Where are the credibly accused priests?

KPRC 2 Investigates found 1 priest living around the corner from a school

HOUSTON – A year ago, there was hope: justice for the victims of clergy sexual abuse.

"We want to substantiate what those young people who have suffered, the victims, the survivors, that's what today is all about," said Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston on Jan. 31, 2019 in an interview with KPRC 2.

But one year later, what has come of these revelations that accused over 40 priests from the Archdiocese of an unthinkable act?

Where is the transparency?

"We at SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) are calling for true transparency, not the opaque transparency of a stained glass window from a church in denial," said Eduardo Lopez de Casas, co-leader of SNAP Houston and clergy abuse victim.

Lopez de Casas grew up in church, rarely missing a Sunday Mass even in his darkest times.

"I was abused over 40 years ago, and I never left the church," Lopez de Casas said.

"When I went off to college, I probably didn't go to church for a month and a half thinking, 'Oh my gosh I don't have my parents waking me up anymore, my Sundays are free!' Eventually, I just couldn't stand it. I had to go back to church."

Then Lopez de Casas went to work in the church as a music director for Spanish language services, most recently at Prince of Peace in Tomball.

"Every weekend, I sang at most of the funerals, most of the weddings," he said. "The amazing thing is that when I went to work there, I did not know anything about the man that was going to become my boss... John Keller."

Keller was removed from the church the same day his name appeared on the list.

The Archdiocese has kept quiet about Keller's whereabouts and the same for the others on the list, which has left parishioners and victims guessing.

Houston retirement home

Lopez de Casas questioned the rationale for places like the Fiorenza Priests Retirement Residence at St. Dominic Village that houses priests with the Archdiocese funds.

KPRC 2 Investigates looked into the history of that retirement center, which is next door to Hermann Park in the Medical Center.

A few credibly accused priests, such as Charles Schoppe, Denis Lynch, Anthony Stredny and Dennis Peterson, were at one time or another connected to the address. But, none were currently at the address.

The Archdiocese said none of the priests on the credibly accused list live there now.

"No current priest residents are the subject of any criminal investigation or pending charges of any kind," the Archdiocese said.

House owned by the Archdiocese

But one priest that is under criminal investigation is Father Manuel La Rosa-Lopez. KPRC 2 Investigates searched for him.

According to court documents, La Rosa-Lopez lives in a suburban southeast Houston neighborhood. Property records show the Archdiocese owns the house. The house is down the block from a school zone.

"The church should take it upon themselves to make sure the predator priests are nowhere near children, that's a no-brainer," said Cris Feldman, a Houston lawyer who has handled several church abuse cases in the past.

However, La Rosa-Lopez isn't violating any conditions of his bond, according to the district attorney's office.

"As long as there is accessibility, there is vulnerability," said Feldman. "And even though that's not in the bond, that is quite unfortunate."

La Rosa-Lopez goes to trial in March in Montgomery County.

Response from the Archdiocese

Officials with the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese agreed to speak with KPRC 2 late Friday to explain why the church continues to support priests, who have been credibly accused.

Judicial Vicar of the Archdiocese Father Luke Millette said while there is a debate within the church on this point, the issue comes down to the 'code of canon law.'

"The law is very clear, when someone gives themselves over to the priesthood, at that point the church takes on the responsibility to care for them for the rest of their lives," said Father Millette. "While it doesn't mean Bishops like doing it, they're bound to uphold the laws themselves. If they were to disregard these laws, if they were to disregard what Rome tells them to do, then they themselves would be liable for penalties as well."

KPRC 2 asked if the same code of canon law applies to priests who have been convicted of abuse.

Father Millette said, "Yes, it does."

Changes from the Vatican

In December, Pope Francis announced significant changes in how the church deals with clergy abuse cases and revoked the Papal Secrets law.

"It used to be considered by Canon (law) secret, period," said Feldman. "You weren't able to talk about it, report, none of that."

The Vatican now says witnesses and victims, "shall not be bound by any obligation of silence" and should cooperate with the police, but they don't have to.

"Now, there is the ability of responsible members of the church to report it, but it's still not required by Canon," said Feldman.

But, all of this is too little too late for Lopez de Casas. After decades of loyalty, Lopez de Casas left his parish.

“I think my ties have finally been broken. It does not mean that I’m not Catholic,” said Lopez de Casas. “I was always told by my mother God is everywhere.”

About the Authors:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”

Award-winning broadcast journalist covering local, regional, national and international stories. Recognized in the industry for subject matter expertise including: Legal/Court Research, the Space Industry, Education, Environmental Issues, Underserved Populations and Data Visualization.