Abuse scandal hits diocese of cardinal set to meet with pope

This undated photo provided by the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office shows Father Manuel LaRosa-Lopez. LaRosa-Lopez, was arrested Sept. 11, 2018, by police in Conroe, Texas and is accused of fondling two people when they were teenagers and he was a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe. (Montgomery County Sheriff's Office via AP)
Updated 13 September 2018

Abuse scandal hits diocese of cardinal set to meet with pope

  • The priest is accused of fondling both people when they were teenagers and he was a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe, Texas
  • The accusers claim they have complained against the priest to the archdiocese since 2001 but the priest was found to have continued working in another assignment

HOUSTON, Texas: As US Catholic leaders head to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis about a growing church abuse crisis, the cardinal leading the delegation has been accused by two people of not doing enough to stop a priest who was arrested this week on sexual abuse charges.

The two people told The Associated Press that they reported the priest and met with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. One of them says she was promised in a meeting with DiNardo, several years after she first reported abuse, that the priest would be removed from any contact with children, only to discover that the priest remained in active ministry at another parish 70 miles away.
The priest, Manuel LaRosa-Lopez, was arrested Tuesday by police in Conroe, Texas. Both people who spoke to the AP are cooperating with police.
The priest’s arrest and allegations that DiNardo kept an abusive priest around children cast a shadow over a Thursday summit at the Vatican between Pope Francis and American bishops and cardinals. DiNardo is leading the delegation, putting him in the position of having to fend off abuse allegations in his own diocese while at the same time calling on the pope to get tougher on clergy abuse.
In addition to his responsibilities in Houston, DiNardo is head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, a position that has made him a prominent figure in the church’s response to a new wave of allegations that Catholic leaders covered up sexual abuse. He has been outspoken in his calls for Pope Francis to investigate ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was removed from his post in July after a credible accusation that he groped a teenager.
DiNardo himself is now facing criticism for his role in handling a priest accused of abusing children.
LaRosa-Lopez, 60, is accused of fondling both people when they were teenagers and he was a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe. He is charged with four counts of indecency with a child. Each count carries a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison.
LaRosa-Lopez is now the pastor at St. John Fisher Catholic Church in Richmond while also serving as the archdiocese’s episcopal vicar for Hispanics.
The archdiocese issued a statement Wednesday confirming that both people had come forward to report abuse by LaRosa-Lopez, one of them in 2001. The archdiocese said it reported both allegations to the state Child Protective Services, and said it was unaware of any other “allegations of inappropriate conduct involving minors” against the priest. A spokesman for CPS on Wednesday declined to comment, citing confidentiality of the reports. LaRosa-Lopez did not immediately return a phone message left Wednesday.
“To anyone affected by any form of abuse by anyone who represents the Church, the Archdiocese deeply regrets such a fundamental violation of trust, and commits itself to eliminating such unacceptable actions,” the archdiocese said.
Both accusers who say they went to DiNardo are now in their 30s. The Associated Press typically does not identify victims in sexual abuse cases, and both people asked that their names be withheld.
One was flown by the church from the West Coast to Houston to meet with DiNardo and the victims’ assistance coordinator for the archdiocese. They met at the archdiocese on the afternoon of Aug. 10, just as he was taking on a greater role nationally in responding to the McCarrick saga.
The man wrote down notes from the meeting quickly after leaving, and shared a copy of the notes with AP.
“Cardinal seemed dismissive of situation,” the notes read. He also wrote down what he says is a quote from DiNardo: “You should have told us sooner.”
“It was a dismissive tone,” he recalled. “In the back of my head, I was thinking about his comment. I was so mad afterward.”
Both said they had believed their cases would be too old to prosecute under statute of limitations laws. But the Texas Legislature in 2007 removed the statute of limitations for indecency with a child cases. Montgomery County prosecutors say that change means their cases remain eligible to be prosecuted now.
The group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, has called for the Texas attorney general to investigate the Houston archdiocese and others for whether they covered up sexual abuse in their ranks.
“DiNardo needs to come clean on what he knows,” said Michael Norris, a member of SNAP.
Both victims say they were teenagers when LaRosa-Lopez tried to befriend them over a period before initiating physical contact.
The male victim said he became interested as a teenager in joining the clergy and going to seminary. He started to attend Mass and got to know LaRosa-Lopez. Eventually, he got a job where he worked nights at Sacred Heart as an assistant.
He remembered LaRosa-Lopez being known as “touchy-feely,” and that the priest’s contact with him became more physical over time: first touching on the arm, then hugging, then a kiss on the cheek.
One night, he said, the priest showed him pictures of young seminarians that “he had a lot of fun with,” and tried to take the teenager’s clothes off and put his hands down his pants. He pushed back and quickly left the residence. He said he reported the incident to church authorities last year. The archdiocese said Wednesday it was “formally presented” with the allegation in August.
The female accuser said LaRosa-Lopez befriended her during her weekly confession at Sacred Heart. “He basically was my only friend,” she said.
The female victim declined to detail what LaRosa-Lopez did, saying only that he touched her inappropriately shortly before Easter, after she had turned 16.
She says her father found out what had happened and the family reported it to the church. Church officials told her that LaRosa-Lopez would be moved.
The archdiocese confirmed Wednesday that LaRosa-Lopez was re-assigned in 2001 to another church, St. Francis de Sales, and then moved in 2004 to St. John Fisher, his current assignment. It would not confirm he was moved due to an abuse complaint.
She eventually resumed going to her church with LaRosa-Lopez transferred to a new location.
But in 2010, she saw a copy of the archdiocese’s internal newsletter, which announced LaRosa-Lopez’s appointment as vicar of Hispanic ministry. She thought there was a chance DiNardo didn’t know about her complaint because it had predated his time in Houston.
She contacted the church and started to meet with a therapist paid for by the archdiocese. Eventually, she met with DiNardo and other top clergy in the diocese. She says they told her that after she had come forward, LaRosa-Lopez was sent to a hospital for psychiatric treatment twice and that would no longer be allowed to work with children.
Then LaRosa-Lopez was brought in for about 10 minutes, she confronted him about the abuse and he apologized.
She says she later discovered that LaRosa-Lopez remained at St. John Fisher, in the presence of children.
Of DiNardo, the woman said, “I’m tired of all of his empty words.”
“If he’s going to go meet with the Pope and pretend that all of this is OK and his diocese is clean, I can’t stand it,” she said. “I can’t be quiet.”
The Associated Press asked Tuesday to interview DiNardo and other top leaders at the archdiocese. It also submitted a list of questions about both victims’ allegations.
A spokesman for the archdiocese declined the interview requests or to address specific allegations about what DiNardo told the victims.
LaRosa-Lopez was not present at Mass in St. John Fisher on Saturday night or Sunday. A reporter who visited both days saw that a parking spot, marked with a sign reserving the space for “Father Manuel,” was empty.
Parishioners were told on Sunday morning Mass that LaRosa-Lopez was “at a retreat.”


