‘I want accountability’: Father Drew sex abuse survivor says he’s not done with Archdiocese of Cincinnati

Published: May. 31, 2022 at 9:06 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - A Greater Cincinnati man who was repeatedly raped as a young altar boy by the music minister at his private Catholic grade school before he became a priest has achieved what many sex abuse victims are still hoping for: some closure when his abuser was convicted.

Now, after decades of struggling to deal with being sexually assaulted between the ages of 8 and 10, Paul Neyer is a married father with four children who says he wants to use his experience to try to help other victims.

He took his first big step toward that Tuesday by going before an Ohio Senate committee, urging lawmakers to reform the state’s child sex abuse laws to extend the statute of limitation for victims to seek the justice he says they deserve.

“History remembers three kinds of people. Those who endure evil, those who perpetrate or enable evil, and those who stand up to and stop it. I’ve endured it, now I’m standing up to it. With the power you hold, you now sit in a position to either help stop it… or to enable it.

“Which side of history do you want to be remembered for? I hope you look at this 8-year-old boy and honor him and those who have endured the things he has by passing Senate Bill 226 and continue to push forward to eliminate SOL laws and give victims the chance to find their voice.”

However, Neyer, 43, tells FOX19 NOW he’s still looking for accountability he feels is lacking from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati - and if he has to go to court to achieve that, so be it.

We reached out to a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for comment and will update this story once we hear back.

Father Geoff Drew, pleaded guilty to nine counts of rape last year in a plea deal announced just before his trial was to start late last year.

Neyer approved the plea agreement. He says he felt Drew should have received more prison time than the seven years that was part of the deal, but he exchanged that for the achievement of Drew admitting to raping him nine times.

When Neyer confronted Drew in court, he told Drew he 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.

“I forgive you but nobody will ever be able to f------ forget.”

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati announced that day they would seek the “laicization” of him, essentially stripping him of his priestly duties. Drew 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 at the time, in December.

Drew turned down an interview request this month from FOX19 NOW through a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

After Drew’s conviction, Neyer said he privately met at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati offices with Archbishop Dennis Schnurr and Teresa Hughes Maley, the Archdiocese’s coordinator of the ministry to survivors of abuse.

He said Schnurr told him he couldn’t guarantee that Drew wouldn’t return to work for him or at another Catholic church once he was released from prison.

“If I fire somebody for something, I’m not bringing them back for any reason. Especially if something of this nature, it doesn’t shock me at this point, you know, six months passed and sitting here and in the backstory and knowing, you know, other stories of the church, that doesn’t surprise me at all. In the moment when I was trying to do the right thing. That floored me, it floored me. I think that was when the first part when I stood up, and I started to stand up and said, I think this is time we go. It was just it’s disgusting.”

Neyer says he requested a settlement from the Archdiocese for his suffering of more than $1 million.

He says he suffered physical injuries from the rapes, spent years afterward confused about his sexuality, enlisted in the military but received an entry-level separation due to issues dealing with authority figures and left a career in law enforcement after 15 years, mostly as an officer with the Delhi Township Police Department.

He is now a project manager for a local plumbing company.

Neyer says that despite all the reforms and initiatives the Archdiocese has announced in the wake of child abuse sex cases, he doesn’t think Drew’s conviction will truly change its pattern of mishandling/covering up sex abuse by its clergy.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati is the 44th largest Catholic diocese in the country, with more than 450,000 Catholics, and has the fifth-largest Catholic school system in terms of enrollment with more than 40,000 students.

The 19-county territory includes 211 parishes and 111 Catholic primary and secondary schools.

In 2003, then-Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Niehaus found the Archdiocese of Cincinnati guilty of failing to report sexually abusive priests in the 1970 and 1980s and imposed the maximum fine possible, $10,000.

This was the result of an agreement with the Hamilton County prosecutor at the time, Mike Allen, that brought then-Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk to court to personally enter a no-contest plea on behalf of the archdiocese.

Under the agreement, the archdiocese acknowledged that by pleading no contest, it was admitting the truth of five fourth-degree misdemeanor charges and agreeing to accept the judge’s sentence.

