HOUSTON — A Houston-area Catholic priest pleaded guilty on Tuesday to indecency with a child related to molestations that took place at his church more than 20 years ago.
Manuel La Rosa-Lopez had been facing five charges of indecency with a child. But as part of an agreement with the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, La Rosa-Lopez agreed to plead guilty to two of the counts in exchange for a 10-year sentence, said Nancy Hebert, one of the prosecutors in the case.
The three other counts, some which relate to a third victim, were dropped as part of the agreement. La Rosa-Lopez had been set to go to trial in January. If he had been convicted by a jury, he could have been sentenced to up to 20 years.
The two counts La Rosa-Lopez pleaded guilty to arise from allegations made against him while he was a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe, located just north of Houston.
In one case, La Rosa-Lopez in April 2000 brought a teenage girl to his office after confession, kissed her and then groped her days later, according to authorities. In the other case, a teenage boy told authorities La Rosa-Lopez tried to take the boy’s clothes off and put his hands down the victim’s pants in 1999.
“A wrong was committed, and it had to be made right,” said Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon. “We hope that with time the wounds this man so selfishly created will heal and that even the scars will fade. (La-Rosa Lopez) despised everything we hold dear. He can now consider all the harm he’s caused from a prison cell.”
La Rosa-Lopez, who is free on bond, will be formally sentenced during a court hearing on Dec. 16.
La Rosa-Lopez’s attorney, Wendell Odom, said it wasn’t any easy decision for his client to make, “but after much consultation, he decided to plead guilty.”
“This is unfortunate. It happened many years ago and he’s just happy to have closure and get this over with,” Odom said.
The 62-year-old La Rosa-Lopez was the pastor at St. John Fisher Catholic Church in the Houston suburb of Richmond when he was arrested in 2018. He is no longer a pastor and has been removed from ministry, but he remains a priest.
The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston declined to comment Tuesday on La Rosa-Lopez’s guilty plea or whether he will remain a priest.
Following La Rosa-Lopez’s arrest, a third person came forward to authorities to accuse him of sexually touching him when he was a teenager.
All three individuals who accused La Rosa-Lopez have said that they had discussed their cases with church officials but felt their accusations were not taken seriously.
Hebert said the plea agreement “brings resolution to this case that’s taken the victims 20 years to get here.”