Prosecutor issued verbal warning to Cincinnati archdiocese about priest facing rape charges

Gdrew Fr. Geoff Drew. | Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

A county prosecutor in Ohio walked back comments about a warning he issued to the Cincinnati archdiocese concerning a priest accused of rape, to clarify that the archdiocese was not hiding a letter that didn't actually exist.

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser had initially told local station FOX19 NOW that he warned the archdiocese via a Sept. 18 letter to keep Father Geoff Drew away from children and to monitor him, worried that Drew was "sexually grooming" boys for future sexual abuse.

The archdiocese confirmed that Drew was asked, at the recommendation of the prosecutor, in Sept. 2018 to restrict his involvement with the school and was assigned an accountability "monitor" with whom to regularly meet.

"We acknowledged that the acceptance of this recommendation, combined with inadequate oversight, was obviously ineffective and a mistake and we will not repeat it," archdiocesan spokeswoman Jennifer Schack said in a statement to local news Monday.

But after local journalists asked the archdiocese and the prosecutor to furnish a copy of the letter, Gmoser walked back his comments and said his warning was made verbally, via a telephone call to the archdiocesan Chancellor, Father Steve Angi, and not by letter.

"I came to learn later after conferring with...a representative of the Archdiocese, that it was not a letter so there is not some document that they are hiding from you," Gmoser told FOX19 NOW.

"The church was not – I want to emphatically state – the church was not hiding any written communication from me," he continued.

Authorities arrested Drew Aug. 19 on allegations dating back to 1988-91, which concern Drew's time as music minister at St. Jude parish, before his ordination as a priest in 2004.

The accusations involve abuse said to have taken place over two years, when the reported victim was 10 and 11 years old. Drew has been charged with nine counts of rape.

His trial has been set to begin Feb. 24, 2020- if convicted, the priest could face life in prison. He has entered a plea of not guilty.

Drew was pastor of St. Maximilian Kolbe from 2009 to mid-2018. He was approved for a transfer to St. Ignatius Parish in early 2018, which is attached to the largest Catholic school in the archdiocese.

A longtime lay leader at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Butler County, Ohio sent a letter to Archbishop Dennis Schnurr and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Binzer in August 2018, accusing them of ignoring "red flags" related to Father Drew.

The archdiocese reportedly referred the parishioner's letter to the local law enforcement, and Gmoser's office subsequently investigated the allegations it raised and determined that Drew's behavior was "inappropriate" but not criminal. The prosecutor's office reportedly investigated another complaint about Drew made to the Archdiocese in October 2018, and again found his behavior non-criminal.

Before last year, complaints about Drew had been made to auxiliary bishop Joseph Binzer, the archdiocesan vicar general, as early as 2013 and also in 2015.

Binzer had referred the complaints to law enforcement, who found no evidence of criminal activity. The alleged behavior, FOX19 NOW reports, involved a pattern of uninvited hugs, shoulder massages, patting of the leg above the knee and comments, all involving young boys.

Binzer did not, however, notify the archdiocesan personnel board or Archbishop Schnurr about the multiple complaints he had received against Drew. The allegations were also reportedly not recorded by Binzer in the priest's personnel file.

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 Drew, and the transfer was approved.

Archdiocesan Chancellor Fr. Steve Angi commissioned an internal investigation of Drew's behavior in Feb. 2019.

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Citing a "pattern of behavior in contradiction to the Decree on Child Protection," Archbishop Schnurr removed Drew as pastor of St. Ignatius on July 23, 2019. The archdiocese said in August that neither the archdiocese, nor Cincinnati Archbishop Schnurr were aware of the eventual rape allegations at the time of Drew's removal.

On Aug. 6 Binzer resigned from the USCCB's committee on child and youth protection, which advises the bishops' conference on all matters related to safe environment policy and child protection. Binzer had been serving as the regional representative for the dioceses of Ohio and Michigan.

The revelation that Binzer internally withheld the allegations against Drew came just weeks after the USCCB met in Baltimore to adopt measures aimed at building processes to address episcopal misconduct or neglect, and the ongoing crisis of credibility widely perceived to overshadow ongoing work to eliminate sexual abuse from the Church.

These measures included a set of directives applying in the U.S. the new universal norms for investigating allegations against bishops promulgated by Pope Francis in Vos estis lux mundi and which came into force on June 1.

Archdiocesan officials told CNA Sept. 17 that a complete file on the case of Father Drew has been sent to the apostolic nuncio in Washington, DC, for transmission to the relevant curial departments, expected to include the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

A spokesperson for the archdiocese told CNA that a "full report" was sent to Rome via the nuncio on Aug. 30, and that Archbishop Schnurr "anticipates that the Vatican may order a full investigation" into the handling of the case.

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