It seems civil law trumps church secrets – and it’s about time

For many centuries, the Catholic Church maintained that its clergy and religious (i.e. monks, nuns, brothers and sisters in religious orders) could not be tried in civil or criminal courts, but had to be dealt with by the Church itself.  That continued until the Reformation, and even after it in some countries.  The Church considered herself to be above most aspects of criminal and civil law.  In some ways, it appears to still hold that belief – witness, for example, the refusal by many bishops to refer clergy child sex abuse cases to the civil authorities for prosecution.

Part of that mentality was, and still is, for the Church to have secret archives of material it considers particularly confidential for one reason or another.  Members of the Church do not have access to that archive;  even most priests are not permitted to view its contents.  They’re restricted to the bishop and assistants he designates to maintain the archive.  Some of its contents are routine – personnel assessments, that sort of thing.  Others are far more sensitive, such as details of accusations against clergy (whether proven or not), investigations, and so on.

The Diocese of Buffalo was in the news recently when its confidential archivist went public with details of clergy sex abuse cases that had not been shared with the authorities or the faithful.  I’m sure this caused consternation among other US Catholic bishops, who must have been asking themselves how much material from their own confidential archives may have been compromised in the same way.  It also led to a stern warning from the Federal government that secret archives should not be purged of material relevant to ongoing investigations of clergy sex abuse cases.

It now appears that at least one jurisdiction is tired of just asking for information, and has decided to go after it the hard way.

Dozens of state and local law enforcement swarmed the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston’s downtown office Wednesday to seize records related to Father Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, the priest accused of sexually abusing at least two children who attended a Conroe church.

Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon said the surprise search was aimed at a trove of employment and disciplinary records related to La Rosa-Lopez and his time at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe.

If evidence of additional victims or accused priests were found outside Montgomery County, the Texas Rangers were there to seize it, Ligon said.

A set of confidential documents kept by each diocese, known as “secret archives” in Canon law, was among the records sought.

. . .

Ligon told reporters that “the Catholic Church has cooperated to a degree.”

“Even if DiNardo is cooperative, the people working for him may not,” Ligon said. “He can be transparent all he wants, but what he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know. I’m born suspicious as hell. I assume people are going to lie to me and not tell the truth.”

. . .

The search warrant was the fourth one issued in La Rosa-Lopez’s case after Montgomery County authorities previously searched the Conroe church, the Shalom Treatment Center in Splendora and the St. John Fisher Catholic Church in Richmond where La Rosa-Lopez was most recently assigned.

“If there’s something to cover up, I’m sure I’ll find it,” Ligon said. “If it leads to the Vatican, I’ll be headed to Rome.”

There’s more at the link.

I can only applaud the authorities’ determination to trace all available evidence, and not allow religious scruples to stand in their way.  I hope and trust that this step will be repeated throughout the country, in an effort to bring to justice all who deserve it.  I’m sure many bishops will object, but their own actions and outright mendacity have rendered such protests meaningless.  The Catholic Church no longer has any moral authority, in the eyes of the world.  It should have moral authority, but its own misconduct has stripped it of any and all such pretensions . . . and that’s a tragedy in itself.



  1. A sad but necessary event. I would have liked to see records seized nationwide. I fear many records in other diocese are at this moment being disposed of.

  2. Montgomery County is a collar county just north of Harris County (Houston). It's very conservative politically; I read an article recently to the effect that Montgomery County voters gave Ted Cruz his margin of victory over Tex Kennedy. Montgomery County has also long been considered one of the Texas counties hardest on crime. Idiot priest. When the DA of Montgomery County says he'll go to Rome, then I believe him; the voters who elected him expect nothing less.

  3. I suspect another thing that will eventually happen is that a priest will be compelled to testify about what they were told in the confessional. In 2014 Louisiana ruled that a priest had to testify but later changed its mind.

  4. Martin Luther had a point.
    The Roman Catholic Church was evil incarnate for centuries.
    They polished their image in the latter half of the 20th century but all before that was mostly evil. I don't write that lightly. What they did to unwed mothers, the raped and the rest of God's people was pretty Roman.

    I'll believe when a true believer confesses his horrible sins before the civil authorities and pays the price. I'm done with the seal of the confessionol. They can lick stones.

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