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Cincinnati priest pleads guilty to raping altar boy, gets 7 years in deal with prosecutors

Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 9:22 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 3, 2021 at 5:35 AM EST
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A Cincinnati priest pleaded guilty Thursday to nine counts of raping a 10-year-old altar boy multiple times between 1988 and 1991 and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

That sentence, worked out in a plea deal with Hamilton County prosecutors on the eve of the start of his trial, is far less than he would have faced had he been convicted of all charges, up to 99 years.

Now, Father Geoff Drew, 59, will be released from prison in 2026. He received credit for time served at the county jail while awaiting trial, 27 months.

Drew is required to register as a Tier III sex offender for the rest of his life.

The priest wore a face covering in court, appeared to show no emotion and did not speak.

His attorney said on his behalf: “The defense expresses remorse over what happened.”

Prosecutors said the plea deal was decided in consultation with the victim, who is now in his 40s.

Perhaps the biggest moment in court was when that victim and his wife addressed Drew.

The victim said Drew stole his childhood: “The truth is no amount of time will make up for the child that you murdered.

“Any chance of having intimacy, any chance to actually live, love, find joy, was stolen,” the victim said. “You made me unusable, undesirable, dirty and broken, but I trust in God that this is bigger than you. This is bigger than me. And this is in his authority to have vengeance. And one day you will have to stand in front of him.”

Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Leslie Ghiz told Drew he should be thankful for the plea deal because if a jury had found him guilty, she would have “gladly” sent him to prison for the rest of his life.

“This is shameful, just shameful. It’s shameful for the church, it’s shameful for you,” the judge told Drew.

“I will tell you this, I believe in the afterlife. I believe God is a forgiving God, but I truly believe that he’s going to think twice when he sees you at the gates of heaven.”

On Wednesday, FOX19 NOW broke the story that the plea deal could be reached and announced instead of the trial. The victim was “actively participating in all discussions,” sources said.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters has said Drew raped the boy multiple times at St. Jude School in Green Township.

The victim told authorities the abuse occurred in Drew’s school office after school hours.

At the time, Drew was the music minister at the school. He did not become a priest until 2004 and also taught at Elder High School in West Price Hill.

Deters has described the victim’s grand jury testimony as compelling, convincing and emotional.

Drew previously pleaded not guilty to nine counts of rape. He was indicted in August 2019. He was placed on administrative leave by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

On Thursday, Deters said in a statement provided by his office:

“I am thankful for the bravery of this victim. His strength in coming forward now means the world knows who Geoff Drew is. This conviction is vindication, not only for the victim listed in the indictment, but for anyone who was impacted over the years by Drew’s behavior. The effect of him admitting his guilt cannot be overstated for the victims of these crimes. A guilty plea helps to close a painful chapter for these victims. Because of this victim, Geoff Drew walked into court today and admitted that he is a rapist and a predator – and the children of our community are safer now that he’s going to prison.”

While Drew stood in court Thursday, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati announced they will seek the “laicization” of Drew, essentially stripping him of his priestly duties. He will no longer be permitted to hold Mass, take confessions or administer sacraments.

“Father Geoff Drew will never again have a priestly assignment in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati or any other diocese,” Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr said in a prepared statement.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has said it made “serious mistakes” for years responding to concerns about Drew’s behavior.

Court records show there were several complaints about Drew’s behavior for years, information that was expected to be detailed during his trial.

There were other alleged victims, including another student at St. Jude, who was 12 or younger when Drew began grooming and then sexually assaulting between 1985 and 1987, prosecutors wrote in court records.

Drew, however, was not charged in connection with those allegations due to statute of limitations.

Prosecutors also planned to call several witnesses to testify to “Drew’s Grooming Actions of Boys from Same Time Period” as the altar boy’s alleged sexual abuse, according to a court motion filed in the case.

“The State expects to offer the testimony of several witnesses who will testify that on multiple occasions, they saw Drew inappropriately touching young boys who were the same gender as (the altar boy) and who were around the same age as (him,)” the motion states.

Prosecutors also wrote in court records they planned to call witnesses that can testify to Drew’s “Grooming Actions of Boys in More Recent Times.”

“The State has found multiple witnesses who can testify that Drew’s grooming behavior with minor boys continued on. This evidence is offered to show knowledge of grooming (the altar boy) and the absence of mistake or accident regarding the touching of (him). Drew’s modus operandi, his grooming behavior, had not changed one bit.”

Drew served as pastor 2009-2018 at St. Maximilian Kolbe in Liberty Township, where parishioners raised concerns to the archdiocese in 2013 and 2015, according to a 2019 news release from the archdiocese.

The concerns included “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,” the release states.

The Butler County Prosecutor’s Office and Butler County Children’s Services looked into the complaints, but Prosecutor Mike Gmoser has told FOX19 NOW there was no evidence of criminal behavior.

The Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office also had a similar case with the same outcome, he said.

However, Gmoser told FOX19 NOW in 2019 he was so troubled by the priest’s behavior, he personally called a chancellor in the archdiocese to keep Drew away from children and to monitor him.

Gmoser said in an interview he felt Drew was “sexually grooming” the boys for future sexual abuse.

He was upset to learn his previous warning to the archdiocese through that phone call to the chancellor was not heeded because Drew requested and received permission to be moved to another church in Hamilton County during the summer of 2018.

The church, St. Ignatius of Loyola in Green Township, has Cincinnati’s largest Catholic grade school with more than 1,000 students.

The archdiocese has said Drew was permitted to move there because he wanted to be closer to his mother. He was not moved because of parishioners’ complaints about him.

The archdiocese suspended Drew as pastor at St. Ignatius in July 2019 after the parents of a teenage boy complained that Drew sent him text messages.

The messages were not sexual in nature, church officials said at the time, but this violated their child protection rules.

Parishioners at St. Ignatius were upset because they were not told about previous complaints against the priest while he was at St. Maximilian.

Shortly before Drew was placed on administrative leave, the victim in the rape case told a Cincinnati police detective what happened.

In court Thursday, the victim’s wife said a photo of Drew on social media baptizing the child of someone he knew prompted him to come forward.

His trial was delayed four times, most recently in October, when prosecutors couldn’t find a witness, court records show

The third delay occurred in April at the request of Drew’s attorney following new evidence and allegations submitted by prosecutors in late 2020.

The second-highest-ranking official in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati ultimately resigned over how he handled complaints about the behavior of Drew.

The archdiocese removed Bishop Binzer from overseeing priest personnel matters in Cincinnati in 2019, saying he failed to report a 2013 accusation that Father Geoff Drew behaved improperly with children to Archbishop Dennis Schnurr and the Priests’ Personnel Board.

Bishop Binzer did promptly report the allegation to the Butler Country Prosecutor’s Office and Butler County Children’s Services and addressed the concern himself with Father Drew, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese has stressed.

Binzer, who had ranked below only Archbishop Dennis Schnurr in the archdiocese’s hierarchy, quit in April 2020.

He has since been assigned to another job as a priest in Hamilton County.

Binzer has apologized for “my role” in addressing complaints about Drew and said he’d offered his resignation to the Vatican, which was accepted by Pope Francis and took effect in May 2020.

“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 the archdiocese’s statement released at the time his resignation was announced.

“In April, having studied this matter since last summer, the Holy See informed me that it agreed with this assessment. 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.”

Binzer’s resignation isn’t enough for activists who say many questions still remain over the way Drew’s case was handled.

The Concerned Catholics group was formed by local parents in the wake of the Drew case.

A statement they released Thursday after Drew pleaded guilty shows the outcome this case has very much reaffirmed their efforts to keep trying to reform Ohio’s child protection laws, ones they say are outdated.

“We are thankful that the victim in this case has received justice. We are deeply indebted to the brave men who came forward and thank them for their courage,” said one of the group’s members, a mother, Clara Schutte.

“Two years ago, we quickly learned that Ohio has outdated laws for child sex abuse. Ohio’s Statute of Limitations protects sexual predators and denies justice to survivors. We were alarmed to realize that Ohio doesn’t have updated grooming/enticement laws and has week mandated reporting laws”. According to research provided by CHILD USA, a victim will likely not report their abuse until the average age of 52, if they ever report at all.

“Now that Geoffrey Drew is a convicted rapist, the group feels that the county and state should conduct a full investigation of how decade after decade and bishop after bishop, we continue to have this silent epidemic of clerical sex abuse in Ohio.

“Drew was moved from county to county within the state with decades of red flag behavior. To this date, the organization has not received communication back from the Vatican or our Papal Nuncio in regards to their request for a full and transparent investigation into the Archbishop and then Bishop’s handling of the Drew case. Over 1300 signatures from local concerned Catholics and others accompanied the request.”

Another member of Concerned Catholics, Rebecca Surendorff, a mother from St. Ignatius, questions how it can be legal for Archbishop Schnurr and then Bishop Binzer “to disregard child protection policies and allow a sexual predator to run my kids’ school?”

She, and others in the group, say they have spoken to lawmakers, attorneys, psychologists, physicians, priests, local and national advocates for victims and children, prosecutors, assistant prosecutors, authors and more while researching what they can do to help keep kids safe.

“We have also come to know that the lobbying arm of our church in Ohio, the Ohio Catholic Conference, lobbies for church financial interests and not child protection,” she said.

She said she hopes other Ohio parents and residents understand that the state has a silent epidemic of child sex abuse and stronger laws are needed to identify the predators and the institutions that enable them.

“It is going to take us… the people of Ohio to demand our lawmakers put our children first.”

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