On November 28, District Attorney Brett Ligon of Montgomery County, Texas, led the raid on the chancery of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston-Galveston, the president of the US bishops’ conference, alongside Texas Rangers, the Conroe Police Department and an unnamed federal agency. The search warrant in Houston was issued to obtain evidence against Fr Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, who allegedly abused minors in Conroe, Texas. (He denies the allegations.)
The “main focus” of the raid was to gather information on Fr La Rosa-Lopez, but Tyler Dunman, a spokesman for the Montgomery County DA, told the Catholic Herald that if evidence of more crimes were uncovered in the raid, it could be used for more prosecutions.
“With any search warrant, if you uncover additional criminal evidence or evidence of wrongdoing then you can arrest it at that time,” he said.
When asked whether, if such evidence were found, they would pursue it, he said: “Sure, yes.”
Dunman confirmed that “we do have federal authorities who are working with us”, but declined to say what agency they came from.
In Monday’s Houston Chronicle, Cardinal DiNardo wrote: “This archdiocese takes every allegation of wrongdoing brought to our attention seriously, and is fully cooperating – and will cooperate – with any and all investigations related to the clergy abuse of minors.”
Yet Dunman struck a critical note. He said that “we have received certain items” when asked specifically, but added that investigators had not been given any kind of blanket access to diocesan records.
“Frankly, we knew that there were a ton more that we had not received,” he said. “Cooperation for us means that when you have a priest who’s arrested for child molestation, you would turn over everything voluntarily as soon as possible to the authorities. That would be cooperation in our mind, and that hasn’t happened.”
One lingering question is which federal agency was present at the Houston raid, and whether there is any investigation on the federal level. Fifty agents is an awful lot of manpower for a single investigation. Ligon said at a press conference that the Rangers were present in order to handle any evidence that might pertain to crimes elsewhere in Texas.
In addition to raids in Michigan in October and New Mexico last month, which were conducted by state attorneys general, there was also one in Jackson, Mississippi, in early November by the Department of Homeland Security.
In each of these cases, there was a specific offending priest on whom information was sought. In Jackson, the fact that the priest was born in Mexico and treated in Canada lent it an international dimension that explains federal involvement. But, as in Houston, law enforcement officials are free to pursue other crimes should evidence be found.
As for Ligon, he has promised to take the investigation “to Rome” if that’s where the evidence leads. He said at the press conference: “The good thing is I’ve taken the burden off everybody in the Catholic Church. They don’t have to know anything. I’m gonna find it all out.” A Catholic himself, Ligon stresses that the search warrant “is not against the Catholic Church”.
Ligon may already be known to younger audiences for his practice of tweeting out the names of suspects arrested for driving under the influence in his jurisdiction. He describes himself as “suspicious as hell. And so I assume that people are going to lie to me.”
It has become a common refrain from Catholics that Caesar will step in if the Church can’t clean up its act on its own. That may be true, but the investigators may also need to be scrutinised.
One example is Kathleen Kane, the attorney general who convened the Pennsylvania grand jury that produced the explosive report released last month. The day after Ligon’s raid, Kane reported to a Philadelphia prison to begin a 10- to 23-month term on several charges, including perjury obstruction. She was found guilty of leaking information on another, unrelated grand jury report.
We should be aware of the powerful influence that law enforcement officials have over the Church in this time of crisis. The Pennsylvania report resulted in the resignation of Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl.
None of which is to cast doubt on the investigators’ findings, or to say that the state shouldn’t investigate misconduct and prosecute predators. It may simply be wise to take their investigations with a grain of salt.
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