Rev. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, a 62-year-old priest from Houston, Texas, has pleaded guilty to two out of five charges of indecency with a child.
He now faces up to 10 years in prison for multiple cases that go back over 20 years. He was initially facing 20 years, but the deal that came along with his guilty plea cut the sentence in half.
As a part of La Rosa-Lopez’s plea agreement, three other charges against him were dropped. One of those charges would have been third-degree child indecency.
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The case has also put the archdiocese of Galveston-Houston under a microscope due to its failure in handling the numerous allegations.
Montgomery County chief prosecutor Nancy Hebert explained the plea deal to reporters with Noticias Telemundo Investiga, saying that, “We offered him to plead guilty on two of the greater charges, which were second-degree felonies, indecency with a child. In exchange for that plea, we’re dismissing the other three charges.”
Two of the victims to come forward were not identified in court documents and were referred to as John Doe and Jane Doe. The plaintiffs in the case say that the priest sexually abused them in the late 1990s and the early 2000s when he was a priest at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe, Texas.
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In a statement, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston recognized the ruling, saying that, “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 punishment that awaits him. It is our fervent prayer that all persons hurt by sexual abuse, and their families, will find healing and peace, and we certainly hope that is the case for all those impacted by today’s decision.”
La Rosa-Lopez was arrested in 2018 while he was working as a pastor at St. John Fisher Catholic Church in Richmond, a suburb of Houston.
One of the victims, who was 15 at the time of the abuse, told Telemundo that he hasn’t told anyone about what happened until many years later.
“What happened to me in the confessional happened and then I left and never told anyone, until a little over 15 years later. These sexual accusations are so normal, so regular, that the church sets aside an amount of money to hire lawyers, to not defend these priests. I would like to see the church focus those funds and resources towards helping victims,” the victim, who identified himself as J, said.
Tahira Merritt, the attorney for John Doe and Jane Doe, said that the sentence should be longer, but “at least he will be away from children when he’s incarcerated and will be a lifetime sex offender and registered as a lifetime sex offender.”
La Rosa-Lopez’s attorney, Wendell Odom, said that his client is happy to have closure “and get this over with,” stating that the abuse took place a long time ago.
The priest’s crimes came to light after a lawsuit was filed by Jane and John Doe in February of this year, in which the pair alleged that the archdiocese and the Vatican covered up the abuse.
The lawsuit claims that on one occasion the Catholic Church agreed to pay compensation to the plaintiffs to avoid seeing them in court.