Photo Credit: Life News
In 2016, Laura Pontikes came forward to report to Cardinal Daniel DiNardo that his deputy in the Galveston-Houston archdiocese had manipulated her into a sexual relationship. The relationship had gone on for years while the abusive priest heard the woman's confessions and counseled her husband on their marriage. He even pressed the couple for hundreds of dollars in donations.
After Laura Pontikes informed Cardinal DiNardo about her case, he praised her for coming forward and declared her a victim of the priest. Therefore she was sure that the priest, Monsignor Frank Rossi, would never be a pastor or be allowed to counsel women again. But Rossi was allowed by DiNardo to take a new job as pastor of a parish two hours away in east Texas.
Rossi exploited Laura's emotional vulnerability when she was at a low point in her life and sought spiritual counseling from a priest. He drew her into a physical relationship that he called blessed by God and prayed on her emotions. “He took a woman that went into a church truly looking for God, and he took me for himself,” Laura said, according to Religion News Service. Laura also alleges that the priest attempted to absolve her sacramentally of sexual sins she confessed to committing with him, which is a serious canonical offense that can lead to excommunication, as Catholic News Agency reports.
Rossi's manipulation and sexual relationship with Laura is now the subject of a previously undisclosed criminal investigation in Houston. Under Texas criminal law, a member of the clergy can be charged with sexual assault of an adult if the priest exploited an emotional dependency in a spiritual relationship.
Yet DiNardo's handling of the case is just another example of a powerful man who closed his eyes when a victim sought help. He even threatened Laura's husband that the archdiocese would respond aggressively to any legal challenge — and that the fallout would hurt their family and business. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) accused Dinardo that he allowed predator priests to remain in ministry in Houston, as well as in his previous diocese in Sioux City, Iowa. His office was raided by law enforcement as part of an investigation into an alleged abuser and they found files locked away in a bank vault that the archdiocese had failed to turn over. According to these files, Cardinal DiNardo allegedly covered up for his colleagues and mishandled sex abuse cases. Bearing in mind his high position in the Catholic Church, his actions can have many consequences.