Ohio House Majority Leader considering reforms in light of Father Drew rape case

Ohio lawmakers pledge to work with church activists on sex abuse
Published: Dec. 3, 2021 at 9:22 PM EST
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - The Ohio House Majority Leader tells FOX19 NOW he is considering reforms to state laws in light of the Father Geoff Drew rape case.

Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Green Township said Friday he recently met with a group of activist parents asking lawmakers to reform Ohio’s child abuse laws, Concerned Catholics of Cincinnati and Voice of the Faithful.

“I pledged to them to work with them on three things. First of all, we have a law right now in Ohio that requires teachers, priests and ministers to report to the authorities known or suspected child abuse. But it has a relatively short statute of limitations within which to prosecute people for failing to meet their mandatory reporting duties. So I’m looking at extending that statute of limitations.”

The veteran lawmaker represents the 30th District of the Ohio House. The district consists of a portion of Cincinnati and three communities in western Hamilton County: Cheviot and Delhi and Green townships.

Green Township is where Father Geoff Drew repeatedly raped a 10-year-old altar boy in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It happened when Drew was a music minister at St. Jude. He was not ordained a priest until 2004.

On Thursday, Drew stood in a Hamilton County courtroom and pleaded guilty to all nine counts of rape that he was indicted on back in August 2019. His victim, who is now in his 40s, came forward earlier that summer and told authorities about the rapes.

Drew was sentenced to seven years in prison in a plea deal with Hamilton County prosecutors on the eve of the start of his trial. That amount of time is far less than he would have faced had he been convicted of all charges, up to 99 years.

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

Seitz says he is also interested in creating a criminal law for grooming and enticing behavior.

“This is behavior short of actual child abuse. Great care must be taken in defining it to differentiate between the friendly pat on the shoulder and conduct which begins to approach a sexual sexually inappropriate behavior.

“So we’re going to have to take our time to come up with a good definition. But the federal law does have a definition.”

Finally, Seitz wants to improve the legislation he helped draft in 2006 on civil actions towards a priest and sexual abuser.

This is where he disagrees with the groups.

Seitz says he feels the lookback window is long enough, which is 20 to 25 years in criminal cases, depending if there is DNA.

Teresa Dinwiddie-Herrmann with Concerned Catholics of Cincinnati said in a statement to FOX19 NOW on Friday they believe Ohio “urgently” needs a bill by the end of the year to reform the statute of limitations “to reflect the barriers to reporting childhood trauma.

“A hidden predator bill establishes a civil statute of limitation age of 53-55 with a civil revival window. Research shows that victims of child sexual abuse will not report until the average age of 52. Our current laws bar the doors of justice to survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Ohio’s dated laws protect sexual predators and the financial interest of the institutions that enable them.

“Studies show Catholic church abuse is about 6% of the child sexual assaults committed, this is not just a church issue, it is a general public safety issue.

“We support Governor DeWine and Attorney General Yost’s call to end the criminal statute of limitations on rape in Ohio. We implore our state’s lawmakers to protect children not special interests. Studies indicate a predator can have 150 victims in their lifetime. Why should we allow them to continue to roam our neighborhoods, churches and schools when we can bring them to justice and keep our children safe? These laws protect the predators and the institutions that enable them…not our children.

“This is not just an issue of the past, recently in Ohio, since 2017, we have seen cases like Father McWilliams (who received a life sentence), Father Zacharius, Father Foxhoven (who received a 12-year sentence).

“However, this is not just a Catholic clergy issue. It is estimated that about 1 in 10 children will be sexually assaulted by the age of 18 and Ohio has nearly 1 million children under the age of 12. We can not accept that about 100,000 children will be sexually abused in our state. This requires IMMEDIATE action. We are calling on our lawmakers to step up and protect our children.

“Ohio should have zero tolerance for the sexual assault of our children.”

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

Drew worked at several local parishes and two parochial schools, court records show.

He was an assistant band director at Elder High School in West Price Hill and director of liturgy and music at St. Jude for 15 years.

Drew became a parochial vicar at St. Luke Parish in Beavercreek from July 2004 to June 2005, then served as pastor at St. Rita Catholic Church in Dayton from July 2005 to June 2009.

He was pastor of St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Liberty Township from 2009 to 2018 and then received permission to move to St. Ignatius of Loyola, where he worked until the archdiocese put him on leave in July 2019.

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 bishop at the time, Joseph Binzer reported it to authorities, who determined Drew’s behavior was not criminal, according to the archdiocese, but he failed report it to the archbishop or priest personnel board.

The Butler County Prosecutor’s Office and Butler County Children’s Services looked into the complaints. 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.

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

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

He was upset to learn his previous warning to the chancellor, which he says was made in a phone call, 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.

Church officials and prosecutors have said they had no knowledge of the rape allegation until after Drew’s suspension in 2019.

The archdiocese has acknowledged they failed to publicly disclose complaints they received about Drew in 2013 and 2015 from parents at St. Max that he was rubbing boys’ shoulders and patting their knees.

