Texas Grand Jury Will Not Indict Monsignor In Consent Case

 

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More than a year after Laura Pontikes filed a criminal complaint with Houston police stating that Monsignor Frank Rossi sexually assaulted her,The Harris County District Attorney’s Office presented the case against him. For years, Monsignor Rossi was the vicar-general to Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the Catholic archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. bishops conference who has been leading the U.S. hierarchy’s response to the sexual abuse scandal.

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The decision by Texas grand jury was not to indict Monsignor Rossi on charges he sexually assaulted Laura Pontikes. “A grand jury was presented all the evidence and determined that no criminal charges are warranted,” said Dane Schiller, spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, as the Religion News Service reports. “If new evidence is discovered at a later date, prosecutors have the option of presenting that evidence to another grand jury for consideration.”

Laura Pontikes, a Houston business executive, had alleged that Rossi manipulated her into a sexual relationship, all while acting as her spiritual adviser, hearing her confessions and counseling her husband on their troubled marriage. This case opened a debate about consent in the #MeToo era. Even though the archdiocese stated at the time that Rossi's relationship with Pontikes was inappropriate but consensual.  Under Texas law a relationship is not consensual if a clergyman exploits the victim's emotional dependency on him. Monsignor Rossi, as Laura's spiritual adviser and as a clergyman who heard her confessions, probably had moral and spiritual authority over her and it can be said that she was emotionally dependent on him. Laura even publicly provided her emails with Rossi in which she expressed grief about her emotional dependency on him while Rossi assured her that God had brought them together and that their “holy touches” were sanctioned.

Texas is one of 13 U.S. states that criminalizes sex between clergy and parishioners when such relationship is not consensual but criminal indictments are very rare. Even though the case that was presented to Texas grand jury was clearly the case of a not consensual relationship the Grand jury declined to indict the clergyman. According to the Religion News Service, David Pooler, associate professor of social work at BaylorUniversity in Waco, Texas, who studied clergy sexual abuse of adults, said he considered Pontikes’ case a “slam dunk” instance of non-consent.He questioned whether the prosecutor was unpersuasive, whether the defense was spectacular, or whether the jury didn’t understand “that what happened was abuse and (was) not able to name it as abuse.”

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