At the time, it was the first conviction of its kind, a Roman Catholic organization convicted on criminal charges related to the mishandling of sexual abuse cases.

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

After Drew’s sentencing, 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, and screening of adults who want to serve youth. It also provides a system for reporting abuse allegations to authorities and handling incidents that occur.

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.

The archdiocese has come under much criticism over the past nearly four years now for its handling of misconduct complaints against Drew.

In 2019, the archdiocese 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.

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.

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 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.”

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 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 Schnurr and the Priest’s Personnel Board.

The Archdiocese has stressed that Binzer did report the allegation to the Prosecutor’s Office and Children’s Services and addressed the concern himself with Drew.

Binzer ultimately resigned in 2020 in the fallout of the Drew case. He remains a priest, has the title of “Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus” and recently was assigned pastor of Good Shepherd Church in Montgomery.

“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 statement put out by the archdiocese in May 2020.

“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.”

The prosecutor’s office and 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 that he was so troubled by the priest’s behavior, he personally called the chancellor, Steve Angi, in the archdiocese and warned him to keep Drew away from children and to monitor him. Angi took those concerns to Binzer, an archdiocese spokeswoman has told FOX19 NOW.

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

Gmoser said he was upset to learn his previous warning to the archdiocese through that phone call to the chancellor was clearly 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 from St. Max because he wanted to be closer to his mother. He was not moved because of complaints from St. Max parishioners 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.

Since the Drew case came to light, the church has made important changes including appointing two people with human resources backgrounds who are not clergy to advise a board that oversees priests.

They’ve also stopped priests from working while they are being “monitored” for potential behavioral issues and created an ethics review team to help track allegations of misconduct.”

“I told (Schnurr) that we all know more than what we see,” Neyer said. “Everybody knows more than what we see. We know that Elder, (St.) X, all these places are cesspools for your priests to speak and be in the presence of young men. So I really feel after sitting here and talking to you, Mr. Schnurr, that I’m getting nowhere with you and I don’t think I’m going to get anywhere with you.’

“And he said ‘well, what is it that you want? I said accountability. The only way that you’re ever going to be held accountable is in your wallet.’ I said, ‘That’s it. I’m not asking you make me a multimillionaire, I don’t want a yacht, I don’t want to build a lavish home. But I want something that says I’m sorry, I want something that says we are guilty of this just as much as Geoff Drew. And I got nowhere with that.

‘He basically said, he goes, my hands are tied. He goes, we have a board is put in place, so I can’t help you. He said, ‘so it restricts my power of being able to say, I can give you this and help you. Instead, he said that we meet with this board, they meet once quarterly or whatever, I can’t remember what he said quarterly or however. We’re gonna actually meet with them next week. And he goes, ‘I’m gonna bring this information to the table, and whatever they decide they decide. I said, ‘so I don’t need to be present for that? No one is going to ask me questions?’ ‘No.’”

He said Schnurr also couldn’t guarantee him that Drew wouldn’t return to work for him or at another Catholic church once he was released from prison.

“If I fire somebody I for something, I’m not bringing them back for any reason. Especially if something of this nature, it doesn’t shock me at this point, you know, six months passed and sitting here and in the backstory and knowing, you know, other stories of the church, that doesn’t surprise me at all. In the moment when I was trying to do the right thing. That floored me, it floored me. I think that was when the first part when I stood up, and I started to stand up and said, I think this is time we go. It was just it’s disgusting.”

Neyer said he told Schnurr he felt like the visit was a waste of time.

“And then as we’re leaving, he put out his hand and I shook his hand. And he goes, ‘I just want to let you know, I’m sorry.’ I said, ‘I just want to let you know, I don’t believe you.’

Neyer said he was told shortly after the meeting that the only assistance the Archdiocese would offer is counseling.

“I got nothing. I got nothing but the offer of counseling, which counseling got me into Geoff Drew’s lap, and to have the church offer counseling again, it’s, that’s not accountability.”

Despite this, Neyer didn’t lose his faith along the way.

He’s a devout follower, he just worships at a different church now, Crossroads. He credits their pastor, counseling and camps for giving him the support and motivation he needed to begin to talk about the abuse and report Drew to the police.

