Catholic church launches review into Texas priest accused of seducing woman during confession

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo presides over a Mass of Ordination for seven candidates for the priesthood at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston on June 1. (David J. Phillip/AP)

The Catholic Church in Texas said it was reviewing allegations against a top priest accused of seducing a married woman while hearing her confessions.

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston — which is led by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference — announced the review Friday, saying the confession issue was a “new development.”

Laura Pontikes, 55, shared her story with the Associated Press, which published an investigation this week about DiNardo’s handling of the case. The woman said she told the archdiocese about Monsignor Frank Rossi’s conduct, but he was allowed at another diocese right after completing a treatment program.

Pontikes had been struggling with her marriage when she went to Rossi in 2012 for spiritual counseling. She said the No. 2 official in the diocese eventually took advantage of her vulnerable state to lure her into a sexual relationship.

Rossi also counseled her husband and often asked them for donations to the church, according to the report.

He took a woman that went into a church truly looking for God, and he took me for himself,” Pontikes told the AP.
The woman said their physical relationship grew in 2013 during a trip to Sicily, one of several family vacations he joined. She reported the relationship to the church three years later.
In a statement released after the AP report came out, the archdiocese strongly defended DiNardo’s handling of the case, saying he “reacted swiftly and justly” at each step of the investigation.

The archdiocese claims Pontikes demanded $10 million from the church during a 2017 meeting. It also told the AP the relationship was consensual and did not involve intercourse.

Police in Texas are also investigating the case.

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is the fifth largest Roman Catholic diocese in the country, serving about 1.7 million Texans, according to the church’s website.

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