By Peter Szekely
(Reuters) – Texas authorities searched the offices of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston on Wednesday looking for documents related to a priest who was charged in September with sex crimes.
Agents of the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office and officers from the Texas Rangers and the City of Conroe police force executed a search warrant of the archdiocese’s Houston offices seeking information on the priest, Father Manuel LaRosa-Lopez, prosecutors said.
He faces four felony counts of indecency with a child.
Allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, especially with minors, have roiled dioceses across the United States and in other countries, eroding confidence in the Church and the Pope.
Last month the U.S. Justice Department opened an investigation into child sex abuse by priests in Pennsylvania, where the state’s attorney general had previously issued a report that contained graphic examples of children being groomed and sexually abused by clergymen.
In their raid, Texas authorities were seeking documents, records, electronics and other evidence related to their investigation of LaRosa-Lopez, 60, who was charged on Sept. 10, the district attorney’s office said in statement. LaRosa-Lopez is free on $375,000 bond, and is due in court on Jan. 10.
The archdiocese said in its own statement that it was cooperating with the investigation and the search warrant, and had already compiled the information sought by authorities. It declined further comment.
Searches in the case took authorities in September to two Texas churches and a religious treatment centre, the district attorney’s office said.
In September, the archdiocese said it had investigated a charge in 2001 that LaRosa-Lopez inappropriately kissed and touched a 16-year-old girl. After an internal review in which the priest denied the allegations, it said he had been permitted to return to work at a parish in 2004.
It said there had been no allegations against LaRosa-Lopez until August, when a 36-year-old man said the priest sexually abused him when he was a high school student about 20 years ago. The archdiocese said it reported the charge, which LaRosa-Lopez denied, to Texas Child Protective Services.
(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; addional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Howard Goller)