Archdiocese details matter of former Liberty Twp. priest it says was handled ‘very, very poorly’

The archbishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati said officials “made serious mistakes” regarding the Rev. Geoff Drew, a suspended priest who once worked in Liberty Twp.

Archbishop Dennis Schnurr suspended Drew, who served as St. Maximilian Kolbe’s pastor for nine years from 2009-18, on July 23 after he was accused “of behavior that violates the Archdiocese’s child protection decree,” officials said.

“In 2013 and again in 2015, the central office of the archdiocese received concerns from St. Maximilian Kolbe parishioners regarding Fr. Drew’s behavior,” archdiocese communications Director Mike Shafer said during a news conference Monday. “The alleged behavior involved a pattern of such things as uninvited bear hugs, shoulder massages, patting of the leg above the knee, and inappropriate sexual comments about one’s body or appearance, directed at teenage boys.

“This behavior naturally made these boys uncomfortable. In addition, there was a report of Fr. Drew texting some of the boys ‘teasing them about girlfriends.’”

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Shafer said the complaints were directed to the Butler County prosecutor’s office and no evidence of criminal wrongdoing was found.

Bishop Joseph R. Binzer, in his role as Director of Priest Personnel, addressed Drew’s behavior with him on two occasions, and Drew said he was unaware of the concerns would change his behavior, Shafer said.

Drew applied for and was assigned as the new pastor at St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish in Cincinnati last summer. There were no other complaints about Drew until Schnurr, who said he was not made aware of the previous complaints, received a letter directly from a St. Maximilian Kolbe parishioner reiterating previous concerns expressed about Drew, the archdiocese said. The letter was given to the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office, church officials said.

Prosecutor Mike Gmoser’s office recommended Drew’s involvement with St. Ignatius School be restricted and a monitor be assigned.

“Our acceptance of this recommendation, combined with inadequate oversight, was obviously ineffective and a mistake, and we will not repeat it,” Shafer said.

Another letter was received in October 2018 from a St. Ignatius parishioner that said Drew “inappropriate touched (the letter writer’s son-in-law’s) leg and made him feel very uncomfortable.”

That letter was also forwarded to the Butler County Prosecutor, officials said.

Archdiocese officials received the results of an independent investigation in May and determined no criminal behavior took place. They assigned Drew to counseling sessions in June.

While he was in that counseling, the archdiocese received a complaint in June 2019 that Drew was allegedly texting a teenager. Those texts were confirmed, and because they were a violation of the “Decree on Child Protection” and because of a “pattern of behavior in contradiction” to the decree, Drew was removed as pastor of St. Ignatius on July 23.

“Within a couple weeks of counseling we received this allegation of texting and at that point the archbishop said, ‘I’ve seen enough, it’s time to remove him as pastor,’” Shafer said.

He was placed on a leave of absence and ordered to undergo evaluations at “an independent in-patient treatment facility.”

Gmoser said his office received a statement from the archdiocese several years ago concerning Drew.

Gmoser said the incident involved communication between Drew and a student. There was no evidence of sexual conduct or contact, he said.

“It was investigated carefully, not quote ‘swept under the rug,’” Gmoser said. “There was no evidence of sexual contact or conduct. There was evidence of communication, but that is as far as the issue went.”

Shafer said church officials will [place investigated priests on leave instead of under monitoring in the future.

“It’s obvious that in this matter we have handled things very, very poorly, made serious mistakes. And for that I am deeply, deeply apologetic. I’m deeply sorry. I’m sorry for the pain that this has caused so many people,” Schnurr wrote in a statement.

“I want to assure everybody that we have learned from this experience and that we are making necessary procedural and personnel changes that are, indeed, necessary to not repeat it.

“To the people who have been impacted by this, I express my deep sorrow and my deep apologies.”

The archdiocese has also removed Binzer as head of priest personnel while it conducts an investigation into the fact he allegedly knew about the allegations concerning Drew but did not inform Schnurr.

Shafer said he doesn’t believe Binzer intended for children to be at risk.

“I think he could have acted more strongly on behalf of children with Fr. Drew,” Shafer said. “I want to make sure that I’m clear, I don’t think that Bishop Binzer, who is the hardest-working, most sincere servant of people in this area, would … intentionally put a child at risk. But I think in hindsight he relied too much on Fr. Drew’s assurances that he would change and I think that was a mistake.”

The archdiocese will meet with St. Maximilian Kolbe parishioners Tuesday night at 7 p.m., officials said.

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