HOUSTON – The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston removed a Houston priest from public ministry after allegations surfaced that he had sexually abused minors and possibly fathered children with them decades ago in Columbia.
The Rev. Jesus Suarez served as pastor at St. Philip of Jesus Church for more than 10 years and the congregation had more than doubled in that time, parishioners said.
“It’s sad for our faith for things like that to happen,” lifelong member Matilda Hernandez, who is 92, said. “In all that time, like I said, I had never heard anything. Nothing.”
Suarez arrived in the United States in 1994, the archdiocese said in a statement. A letter was sent to parishioners over the weekend at churches where Suarez served, including Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe.
The Rev. Manuel De La Rosa Lopez, who turned himself in to authorities last September after two people accused him of sexual abuse, served as pastor at Sacred Heart.
Suarez served as associate pastor, but it is unclear if De La Rosa and Suarez served together.
“He was the best friend I ever had in the church,” lifelong member of St. Philip of Jesus Church Esther Gutierrez, who is 96, said of Suarez. “He always talked to me, he always said, 'God is your God.'”
The archdiocese sent a statement to KPRC2 that read:
"The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has removed Father Jesus Suarez from public ministry while it investigates an allegation that he sexually abused minors, which may have resulted in the birth of children. The abuse allegedly occurred in Colombia, before he came to the United States in 1994.
"The Archdiocese was just recently made aware of this allegation and it has received no other allegations of sexual abuse of minors against him.
"A letter regarding this was read to parishioners at all churches in the Archdiocese where Father Suarez has previously served. Most recently, Fr. Suarez was serving as Pastor of St. Philip of Jesus Parish in Houston.
"The Houston Police Department has been notified of this allegation."
Suarez is the second priest with ties to Sacred Heart Catholic Church who has been accused of sex abuse.
Lopez, formerly of Sacred Heart, is accused of four counts of indecency with a child. The cases involved two victims and the abuse reportedly took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church of Conroe on Saturday posted the following on Facebook after it received the letter about Suarez from the archdiocese:
"Dear Parishioners of Sacred Heart,
"I received news via email late yesterday that Fr. Jesus Suarez, currently pastor of St. Philip of Jesus in Houston, has been removed from active ministry due to allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor while serving in Colombia before coming to our archdiocese.
"Fr. Suarez served here in Conroe as Parochial Vicar and so I am to read the attached statement at all Masses this weekend. All prior assignment parishes and his present one are being advised so that if there was any sexual misconduct by him with minors in these parishes, those victims would contact civil authorities.
"Let us continue to pray for all survivors of sexual abuse, their families, and the purification of the Church.
Fr. Philip Wilhite, Pastor"