Taiwan’s leader launches production of domestically made submarine

Updated 24 November 2020

Taiwan’s leader launches production of domestically made submarine

  • President Tsai Ing-wen has made boosting Taiwan’s indigenous defense capacity a central pillar of her defense policy

KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan: Taiwan’s president inaugurated the production of domestically made submarines Tuesday in the southern city of Kaohsiung, in a step forward for the island’s defense strategy at a time of elevated tensions with China.
“This submarine is an important part of allowing our navy to develop asymmetric warfare and to intimidate and block enemy ships from surrounding Taiwan’s main island,” said President Tsai Ing-wen. “Now, with the construction of the submarine to its future commission, we will certainly let the world know our persistence in safeguarding our sovereignty.”
Tsai has made boosting Taiwan’s indigenous defense capacity a central pillar of her defense policy. Recently, she relaunched the military aviation industry with the production of new trainer jets and has pushed for the development of more sophisticated systems by utilizing the island’s high-tech industries.
At the same time, she has gained approval from the US for the purchase of billions of dollars in weapons, including upgraded F-16 fighter jets, armed drones, rocket systems and Harpoon missiles capable of hitting both ships and land targets.
China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province that is part of its territory and has been upping its threats to bring the island under control by force as economic and political enticements bear little fruit. China has stepped up military exercises toward Taiwan this year, flying fighter jets and reconnaissance planes on an almost daily basis toward the island of 24 million people, which lies 160 kilometers off China’s southeast coast across the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan turned to the expensive and time-consuming task of building its own submarines after Beijing has successfully prevented it from purchasing such craft from abroad in recent years through the use of economic and diplomatic threats
Only a handful of countries around the world are capable of manufacturing submarines for modern warfare and Taiwan’s move toward that step has taken years. The Taiwanese subs’ designs have reportedly drawn on foreign expertise, despite the obstacles thrown up by China.
CSBC Corp., which is Taiwan’s largest ship builder and is partially government owned, was awarded a contract to design and build the subs in 2017, in partnership with arms developer National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology.
Plans call for the building of eight indigenous submarines at an estimated cost of more than $16 billion, with the first one to be completed by 2024.
The project has already faced criticism over its cost. The design phase itself was estimated to cost around 3 billion Taiwanese dollars ($100 million).
The submarine has been in the design stage for four years, overcoming all sorts of difficulties that could not be revealed to the public, CSBC’s chairman, Cheng Wen-lon, said Tuesday.
Tsai, whom China despises for refusing to recognize Taiwan as part of Chinese territory, conceded that the program was a struggle, but said her government wouldn’t be deterred.
“Walking on this path that historically the government has never taken before, there were all kinds of challenges, and we were met with all sorts of doubts, but challenges and doubts won’t defeat us,” Tsai said, standing in front of the workshop where the submarine parts will be manufactured.
Legislators, the defense minister, members of the design team and the de facto US ambassador to Taiwan, Brent Christensen, attended the ceremony at CSBC’s shipyard in the sprawling southern port city.
Although Washington has no formal relations with the island’s democratically elected government, it remains its main ally, and US law requires the government to ensure that Taiwan can defend itself. Weapons sales to the island have increased in quantity and quality in recent years, especially under the Trump administration.
Facing a potential Chinese foe with overwhelming superiority in missiles, soldiers, ships and planes, Taiwan has struggled to assure its own people, as well as the US, that it is capable of and willing to defend itself.
Along with world’s largest standing military, numbering around 2 million members, China has the largest navy, with approximately 350 vessels, including two aircraft carriers and about 56 submarines. It also possesses around 2,000 combat fighters and bombers and 1,250 ground-launched ballistic missiles, considered a key strategic and psychological weapon against Taiwan.
Taiwan’s armed forces are a fraction of that number, with much of its ground force consisting of short-term conscripts, and its fleet numbers only around 86 vessels, roughly half of them missile boats for coastal patrol.
Taiwan’s navy presently has just two combat-ready submarines, versions of the Zwaardvis-class subs purchased from the Netherlands in the 1980s in a deal that led to a major diplomatic rift between Bejing and The Hague.