CINCINNATI (FOX19) - The trial for a Cincinnati-area priest accused of raping a 10-year-old altar boy has been pushed back to six months to April 2021, court records show.
Father Geoff Drew was scheduled to go on trial for nine counts of rape Tuesday but instead, a hearing was held on a request to have the charges against him thrown out.
The judge denied the request, clearing the way for his trial to begin.
But both the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office and Drew’s defense attorney sought the delay, which Judge Leslie Ghiz granted at their request, according to her bailiff, Dave Weisker.
“We respect the Judge’s decision on the motion to dismiss. It is our position that the evidence the State is seeking to submit is both improper character evidence and will spoil any chance our client has in receiving a fair trial. The State has already indicated on the record that they are not going to admit a good part of the character evidence originally sought in their motion. Our argument is that all the evidence in the State’s motion is inadmissible and as such the judge is considering our arguments on the remaining portions of the proposed testimony. We are maintaining our not guilty plea and are confident going forward. The trial date was pushed back given the complicated nature of the case and the various pretrial motions and decisions that have to be dealt with,” wrote Drew’s attorney Brad Moermond in a statement to FOX19 NOW.
We also sought comment from the prosecutor’s office and will update this story once we hear back.
“I will look into this and see what questions if any, I am able to answer and get back to soon as possible. I may not have any information for you today,” responded a spokeswoman for the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office, Julie Wilson.
Drew, who waived the right to appear in court on Tuesday, has pleaded not guilty.
He is held in lieu of $5 million bond at the Hamilton County jail.
Local church sex abuse advocates are concerned and question the delay now of Drew’s trial, particularly in light of new detail about the case, including an alleged second sex abuse victim of Drew’s, that came out in court and court records Tuesday.
“The delay looks very questionable to me. I don’t know why other than they are pushing it past the election," a local sex abuse survivor, Gerald Ahrens, tells FOX19 NOW.
"There’s no motions pending. Unless there is a backlog due to COVID, I can’t see it. It’s weird because it’s not in his best interest to sit in the Hamilton County jail. They lost their motion to reduce bail. Why would he want to sit in the jail a year and a half before his trial if he is pleading not guilty?”
Drew is accused of raping a 10-year-old fourth-grader between 1988 and 1991 when he was the music minister at St. Jude School in Green Township.
Drew was not a priest at the time, according to Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters.
The victim, who is now in his early 40s, told authorities the abuse occurred in Drew’s school office after school hours. Deters has described the victim’s grand jury testimony as compelling, convincing and emotional.
Drew, who was ordained a priest in 2004, was put on administrative leave in July 2019 and indicted the following month.
Court records show prosecutors plan to reveal multiple new allegations at his trial through testimony from the victim that he had sex with Drew when he was a little older, a teenager, and from a new witness, a second alleged sexual abuse victim.
But, due to the statute of limitations, Drew cannot be charged with those two new alleged crimes.
The case is a painful one for Ahrens. He says he was molested a week shy of his 12th birthday in 1961 by his brother’s religious superior, a Jesuit priest, when he went with his parents to visit his older brother at a Jesuit seminary in Milford.
Ahrens pushed it out of his head and went on with his life, he said, and went on to teach English and Latin in Cincinnati-area Catholic schools for 45 years before retiring.
In the midst of his career, the Catholic sex abuse scandal erupted nationally and locally here in Hamilton County.
He said it made him realize what happened to him in the Jesuit priest’s room at the seminary all those years ago that impacted so much of life wasn’t an anomaly.
Now, he is a member of three local activist groups including Concerned Catholics of Cincinnati that are closely following the Drew case.
He said the situation with Drew proves the church has not gone near far enough to protect the very children they are entrusted to spiritually guide and educate.
"It’s about these kids here now. That’s the frustrating thing. They have made all these cosmetic changes and all these promises of transparency and it will never happen again and right now in this present moment the same thing is going on. The therapy has helped me and you can deal with this stuff but it’s not right that little boys should be saddle with that at such a young age. They have to make fundamental changes. They are not making those.
“There has to be a new way to teach kids what a priest is. You still see the priest is caller “Altar Christus," which in Latin means Christ.
"Now, when you are 10 or 11 years old and Christ tells you to do something, Christ tells you to go in the corner and take your clothes off. You just do what Christ says, especially when you are raised to do what they say. When they start teaching children that this is just another person like you or I, no better than another person and you don’t have to obey them the way you obey God, they are not even taking a baby step toward that. If anything, they are making the priests more powerful.
"Geoff Drew can never not be a priest no matter what he does. Under the ordination principal, you are a priest forever. So no matter what he does, no matter how many sins he commits and children he rapes, until the day he dies, no matter what he does - and there has been worse - he can make bread into the body of Christ and Mother Teresa can’t.
