HOUSTON - Investigators said a search warrant executed Wednesday at the offices of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is connected to the investigation of a priest accused of abusing children at a Catholic church in Conroe.
The offices are located at 1700 San Jacinto Street in downtown Houston. The search continued through the night. Several boxes were seen being removed throughout the day. It is not clear what the boxes contain or what information the documents contain.
In a news release, the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office Brett Ligon said the warrant was in connection with the joint investigation of the Rev. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, who has been charged with four counts of indecency with a child involving sexual contact.
"Whether it's a search warrant at the Shalom Center, whether it's a search warrant in Fort Bend County at the Catholic church there or at my home church, Sacred Heart in Conroe, we're going to wherever the investigation requires us to go," Ligon said later at a press conference.
La Rosa-Lopez was arrested in September after investigators said a man and woman accused him of abuse while he was assigned to Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe from the late 1990s to early 2000s.
Authorities said this is the fourth search warrant that has been served as part of the investigation.
Ligon said Wednesday's warrant was meant to gather documents, records, electronics and other evidence believed to be connected to the case.
"Harris County happens to be where my investigation led me," Ligon said. "If it led me to Rome, we'd be at the Vatican today."
La Rosa-Lopez’ attorney Wendel Odom says the search of diocese offices is unnecessary.
“It’s troublesome because they’re doing a search warrant and there’s no need for a search warrant. What they’re doing is coming with police officers to a church and seizing document from a church,” Odom said.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese said church leaders are fully cooperating with investigators, and released the following statement:
"This morning, the District Attorney of Montgomery County executed a search warrant for records and information related to an ongoing investigation. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston continues to cooperate, as we have since the outset, with this process. In fact, consistent with Cardinal DiNardo’s pledge of full cooperation, the information being sought was already being compiled.
"The reporting of a 'secret archives' is merely a Church term pertaining to confidential documents kept in a secure manner for the protection of the privacy of individuals — not unlike medical records.
'Pending additional information or developments, the Archdiocese will have no further comment on this ongoing investigation.'"
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo told KPRC2's Bill Balleza Thursday that church records concerning La Rosa-Lopez and any other priests accused of sexual misconduct are already being compiled by the church to be made public in January.
"We are bringing in an independent group of auditors to review our files," DiNardo said during an exclusive interview with Balleza.
The two alleged Conroe victims told investigators they met with the Cardinal before going to the police but felt he didn't take their complaints seriously.
Odom wasn't pleased with the way the investigation was going.
"It shouldn't be an opportunity for the state to go crazy and start coming in and seizing all church records with total disregard of other avenues," Odom said. "It's very unusual that the state would come in with such strong-arm tactics. This is sort of tactics you see with drug dealers and activities were you think someone is destroying evidence."
La Rosa-Lopez has been released from jail on bond. He is expected to plead not guilty during his next court appearance in January, KPRC2 has learned.
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