Priest in Conroe sex abuse cases sentenced to 10 years

CONROE – Father Manuel Antonio La Rosa Lopez left a Conroe courtroom in manacles Wednesday after being sentenced to ten years in prison for two counts of indecency with a child.

“He feels remorseful. This is a sad episode that’s over,” said his attorney Wendell Odom.

The cases stem from his sexual abuse of a 13-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy while La Rosa Lopez served as pastor at Conroe’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church in the ’90s. The sentence ended an investigation that began in 2018 by Conroe Police and the Montgomery County District Attorney after the victims came forward as adults.

During the hearing, both were given the opportunity to confront their abuser.

One of them, now a 35-year-old man, recounted how being abused by La Rosa Lopez, which robbed him of his life and his religion. The victim said he turned to alcohol to dull his pain, eventually landing in prison for DWI. Then he recounted a long, slow climb to redemption, eventually becoming a counselor to other victims of abuse.

The second victim recounted years of shame and fear after she was abused by the priest, before finding her herself again as a young mother, she told La Rosa Lopez in court.

“I stand here proudly for all the children, who will never have to meet you,” she said.

Nancy Hebert, one of the prosecutors who brought La Rosa Lopez to justice, said confronting La Rosa Lopez is a positive step in the victims’ healing process.

“As a prosecutor, I get the satisfaction our victims found their voice and an opportunity for that and as a citizen. I get the satisfaction of knowing these victims who’ve had their religion quieted have been able to go and find their religion again, being able to go out and find themselves,” she said.

La Rosa Lopez will be immediately transferred to TDCJ to begin serving his sentence. He’ll be eligible for parole in five years.

In their statements, both victims criticized the Church for failing to protect them from La Rosa Lopez.

“It remains our most fervent prayer that today’s proceedings will provide healing and peace to the victims and their families,” said Jo Ann Zuniga with the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston issued a brief statement