“It’s Canon Law, you are a priest forever. You have the power to turn bread into the body of Christ and wine into the blood of Christ no matter what they do and at the same time the holiest woman of our time can’t do that because she is a woman. is there any movement to change that? Not one millimeter of movement. To me, these are the things that have to change. Everything else is just window dressing and it’s just a facade.”
We have reached out to a spokeswoman at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Tuesday and again Wednesday and will update this story when we hear back.
They said last year when issues with Drew became public they fully cooperated with the investigation, but they have been under criticism for how they handled allegations of abuse by Drew before he was indicted.
The Archdiocese has released a sequence of events related to Drew, who worked at several parishes and Catholic schools since 1984.
After Drew was placed on leave, church officials said he previously had been accused of inappropriate behavior involving children in 2013 and 2015 at St. Maximilian of Kolbe parish in Liberty Township.
Parishioners at St. Ignatius were upset because they were not told about previous complaints against the priest while he was at St. Maximilian.
According to the archdiocese, 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.
In addition, there was a report of Drew texting some of the boys “teasing them about their girlfriends.”
An auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese, Joseph Binzer, was removed as priest personnel director.
Archdiocese officials have said he failed to disclose to Archbishop Dennis Schnurr and other archdiocese officials previous allegations that Drew engaged in inappropriate behavior with a teenage boy.
Earlier this year, Binzer offered to resign in the fallout over the scandal, and Pope Francis accepted it.
“I am deeply sorry for my role in addressing the concerns raised about Father Drew, which has had a negative impact on the trust and faith of the people of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati,” Binzer said in a prepared statement the archdiocese sent out when they announced he was gone.
“In April, having studied this matter since last summer, the Holy See informed me that it agreed with this assessment," Binzer’s statement read. "As a result, and after much prayer and reflection, I offered my resignation from the Office of Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. I believe this to be in the best interest of the archdiocese.”
Deters and the Archdiocese have asked anyone with information to contact law enforcement authorities.
Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser told FOX19 NOW last year he warned the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2019 via a verbal discussion with a chancellor to keep Drew away from children and to monitor him.
Gmoser said his office and the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office investigated accusations of inappropriate behavior against Drew and found none to be criminal.
Gmoser has told FOX19 NOW he felt Drew was “sexually grooming” the boys for future sexual abuse and he was upset to learn his warning to the archdiocese was not heeded.
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 of Cincinnati said last year it submitted a report to the Vatican concerning the handling of allegations of abuse against Drew.
We asked for a copy of the report, but a spokeswoman for the archdiocese declined, calling it “confidential.”
FOX19 NOW also made several requests for comment over the past year to the Vatican and the Apostolic Nunciature, the papal embassy in Washington D.C.
They have not responded.
We reiterated our requests for comment Tuesday and also provided them a copy of Assistant Prosecutor Pridemore’s motion and a copy of a letter we obtained to the Vatican from the steering committee of Concerned Catholics of Cincinnati.
We have not heard back.
On Tuesday, members of Concerned Catholics of Cincinnati put out a statement saying they were “appalled."
They also are calling for public release of the church’s “secret files” detailing decades of alleged sex abuse by clergymen, saying Ohio is known to be one of the weakest states for child protection laws "and this must change.”
“We first and foremost we want to express our support for these survivors for their bravery in coming forward. We are appalled that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati saw an obvious continued pattern of concerning behavior over decades and over three counties, yet continued to give him access and authority in our community," reads the statement from Jan Seidel.
"There are complaints that pre-dated his entry to the seminary and then a complaint while in the seminary. As outlined here, you see that on his first assignment as a priest in Montgomery County, a group of boys were so uncomfortable that they wrote a letter expressing their concern. There were then more complaints over the next few years.
"How can we not hold the Archdiocese accountable for endangering children? How could they allow such a dangerous man, such as Father Drew, to be placed at St. Ignatius, one of the largest parishes and largest parochial school in Ohio, with this type of a history? Shouldn’t our Prosecutor, Joe Deters be looking into this?
"We feel it is also time that our local Prosecutor, and our Attorney General Dave Yost, allow an investigation similar to that of Josh Shapiro and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. The “secret files”, as described by Pope Francis are to be opened.
"We need complete transparency about other possible abusive priests that were repeatedly moved or possibly reassigned or even those that have left the priesthood and could now be out in the general public continuing to abuse.
'It is also clear that is it time to strengthen our laws to protect children from the grooming and enticement that leads to much of this type of abuse. Ohio is known to be one of the weakest states for child protection laws and this must change."