Catholic church sex abuse victims and activists call on Ohio attorney general for investigation
CINCINNATI (WXIX) - For the second time in five years, a group of victims of sex abuse by Catholic clergy and their supporters is asking Ohio’s attorney general to investigate all six dioceses in the state.
Local and national survivors and/or their parents who make up SNAP Network (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), Greater Cincinnati Voice of the Faithful and Ohioans for Child Protection want Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost to conduct a statewide investigation “of the history and scope of child sexual abuse, trafficking, child sex abuse enabling and cover-up in Ohio’s 6 Dioceses.”
They held a news conference Wednesday morning in the atrium of the statehouse in Columbus.
The group also provided the attorney general’s office with a spreadsheet of nearly 50 clergy with Ohio ties referenced in three recent reports of statewide investigations of church sex abuse by attorney generals in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Maryland.
These statewide investigations are important, activists say, to provide validation and justice to victims, inform the state’s leaders and the public, and can prevent further abuse by identifying predators and enablers.
But Attorney General Yost says Ohio law does not allow him to do this.
“I encourage every victim of sexual abuse to report the crime to local authorities. Reporting abuse takes courage, especially when the allegations were perpetrated by a member of the clergy or another caregiver in a position of trust,” Attorney General Yost said in a statement Wednesday to FOX19 NOW.
“Unlike some other states, Ohio does not grant the attorney general’s office the legal authority to investigate matters like this. The General Assembly has the power to change the law, but at present, SNAP’s concerns should be addressed to local prosecutors.”
Wednesday’s event is similar to a request in 2018 when SNAP protested outside then-Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Cincinnati office.
Holding up pictures of children who say they were abused nationwide, SNAP protesters called on DeWine, who is now Ohio’s governor, to follow the lead of other states that have investigated clergy sex crimes and cover-ups.
At that time, a spokesman for DeWine told also reporters that Ohio had no system for statewide investigations requiring grand juries.
During Wednesday’s protest, activists drew attention to the convictions of five Ohio priests on sex trafficking or sexual assault charges.
One is Father Geoff Drew of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
The archdiocese came under intense criticism for its handling of concerns and complaints about Drew.
It was not the first time their actions were called into question.
The Archdiocese of Cincinnati made national news in 2003 when it became the first Catholic institution in the United States to be convicted of failing to report sexually abusive priests in the 1970s and 1980s.
Its then-Archbishop, Daniel Pilarczyk, appeared in a Hamilton County courtroom with several church officials and entered a no-contest plea on behalf of the archdiocese in an agreement with the county prosecutor at the time, Mike Allen.
A judge imposed the maximum penalty possible, $10,000.
Eighteen years later, one of the archdiocese’s veteran priests, Drew, pleaded guilty to nine counts of raping a 10-year-old altar boy and student at St. Jude School in Green Township multiple times between 1988 and 1991.
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.
Drew pleaded guilty in December 2021, the eve before his trial in a plea deal arranged with Hamilton County prosecutors with the victim’s consent.
Drew was sentenced the same day to seven years in prison, far less than the up to 99 years he would have faced had he been convicted of all charges.
He received credit for time served at the county jail waiting for his trial, which was more than two years while his trial was delayed several times.
Drew is scheduled to be released from prison in 2026.
In a statement released after Drew’s sentencing, the Archdiocese said he “will never again have a priestly assignment” in any diocese.
They also said they were seeking the “laicization” of Drew, so he cannot conduct Mass, hear confessions or administer sacraments.
Drew will be a registered sex offender for the rest of his life.
FOX19 NOW attempted to obtain comment verbally and in writing Wednesday from a spokeswoman from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. We will update this story if we hear back.
The rape allegations against Drew became public in July 2019 when his former student, now a man, found strength through a different religion and his wife and young children to come forward and seek justice.
Just before Drew was publicly accused of sexual assault, the diocese suspended him as pastor at St. Ignatius after the parents of a teenage boy complained that Drew had sent him text messages.
The messages were not sexual in nature, according to the archdiocese, but they violated child protection rules.
Once Drew was placed on leave, however, church officials disclosed he previously was accused of inappropriate behavior involving children in 2013 and 2015 at another parish in the diocese located just 28.5 miles away, St. Maximilian of Kolbe in Liberty Township.
Parishioners at St. Ignatius, which has a large school, were upset because they were not told about previous complaints against the priest while he was at St. Maximilian.
The archdiocese has said “serious mistakes” were made, apologized and said they made changes in procedures and personnel so the mistakes would not be repeated.
They also said they submitted a report to the Vatican concerning the handling of allegations of abuse against Drew.
Today, Drew’s name is among the 16 clerics on the Archdiocese’s website against whom a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a child was made and investigated while the Cleric was living. Cincinnati’s archdiocese is one of the few Ohio dioceses that list them.