He also felt compelled to act after seeing a photo on social media of Drew performing a baptism.

“I was hurt. I am hurting, I’m struggling, I’m not getting through. I want other guys to know that. It just sucks. But the more you talk about it, the more you speak up and say, these are the things, it becomes that much easier,” Neyer says.

“Those walls start to come down, those cracks get mended, your life starts to become life again. So what’s next for me is just a hopeful life.”

Several parents of children who attended St. Ignatius School wrote Neyer letters of gratitude for being brave enough to stand up and stop Drew from victimizing anyone else.

“I write this letter as a sincere thanks. It seems trivial to thank you. What you did deserves way more than thanks,” reads one of the letters. “I thank you for showing me how to forgive, I thank you for being brave, and I thank you for saving countless children from that monster. My sons could have been that man’s next victims.

Here are the letters in their entirety:

Letter #1

Every day, for the rest of our lives we will thank God for giving you such incredible strength and courage to fight back. Without you, Drew would likely still be at our parish and our kids in grave danger. One of our sons was 10 when he was there. I will never forget the chills I had when he spoke to our son. Knowing something, not what was off we told our boys to stay away from him. On our way to school each day, we pray for God to protect their hearts, minds, and bodies. YOU are our answered prayer. YOU protected our boys and should hold your head so high with pride. We are forever in your debt. I will pray each day for God’s healing grace for you. May he bless you and keep you.”

Letter #2

Dear sir,

You don’t know me, but we grew up on the westside of town together. You seem to be a little bit older than me, but I am certain that our paths have crossed a time or two. As you know, the westside is a small place. I wonder if we ever passed each other at a festival growing up. Or at a sports game. Even if we did, I am certain your heartache would have gone unnoticed by me. And it makes me wonder what other children then and now, hold these things in their hearts without ever letting on that they are struggling. I am so sorry to the boy you were that you had to hold that in your heart for so long.

It seems weird to tell an adult stranger that I am proud of them. But I am so, so very proud of you. Not only am I proud that you came forward, which must have taken courage beyond anything I can imagine. But I am proud of you for speaking your heart and mind to that monster in court. Furthermore, I am proud that you are able to forgive his actions. I struggle with forgiveness. And while nothing I have experienced in my life comes close to the abuse you’ve had to forgive, knowing you can find it in your heart to forgive that man, has opened my heart to being more forgiving myself.

I write this letter as a sincere thanks. It seems trivial to thank you. What you did deserves way more than thanks. I thank you for showing me how to forgive, I thank you for being brave, and I thank you for saving countless children from that monster. My sons could have been that man’s next victims.

I am a parishioner (and mother to three boys) at St. Ignatius. In 2019 when we learned that that man (I will not use his name here) had sent inappropriate texts to a boy of our parish, I was angry. I wrote a letter to the archdiocese. We formed groups of parents to demand answers from the archdiocese. I called/emailed/yelled at members of the archdiocese. And that was only due to a text. Good God, the things we didn’t know at the time that that man had done...

I know that the archdiocese has done you a disservice, as they have done our parish a disservice. They have also shielded that man’s misdeeds from several other parishes. What they have done is unconscionable. I pray they reach out to you for forgiveness.

You have done what they wouldn’t do...you had the courage to stand up and do the right thing. It would have been easy to bury this within your heart as I’m sure you’ve tried to do for years and years. But you stood up to that monster and in turn, saved our children.

I listened to your words and your wife’s words in court on his sentencing day. I was sobbing listening to your statement. The heart-wrenching pain in your voice was palpable. However, I pray you are now free from that. There is nothing more to fear and there is no more pain to feel. Seven years doesn’t seem like an appropriate sentence for the years he took away from you. But please understand that by doing what you did, you not only make him rot in prison for years. But also, your actions will result in his being laicized. And your actions will make him register as a tier III sex offender, so he will never, ever be able to hurt another child again. In my eyes, you really gave him a life sentence.

You, sir, truly are a hero. My husband and I thank you for your courage. My sons are safe because of you.

Letter #3

Dear Hero,

Telling you thank you for your bravery does not seem sufficient, but they are the only words that I have.

