CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser is clarifying remarks he made recently regarding a warning he said he issued to the archdiocese about one of their priests.
Gmoser recently confirmed to FOX19 NOW he warned the Archdiocese of Cincinnati through a letter in September 2018 to keep the Rev. Geoff Drew away from children and to monitor him.
He now says he realizes that warning was verbal, not written.
“I came to learn later after conferring with the representative, a representative of the Archdiocese, that it was not a letter so there is not some document that they are hiding from you. I stand by what I told them but they were kind enough to inform me that ‘no, Mike, it was not a letter, it was a conversation and that communication was by telephone, not in the written form.'
“In all cases I was relying on the archdiocese to decide whether or not they would release such a letter and then I received a communication yesterday that they received a communication, but it was not in a letter form and it leaves the impression that somehow the church was hiding something," he said. “The church was not – I want to emphatically state – the church was not hiding any written communication from me.”
Gmoser’s office investigated accusations of inappropriate behavior against Drew last year and found none to be criminal. The alleged behavior involved a pattern with young boys of uninvited hugs, shoulder massages, patting of the leg above the knee and comments.
The Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office also had a similar case with the same outcome, he said.
Drew has since been indicted on nine counts in an unrelated case on allegations he raped an altar boy 30 years ago, before Drew was a priest and served as a music minister at a local private Catholic school.
He has pleaded not guilty and is held in lieu of $5 million bond at the Hamilton County jail.
Gmoser has said he felt Drew was “sexually grooming” the boys for future sexual abuse and he was upset to learn his previous warning to the archdiocese was not heeded.
When we initially asked Gmoser for a copy of the letter, he said he could not find it and then told us that may be because he gave the letter to the archdiocese’s attorney.
Last week, Gmoser said after an exhaustive search of his office’s records and after speaking with the Archdiocese,he realizes the warning to his office was in a conversation with “the chancellor.” An archdiocese spokeswoman identified that chancellor as the Rev. Steve Angi.
A lawyer for the Archdiocese, Mark Arnzen, Jr. confirmed to us he did not receive a letter from Gmoser’s office regarding Drew.
“My understanding is that the recommendation from Prosecutor Gmoser’s office that Fr. Drew restrict his involvement with the school was made during a telephone call with the Archdiocesan Chancellor. I was not on that call," he wrote in an email Monday.
When initially asked Archdiocese for the letter, spokeswoman Jennifer Schack responded to us at the time: “I have not released any written correspondence between the Butler Co. Prosecutor, Mike Gmoser, and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. If letters are in the public, they were not released by the Archdiocese. I can confirm that allegations were reported to the Butler County Prosecutor on 3 occasions as noted in our timeline.”
After we asked again for a copy of the letter and explained more in detail about it in a phone call, she responded in writing: “We will not be making these documents available from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. I am unaware if they have been released by other parties to the public.”
Schack said Monday the archdiocese has never received a letter from the prosecutor or his office related to warnings to watch Gmoser.
She also said she didn’t realize at the time we first asked we were seeking a letter that she says “does not exist.”
She noted the archdiocese does mention in a statement they put out over the summer the sequence of events related to Drew and how they handled accusations about him that in “September 2018, at the recommendation of the Butler County Prosecutor, Fr. Drew was asked to restrict his involvement with the school and was assigned a “monitor” – essentially for accountability – with whom to regularly meet.”
In a statement to FOX19 NOW Monday, she also wrote: “As already reported in our timeline that was released on Aug. 5, in September the Butler County Prosecutor made a recommendation to restrict Fr. Drew’s involvement in the school. That was a verbal conversation between the Prosecutor’s office and the archdiocesan Chancellor. We also have in our timeline - and would like to state again – that we acknowledged that the acceptance of this recommendation, combined with inadequate oversight, was obviously ineffective and a mistake and we will not repeat it."
An auxiliary bishop, Joseph Binzer, was removed as priest personnel director for failing to disclose to Schnurr and other archdiocese officials previous allegations that Drew engaged in inappropriate behavior with a teenage boy, the archdiocese announced over the summer.
Drew’s alleged behavior involved a pattern of things such 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, according to the archdiocese.
In addition, there was a report of Drew texting some of the boys “teasing them about their girlfriends.”
Drew has worked at several parishes and Catholic schools since 1984.
He was ordained a priest in May 2004.
The Archdiocese has said they fully cooperated with the investigation.
After Drew was placed on leave over the summer, church officials have said he previously had been accused of inappropriate behavior involving kids in 2013 and 2015 at St. Maximilian of Kolbe parish in Liberty Township.
Parishioners at Drew’s most recent parish, St. Ignatius in Green Township, were upset because they were not told about previous complaints against the priest while he was at St. Maximilian.
Parents say they are worried the cycle of abuse and cover-up will continue if changes are not made within the local church leadership.
The Archdiocese recently said it has submitted a report to the Vatican concerning the handling of allegations of abuse against Drew and they are waiting for a response. They anticipate the Vatican may order a full investigation into the handling of this case.
They have said Archbishop Dennis Schnurr takes any accusation of sexual abuse very seriously, as well as any possible lapse in internal procedures for handling allegations.