In packed meeting, Liberty Twp. church members differ on handling of priest misconduct allegations

Some parishioners left the Butler County church once run by a suspended pastor grim-faced after hearing details of allegations involving inappropriate behavior toward boys.

Hundreds of parishioners came to the St. Maximillian Kolbe Catholic Church in Liberty Twp. on Tuesday evening to hear the leader of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati explain why a the longtime priest was suspended.

Members nearly filled every pew in the massive church with many lining up to question the handling of their former pastor, the Rev. Geoff Drew.

Archdiocese officials have said “serious mistakes” were made in their handling of concerns and complaints brought to them regarding Drew.

News media were not allowed by church officials to cover the meeting, which included the participation of Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, but the Journal-News talked to some members as they left the church.

“I’m sorry is not going to mend a broken heart,” said parishioner David Starr. “And there has been many, many broken hearts here at St. Max and I don’t know if they are ever going to mend.

“From the Archbishop on down the ‘I’m sorrys’ are just not the answer that people want and I’m one of them. If they knew about this stuff they should have nipped it in the bud immediately.”

As he left the meeting, another parishioner, who requested anonymity, said “there was a lot of ugly information in there” being discussed by church officials regarding the allegations.

Another church member, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said she was sympathetic toward church and archdiocese officials.

“They admitted they made a mistake and they apologized for their mistake,” said the long-time parishioner. They are putting new policies into place and hopefully, with the grace of God, will stop some of this. I can’t fault them for something that wasn’t brought to light.”

The archdiocese said Monday it also removed Bishop Joseph R. Binzer as director of priest personnel while archdiocese officials investigate whether he knew about the allegations concerning Drew but did not inform Schnurr.

Another parishioner praised archdiocese officials for “being very open and they explained what they were doing.”

“There’s a healing process that has begun here,” he said.

During a news conference Monday, Archdiocese spokesman Mike Schafer outlined allegations against Drew that led to Schnurr placing him on administrative leave July 23 and ordering him into “comprehensive physical, psychological and spiritual evaluation at an independent in-patient treatment facility.”

“In 2013 and again in 2015, the central office of the archdiocese received concerns from St. Maximilian Kolbe parishioners regarding Fr. Drew’s behavior. 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,” Schafer said.

“This behavior naturally made these boys uncomfortable.”

A meeting previously scheduled for Monday night with the St. Max community was abruptly cancelled late last week because of new developments, officials said.

Drew previously served at St. Rita of Cascia Parish in Dayton and St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Beavercreek. He was last employed as Pastor of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Hamilton County.

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