with concerns that Fr Manuel is still in active ministry with children.

September 8, 2018: Fr Manuel does not celebrate Mass at his parish. Parishioners are told he is “on retreat.”

September 10, 2018: An arrest warrant is issued for Fr Manuel.

September 11, 2018: Fr Manuel turns himself into police.

September 11, 2018: Cardinal DiNardo issues general statement to all Catholics in the archdiocese, stating that he shares our “anger and rage” about the sexual abuse within our Church.

September 12, 2018: Cardinal DiNardo issues a statement about Fr Manuel, defending the diocese’ actions throughout the past two decades.

September 12, 2018: Fr Philip, current pastor at Sacred Heart parish in Conroe, sends out an email inviting any additional victims to come forward.


September 16, 2018: Fr Philip reads a statement from Cardinal DiNardo before Mass at Sacred Heart parish in Conroe providing contact information for the Conroe Police Department, asking other victims or anyone with information to come forward. (Detective Joe McGrew: 936-522-3591)


Arrest Warrant:

Archdiocesan Statement Regarding Clergy Abuse In Response to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Reports and Cardinal McCarrick (9/11/18):

Archdiocesan Statement Regarding Fr. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez (9/12/18):
https://www.archgh.org/news-data/latest-news/statement-regarding-fr-manuel-la-rosa-lopez/

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