Allegations against priest cause emotional week in Liberty Twp.

Alleged inappropriate touching, texting and sexual comments by a former Butler County pastor prompted action by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati that will impact more than 450,000 parishioners.

Late last month, the archdiocese confirmed the Rev. Geoff Drew, former pastor of St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church in Liberty Twp., was suspended for actions involving teenage boys. Drew previously served as pastor of St. Rita of Cascia Parish in Dayton and parochial vicar at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Beavercreek.

There was a week full of activity in the case that caused strong reaction from the local Catholic community. Beginning with a Monday news conference trhat communicated accusations against Drew, officials took actions that included meeting with members of the Liberty Twp. church where he served from 2009-18.

Church officials also said they would change how they handle investigation accusations of inappropriate behavior against priests because of the Drew case, which caused criticism of church officials.

Communications Director Mike Schafer outlined allegations against Drew that led Archbishop Dennis Schnurr to place him on administrative leave July 23 and order him into “comprehensive physical, psychological and spiritual evaluation at an independent in-patient treatment facility.”

RELATED: Cincinnati Archbishop: Matter of priest who served in Liberty Twp. handled ‘very, very poorly’

“In 2013 and again in 2015, the central office of the archdiocese received concerns from St. Maximilian Kolbe parishioners regarding Father 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.”

In addition, there was a report of Father Drew texting some of the boys “teasing them about girlfriends’.”

Drew is one of two priests on administrative leave in the archdiocese, which covers 19 counties in southwest Ohio. The Rev. Clarence Heis, who previously served at Holy Trinity Parish in Coldwater, St. Michael Parish in Mechanicsburg and Immaculate Conception in North Lewisburg, is also on administrative leave.

Heis was arrested in 2005 for allegedly having sex with two men at a Fairborn park. He later pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. He was suspended in 2006 and reinstated in 2009.

Chancellor of the archdiocese the Rev. Steve Angi said during a press conference on Monday he could not discuss the Heis situation but confirmed it relates to the Decree on Child Protection.

In the wake of what transpired in the Drew case, the church has abolished its practice of assigning priests a “monitor” while accusations are investigated.

“Moving forward, we will not have any monitored or restricted priests. If there are serious concerns that have the semblance of truth, the priest will be put on leave pending investigation and will be subject to appropriate action based on the results of the investigation and other circumstances,” Schafer said. “This is consistent with how we treat serious allegations against lay staff members today. There must be one consistent standard of conduct whether one is a priest or a lay person.”

Prosecutors in Butler and Hamilton counties have not found that Drew broke any laws.

“When even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest or deacon is admitted or is established after an appropriate process in accordance with canon law, the offending priest or deacon will be removed permanently from ecclesiastical ministry, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state, if the case so warrants,” church laws states.

The Rev. David Songy, president and CEO of the Saint Luke Institute, a Kentucky facility that treats troubled priests, couldn’t discuss any specific cases but said the church has taken a very strong stance since 2002 when widespread abuse was uncovered.

MORE: Officials: Former Liberty Twp. pastor’s suspension prompts change

“The church has made mistakes. However, today the Church generally goes further than the state to address these problems,” he told the Journal-News. “This means that even when civil law does not warrant a conviction, the Church process may still lead to removal from ministry.”

He said the majority of the institute’s clients are clergy suffering from “depression, anxiety and a variety of psychological and spiritual struggles.”.

“In the case of a priest or religious who has abused a minor, Saint Luke’s has a strict policy of recommending that the person never have future access to minors, which includes not returning to ministry ” Songy said.

The archdiocese revealed Monday it has also removed Bishop Joseph R. Binzer as director of priest personnel while it conducts an investigation into whether he knew about the allegations concerning Drew but did not inform Schnurr.

Binzer addressed Drew’s behavior with him on two occasions, and Drew said he was unaware of the concerns and would change his behavior, Schafer said.

Drew left St. Max after nine years, taking up the post as pastor of 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,” Schafer said.

Schafer said the process was inadequate.

“(Drew) was told to limit his interaction with the school, obviously not enforced or regulated adequately because he still as we know appeared at the school on several occasions,” Schafer said.

“The monitor was person he met with — and monitor might be the wrong term but that’s what we call it — a person that he met with for accountability purposes on a regular basis. But that person wasn’t tracking him 24/7. So a lot of that was going off his own self-reporting, much like you’d go to an AA meeting and tell us how the last week was.”

