HOUSTON, Texas — A third person accused a Houston-area Catholic priest on Thursday of sexually touching him when he was a teenager, in a case that has brought unwelcome attention to the high-profile cardinal leading the American Church’s response to sexual abuse.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is already accused by two other people of disregarding their reports against Father Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, the pastor at St. John Fisher Catholic Church in the Houston suburb of Richmond. La Rosa-Lopez was arrested in September and charged with four counts of indecency with a child.
Adam Dinnell, an attorney for the third accuser, said Thursday that the accuser says he was an altar boy at a Houston church in the mid-1990s when La Rosa-Lopez fondled him four or five times. Dinnell declined to identify his client or the church. DiNardo came to Houston in 2004.
Dinnell says the accuser’s family reported La Rosa-Lopez and that they met with a priest at the church. But his client felt during that meeting that he was being brushed off, Dinnell said.
The new accuser decided to speak to police this year after reading about LaRosa-Lopez’s arrest, Dinnell said. Prosecutors in Montgomery County, Texas, confirmed he had met with investigators.
“This is not someone who wants to bring down the Church,” Dinnell said. “It’s more that as a practicing Catholic, he wants reform. He doesn’t want officials to just stand up and say, ‘This doesn’t happen in Houston,’ because it has.”
DiNardo is head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and is prominent in the American Church’s efforts to investigate and stop sexual abuse. At the time of La Rosa-Lopez’s arrest, DiNardo was heading to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis about abuse.
La Rosa-Lopez became parochial vicar at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe, Texas, in 1997. It was at Sacred Heart where two people now say La Rosa-Lopez abused them when they were teenagers.
One person told The Associated Press that La Rosa-Lopez tried to take his clothes off and put his hands down his pants. The other told authorities that La Rosa-Lopez groped her at various times and led her to believe they were in a secret relationship.
DiNardo came to the Houston archdiocese in 2004. By then, the archdiocese had already assigned La Rosa-Lopez to another parish and sent him for several months of sex addiction therapy. But both people who came forward first say they met directly with DiNardo, but that they felt the cardinal did not take them seriously.
The archdiocese said Thursday that it was cooperating with the ongoing investigation. It has previously said that it “deeply regrets such a fundamental violation of trust” and “commits itself to eliminating such unacceptable actions.”
La Rosa-Lopez’s attorney, Wendell Odom, did not return a phone message.