Parents at St. Ignatius didn’t find out about the previous accusations until Drew was put on leave in July 2019 after texting a student.

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.

Church officials and prosecutors have said they had no knowledge of the rape allegation until after Drew’s suspension in 2019.

Court records show prosecutors plan to reveal multiple new allegations at Drew’s 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.

It was another student at St. Jude, who was 12 or younger when Drew began grooming and then sexually assaulting between 1985 and 1987, an assistant prosecutor wrote in court records.

Drew, however, was not charged in connection with those allegations due to the 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.”

If the case had not ended in the plea, archdiocese officials might have been compelled to testify under oath about what they knew about Drew and when.

Archdiocese officials have repeatedly pointed to all the changes they made over the years to address concerns about church sex abuse.

In a letter to parishioners Thursday, St. Ignatius pastor Earl Fernandes acknowledged Drew’s plea “may evoke feelings of mistrust and doubt.”

But the church, he said, has made important changes including:

  • Appointing two people with human resources backgrounds who are not clergy to advise a board that oversees priests
  • Stopping priests from working while they are being “monitored” for potential behavioral issues
  • Creating an ethics review team to help track allegations of misconduct

St. Ignatius’ pastor also wrote that the archdiocese did more than 73,000 background checks on staff and lay people who interact with children and trained 300 “safe environment coordinators” to make sure the child protection decree is being followed.

“There are some things that we and the Archdiocese have done and must continue to do differently,” Fernandes wrote.

After Drew’s sentencing Thursday, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati released a statement reiterating its commitment to enforcing its Decree on Child Protection.

That was established as a result of the church sex abuse crisis to try to prevent the abuse of children and adolescents through education, screening of adults who want to serve youth. It also provides a system for reporting abuse allegations to authorities and handling incidents that occur.

In the archdiocese statement Thursday, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr said he planned to ask the Vatican to laicize Drew. Laicized priests are still considered priests in the Catholic Church, but they no longer have the rights and responsibilities of the position.

They may not present themselves as priests in their dress or perform sacraments such as celebrating Mass or hearing confession

“Father Geoff Drew will never again have a priestly assignment,” Schnurr said in the statement.

The second-highest-ranking official in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati ultimately resigned in the wake of the Drew case.

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

Binzer, who had ranked below only Archbishop 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 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 the activists, who say many questions still remain over the way Drew’s case was handled.

Kathy Weyer with Cincinnati Voice of the Faithful, says “much, much more needs to be done to correct the wrongs within the Church that allowed him to remain in ministry over several years despite parent reports of his inappropriate behavior with minors.

“Bishop Joseph Binzer failed to take appropriate actions in 2013 that would have kept Fr. Geoff Drew from having access to children at St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Ignatius parishes,” she said in a statement.

“Instead, parents from these and other parishes have had to deal with Fr. Drew’s inappropriate behavior, and the ongoing anxiety about the safety of their children within their school and parish community.

“Fr. Steve Angi in his role as Chancellor also failed to protect children. Not only with the Fr. Geoff Drew case, but with another as well (Fr Jeffrey Bacon) when he failed to adequately and thoroughly follow up when parents brought forth allegations of clerical misconduct.

“Parishioners were not informed about allegations in either case. Fr. Bacon was later placed on leave for ‘health’ reasons. Transparency and accountability protocols need to be put in place and followed.

“Fr. Earl Fernandez, Fr Robert Jack and other clerics who have made public statements in support of priests accused of abuse, have also failed. Denial, minimization, and other attempts to normalize ‘bad’ or “inappropriate” behaviors within the priestly ranks unfortunately is not that uncommon.

“Predators are masters of deception, and parents need to be granted the support and encouragement of their church leaders to come forth with their concerns; not vilified for their efforts. The diocese needs to do a better job of educating clerics about “grooming” behaviors and how to support parishioners who have concerns about the safety of their children. Archbishop Dennis Schnurr has likewise failed to protect children.

“Not providing timely and specific information to parents and parishioners when allegations of misconduct take place, and putting the concerns for the priest over concerns for the safety and well- being of children, has been a repeated failure. Claiming ignorance is not an acceptable excuse when the lives of vulnerable children are at stake.

“While Archbishop Schnurr has focused much attention on recruiting young men to enter the priesthood, increased numbers will not lead to a healthier or safer church for our children. Better training and screening of seminarians is needed. Our Catholic Church leadership in Rome also continues to have a deaf ear to the pain of the survivors and those that advocate for the protection of children.

“Two years ago, local Catholics signed a petition and detailed letter asking the Vatican to investigate the Cincinnati Diocese. To this day no official response or investigation has taken place. Cincinnati VOTF encourages civil authorities to investigate the archdiocese and review all files for any undisclosed incidents of abuse by clerics or other church employees.

“Cincinnati VOTF calls on all citizens to call their legislators and demand reform of Ohio’s child abuse laws, to eliminate the statute of limitation on the crime of rape or sexual abuse of a child. Without broadening the legislative path for judicial process, predators can and will continue to groom, sexually abuse and rape Ohio children, with few or no consequences. Our children deserve better.”

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