Gmoser told the Journal-News his office has investigated every complaint the archdiocese has brought and will continue to do so. Gmoser said he went out on a limb — potentially opening the county up to a defamation lawsuit — by making the recommendation he did, but he felt it was important the archdiocese understand the gravity of the situation. He said he doesn’t feel the archdiocese took his warning seriously enough.

“They said we’re going to let him self-monitor. Self-monitor? Listen, what if we had a probation department that the chief probation officer said, ‘Well you know, judges, I know you’ve placed this fellow on probation, but we’re going to let him self-report,” Gmoser said. “Are you kidding me? That would be nuts, that would not be smart. You’re either going to be smart about it or you’re going to be stupid about it, there is no in between here.”

Officials at the Liberty Twp. church, one of the largest in the Cincinnati archdiocese, declined to comment about the public meeting held Tuesday that drew hundreds of parishioners.

But some attendees spoke to the Journal-News as they left the Tuesday evening meeting, which included Schnurr’s participation and said they were frustrated.

“As a life-long practicing Catholic, I had to leave the meeting at St Maximilian Kolbe early. What I was hearing as an explanation for the situation involving Father Geoff Drew not only upset me but made me feel as if I needed to take a shower to cleanse myself,” said one man who attended the meeting and requested anonymity.

“The explanations given by the archdiocesan representatives were an embarrassment to many of those in attendance.”

Schafer said that since this matter came to light, more complaints have come in both to the archdiocese and the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office. Angi said he has received six or seven recent complaints from parishioners at St. Max, St. Ignatius and elsewhere, and he has forwarded them to the prosecutors.

Tom Farrell, a Liberty Twp. trustee and St. Max parishioner, didn’t know Drew but said the situation is difficult.

“I think the bottom line is hindsight is always 20/20,” Farrell said. “Anytime we look at an event like this I don’t know anybody that says this is good for us, this is good for our community, for our church, for our faith. However the handling of it as a Monday morning quarterback is a lot easier.”

The Rev. Geoff Drew’s career history:

• Music Minister at St. Jude Parish — 1984-1999

• Music Teacher at Elder High School — 1988-1991

• Mount St. Mary’s Seminary of the West — 1999-2004

• Internship year at St. Anthony, Madisonville — 2001-02

• Ordained a priest of the Archdiocese — May 2004

• Parochial Vicar at St. Luke, Beavercreek — July 1, 2004 to June 30, 2005

• Pastor of St. Rita, Dayton — July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2009

• Pastor of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Liberty Township — July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2018

• Pastor of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Cincinnati — appointed July 1, 2018

Archdiocese of Cincinnati By the Numbers:

Coverage area: 19 counties

Number of parishioners: More than 450,000

Number of parishes: 211

Number of schools: 110 with more than 40,000 students

Ranking: 44th largest in the country

Source: Archdiocese of Cincinnati

The Rev. Geoff Drew Timeline of Events

2013: First allegation of inappropriate touching, texts and sexual comments with teenage boys at St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church in Liberty Twp.

2015: A second complaint comes in to the central office of the archdiocese. The complaints were immediately sent to the Butler County Prosecutor's Office, no evidence of criminal behavior was found.

2013-2015: Bishop Joseph R. Binzer, as director of priest personnel spoke to Drew about his behavior and Drew said he was unaware there were issues.

July 2018: Fr. Drew applied for and was named pastor at St. Ignatius of Loyola in Hamilton County.

August 2018: Archbishop Dennis Schnurr personally received a complaint from a St. Max parishioner.

September 2018: On the advise of Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser Drew was asked to restrict his involvement with the school and a monitor was assigned.

October 2018: A letter from a St. Ignatius parishioner reported her son-in-law had a very negative experience with Drew while they were at Elder High School.

February 2019: The archdiocese chancellor the Rev. Steve Angi received the prosecutor's latest report and hired Strategic HR to do an investigation.

May 2019: The Strategic HR report was received and Drew was ordered into counseling.

June 2019: A St. Ignatius family alleged Drew texted their son. The complaint was turned over to the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office. The text was confirmed and violated the Decree on Child Protection.

July 23: Drew was suspended.

August 5: Archdiocese reveals Binzer was removed as director of priest personnel pending an investigation into how he handled the Drew situation. He apparently never told Schnurr about the past incidents.

About the Authors