Nearly 50 local and federal law enforcement officers conducted a surprise search of the offices of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston on Wednesday, looking for evidence in a clergy sexual abuse case that has ensnared the local archbishop, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, who also serves as president of the United States Catholic bishops’ conference.
The cardinal has encouraged bishops across the country to cooperate with law enforcement as attorneys general in at least a dozen states have opened investigations into whether their local dioceses covered up priests accused of child sexual abuse.
The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston said in a statement on Wednesday that it was cooperating fully and already providing documents, and that characterizing the search as an involuntary “raid” was unjustified.
But the assistant district attorney in charge of the investigation said that a search of the church offices was necessary because the archdiocese had turned over only a portion of the evidence.
“We anticipate there being a large volume of records,” said J. Tyler Dunman, an assistant district attorney and chief of the special crimes bureau for Montgomery County, who is in charge of the case. “What we’ve been provided is nowhere near what we expect to find.”
Investigators were searching primarily for records on the Rev. Manuel LaRosa-Lopez, who was arrested in September on four felony counts of indecency with a child. “But if we come across additional documents or evidence of criminal conduct,” said Mr. Dunman, investigators would gather those up too.
The Rev. Manuel LaRosa-Lopez, who has been accused of abuse.CreditMontgomery County Sheriff's Office, via Associated Press
Father LaRosa-Lopez worked for the archdiocese for decades. Cardinal DiNardo had assigned him to work in a parish and appointed him as the vicar for Hispanics for the archdiocese, despite knowing that Father LaRosa-Lopez had been accused in 2001 of molesting a teenage girl.
A lawyer for Father LaRosa-Lopez, Wendell Odom, said last month that his client “denies any improper touching that would be considered a criminal act.” But he said that Father LaRosa-Lopez may have committed a “boundary violation,” and had apologized years ago to the young woman.
The priest was arrested after a second alleged victim — a man — came forward to the archdiocese and to the police this year. Investigators are now working with four alleged victims of Father LaRosa-Lopez, and are communicating with others who may have been abused by him, Mr. Dunman said in a telephone interview.
The law enforcement officers who searched the archdiocesan offices on Wednesday were from the Texas Rangers, the Conroe Police Department, the Montgomery County district attorney’s office and other federal agencies, Mr. Dunman said, though he declined to specify which agencies. They combed through the building searching for documents, electronic communications and other evidence.
Last month, the attorney general in Michigan executed search warrants on all seven Catholic dioceses in that state. Over more than 15 years, other bishops have had their offices searched when law enforcement suspected they were withholding records.
“Files can be in quite a few different places, and there are different sets of files,” said Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, a research and advocacy organization that documents the Catholic Church’s abuse scandal.
Catholic dioceses keep personnel files as well as secret archives — confidential files that would contain any allegations of misconduct or treatment for problems such as addiction or pedophilia.
After Father LaRosa-Lopez was accused in 2001 of touching the teenager, he was sent to the Shalom Center, a treatment facility in Splendora, Tex. Law enforcement agents raided that center in September, as well as two parishes where Father LaRosa-Lopez had worked. He was released on bond in September, and is scheduled to appear in court in January.