My sons attend St. Ignatius and are servers and were alone with Drew in the sacristy on many occasions. Thankfully, they were never approached by him. My husband and I owe you a debt of gratitude...you courageously came forward and as a result my boys were saved from being around Drew. I firmly believe that my deceased father also had a hand in protecting my boys from harm by that monster. You see, I graduated from St. Jude in 1988...Drew was my music teacher for a few years and we always found him to be “creepy”. My dad absolutely loathed that man and he and my mom eventually left the parish because of Drew as soon as my sister and I were in high school. I know in my heart that my father knew something was wrong with Drew and that he helped save my boys from his evil clutches until your act of bravery had him removed from our parish. You and Drew’s other victims will continue to be in our prayers. May the peace of God be with you and your family.

Letter #4

Dear Hero,

I am a mother of young children, which currently attend St Ignatius. I am writing to say thank you, although I honestly don’t know if I can articulate the amount of gratitude my family has for you!

I can hardly write this without tears rapidly flowing… You Sir, are a HERO and we will be forever grateful for your bravery - thank you for protecting so many children. Thank you for continuing to fight when another option may have been easier. Our Faith has been tested, but you have modeled what God’s Grace and forgiveness truly look like, and for that we also thank you.

Thank you will never be enough but please know that there are so many people praying for you and appreciative of your bravery. Our family will keep you and your family in our prayers always and wish you only happiness, peace and joy going forward.

Letter #5

You have been in our family’s prayers and will remain there. We are incredibly sorry for what you have endured, and we pray that you know without a doubt that nothing evil comes from God. We pray that for every single bit of horror you have endured, that God pours out his mercy and love a hundredfold in return. You are incredibly brave, even if you don’t feel like it. You have given the greatest gift of self to so many people whom you don’t even know. When we think of you we think of the bruised, bloody and broken body of Christ as he laid himself upon the Cross to give of himself even more. You did a similar thing! Because you were willing to stand up and come forward, only God knows how much healing is now flowing through your sacrificial stand. But we know you are just a man, and so we know the need for continued healing for you continues. And so our prayers will continue. You deserve them because you are worthy....and you always were. Chase any thoughts of deserving any of what happened to you right out of your head and back to Satan where they come from. You frickin’ rock and we pray your life moving ahead is full of peace, joy and love flowing from a close relationship with the God who created you out of love, for love. He can’t wait to see you with Him in heaven one day.

Letter #6

I am writing to tell you how grateful I – and so many others – are to you for your courage in speaking out against Geoffrey Drew and leading to his trial. Your testimony, and that of your wife, were heart-rending to hear. I’m sure it was even more heart-rending for both of you to express. You are both incredibly brave.

To me, hearing him plead guilty to each of the nine counts of rape that Judge Ghiz read to him was a monumental step in the direction of justice. You may be disappointed in the number of years especially in face of the suffering you’ve experienced. To me, it’s nothing short of a miracle that you could forgive him.

My hope is that there is enough outrage about his sentence that people will finally realize that our statue of limitations laws MUST be changed. Your courage in reporting him is the first step, however painful it has been to you and your wife, in making this happen.

You have no idea what your actions will do to inspire others to do. Please know that there are not just ripples but waves resulting from your courage. We may not see them immediately, but I have no doubt that they’re there.

I promise that I will work as hard as ever to make sure that your courage and that of your wife and family will lead to more and more and more justice. More vulnerable young boys thank you, too, for helping to prevent for them the pain and suffering that you’ve endured.

I’m honored to know you and am very, very, very grateful to you and your wife.

Letter #7

The good about this plea is that the truth is finally fully known without any question.

Please tell redacted for me that I deeply admire and appreciate his tremendous courage. This is what we are called to do and there are not many who would. He has dealt directly with evil in this world as well as a complicated system that has not been there for him in his past and I am so deeply sorry for his pain. But more than anything, I am so grateful for his courage and strength and confidence in God who is more powerful than any evil. The man that was convicted is truly sick in the most profound way and he should never be able to hurt another. I am so grateful for Redacted’s belief that coming forward was so important and I hope he feels more free and alive then ever and please let him know he is very loved.

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