Former auxiliary bishop who mishandled reports of misconduct named pastor in Cincinnati archdiocese

shutterstock 1153720645 Saint Peter in Chains Cathedral on W 8th Street in Cincinnati, Ohio. | Nagel photography/Shutterstock

A Catholic bishop who resigned last year as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati amid controversy for failure to report to his archbishop and to the archdiocese’s personnel board a priest's alleged innapropriate behavior with a minor has been named pastor of a two-church pastoral region.

Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Joseph Binzer was named pastor of the Corpus Christi and St. John Neumann Pastoral Region, which includes two Catholic churches in Hamilton County, the television station Fox19 reports.

An archdiocese spokesperson said Bishop Binzer would continue his roles as the program coordinator for senior clergy services; director of Health and Hospital Ministries; and chaplain for the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Cincinnati.

In May 2020 the Holy See Press Office announced that Pope Francis had accepted the then-65-year-old bishop’s resignation as an auxiliary bishop of the Cincinnati archdiocese. The statement gave no reason for the decision.

At the time, Bishop Binzer apologized for his response to reports of misconduct by Father Geoff Drew, who will soon go to trial for raping a 10-year-old after pleading not guilty. The bishop said he was “deeply sorry for my role in addressing the concerns raised about Father Drew, which has had a negative impact on the trust and faith of the people of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.”

Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati removed Bishop Binzer from his position as head of priest personnel in August 2019, after CNA presented officials with its investigation into claims that Bishop Binzer failed to pass on reports that Fr. Drew had engaged in inappropriate behavior with teenage boys.

Bishop Binzer later resigned as a member of the U.S. bishops’ conference committee for the protection of children and young people.

Fr. Kyle Schnippel, the outgoing pastor of the Corpus Christi and St. John Neumann Pastoral Region, said he was “surprised” to be nominated for another assignment. The priest said the transition planning has already begun for Bishop Binzer.

Fr. Schnippel recounted his conversation with the bishop in a letter to parishioners at the St. John Neumann’s website.

“As I spoke to (the) bishop shortly after the announcements were made, he assured me of his excitement and joy at coming here,” Fr. Schnippel said. “The first thing he wanted me to pass along to everyone here is that he is already praying for us, for you: the parishioners of these two parishes. He has some connections here already. An aunt and uncle were parishioners at Corpus Christi for a time and he has celebrated Mass here a number of times as well. He is looking forward to getting to know you all better over the coming years.”

At the time of Bishop Binzer’s resignation, Archbishop Schnurr said the bishop would continue to serve in the archdiocese, as determined in conversations among the archbishop, the archbishop, and the priest personnel board.

“In this difficult and unfortunate time, please keep Bishop Binzer and all the people of the archdiocese in your prayers,” Archbishop Schnurr said in May 2020.

The bishop’s appointment as a pastor has drawn media attention and criticism because of his handling of misconduct reports against a priest.

In August 2019 CNA reported that Binzer was told in 2013 about allegations concerning Fr. Drew, and failed to disclose them to Archbishop Schnurr and other archdiocesan officials.

While the archdiocesan victims’ assistance coordinator, who reported to Bishop Binzer, was aware of the allegation, the information was not made known to the diocesan priest personnel board or Archbishop Schnurr.

In 2015, similar allegations were again made against Fr. Drew. The matter was forwarded to Butler County officials, who determined that the activity was not criminal. Again, Bishop Binzer reported neither the complaints nor the investigation to the archbishop or informed the priest personnel board.

Sources in the archdiocesan chancery told CNA in August 2019 that Bishop Binzer met with Fr. Drew twice, was assured by him that he would reform his conduct, and the bishop considered this sufficient.

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In early 2018, Fr. Drew applied for a transfer to St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish in Green Township, which is attached to the largest Catholic school in the archdiocese.

As head of priest personnel, Bishop Binzer was in charge of the process that considers requests and proposals for reassignment, in conjunction with the priest personnel board.

Neither the board nor the archbishop were made aware of the multiple complaints against Fr. Drew, and the transfer was approved.

The allegations were also reportedly not recorded by Bishop Binzer in the priest’s personnel file that would have been available to the archdiocesan personnel board as part of the process.

A month after Fr. Drew’s arrival at St. Ignatius, a parishioner at Drew’s former parish resubmitted the 2015 complaints about the priest, but this time it was also brought to the attention of Archbishop Schnurr.

Also in 2018, Bishop Binzer received an additional complaint of similarly inappropriate contact by Fr. Drew, dating to his time as a high school music teacher, before his ordination as a priest.

Following a diocesan investigation, Fr. Drew was ordered to attend counselling with a psychologist.

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On July 23, Fr. Drew was removed from ministry, when it emerged that he had sent a series of inappropriate text messages to a 17-year-old.

Fr. Drew, who is now 59 years old, is scheduled to go to trial April 26 on 9 counts of rape or enter a plea. He has pleaded not guilty, but could face life in prison if he is convicted. He is accused of raping a 10-year-old student multiple times from 1988-1991 as a music minister at a Catholic school, before he became a priest.

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