The website also lists more than 40 people who have ministered in the diocese but were not incardinated against whom a substantiated allegation of child abuse was made.
The names on the second list were provided to the diocese and based on investigations conducted by third parties, such as the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), the Dominican Friars, Glenmary Home Missioners, The Marianists, and the Diocese of Cleveland, the website states. Many of these substantiated allegations of child abuse occurred outside the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
There was fallout from the mishandling of Drew’s case.
In May 2020, the archdiocese announced the resignation of the second-highest ranking member of the diocese, Bishop Joseph Binzer, from overseeing priest personnel matters in Cincinnati in 2019.
They have said he failed to report a 2013 accusation that Father Geoff Drew behaved improperly with children to Archbishop Dennis Schnurr and the Priest’s Personnel Board.
Binzer did, they stressed, report the allegation to the local Prosecutor’s Office and Children’s Services and addressed the concern himself with Drew.
Binzer received the title Bishop Emeritus and remains a working priest within the diocese.
In 2022, he was reassigned as part of the diocese reorganization plan to be the pastor of one of its largest parishes, Good Shepherd Church in Montgomery.
The Drew case clearly shows the Archdiocese is still trying to cover up sexual abuse allegations against clergy, says one of the speakers at Wednesday’s news conference.
Rebecca Surendorff is the co-chairwoman of Ohioans for Child Protection.
She attended class at St. Jude’s with Drew’s rape victim and says she saw Drew pulling that boy and other male students out of class all those years ago.
Three decades later, her family attended St.Ignatius and her children were enrolled in the parish school when the rape allegations arose against Drew, their pastor.
She and the other activists continue to urge anyone with information about or suspicions of clergy sex crimes to “keep coming forward to police and prosecutors, not to church figures.”
They also want church officials statewide to be required to name all employees including clergy who are accused of sexual assault against children - not just the ones whose complaints are substantiated and investigated.
They also want the attorney general to order such files at the dioceses to be publicly released.
In Ohio, that decision is up to each individual county prosecutor, the attorney general’s office told FOX19 NOW when we checked previously.
The facts of Drew’s case are documented in Hamilton County records and/or the dozens of police records released by Cincinnati and Green Township police to the public, including FOX19 NOW, earlier this year:
Late 1980s: A former grade school student at St. Jude in Bridgetown, where Drew was a music teacher, told prosecutors in 2019 that Drew rubbed his shoulders and placed his hands under his shirt on more than one occasion in the late 1980s. Another former student said he witnessed Drew touching the child. He said boys “never wanted to get caught alone with Drew” because he was “a creep.”
1988 or 1989: A former Elder High School student said Drew took some Elder boys on a trip to Chicago, where Drew allowed them to drink alcohol and order soft-core pornography on the TV in their hotel room. Prior to that, the former student said, Drew had touched boys in ways that were “unwanted and very upsetting.” Drew was a music teacher at Elder at the time.
Late 1980s and early 1990s: A priest said he witnessed Drew inappropriately touching young boys at St. Jude. He also said he received complaints from parishioners and church employees about Drew’s behavior around children. On one occasion, the priest said, he saw Drew get into a station wagon with four or five boys. When the priest asked what was going on, Drew said they were going on vacation together.
Around 1990: Paul Neyer, who was then a student at St. Jude, told his father, Dan, that Drew asked him if he was “sexually active.” Dan Neyer said he called Drew and the principal to complain, but he said he does not believe the school took any action. Church officials said they have no record of his complaint. Decades later, in 2019, police arrested Drew for raping Neyer who said he didn’t tell his parents about being abused at St. Jude until after calling police. Neyer came out publicly last year about his experiences with an exclusive sit-down interview with FOX19 NOW before addressing a senate committee considering a state law change to expand the statute of limitation so victims like him would have more time to sue their abusers.
1990: A former Elder student said Drew invited him to his home. The boy, then 14 or 15 years old, said he accepted because he believed other students would be there, but he soon realized he was alone with Drew, who asked him to sit on the couch with him in his basement. Feeling uncomfortable, the student said he called his grandfather to pick him up when Drew left the room.
1992 to 1993: Another priest said he observed Drew touching young boys in an inappropriate manner at St. Jude, putting his hands on boys’ shoulders and rubbing them. He said he approached Drew about “crossing boundaries,” but Drew rebuffed him.
Early 2000s: A man who attended St. Anthony in Madisonville said Drew befriended him when he was a teenager and invited him to tour the seminary with him. At the time, Drew was studying to become a priest and was interning at St. Anthony. While at the seminary, Drew brought the teenager to his private room. He said someone noticed them and refused to leave Drew’s doorway until Drew and the boy left. On other occasions, he said, Drew spoke to him inappropriately, offered him a massage and touched his shoulders and back in ways that were “upsetting and alarming.” An employee at St. Anthony also told prosecutors he saw Drew with the boy at the church and seminary.
2005 to 2006: After his ordination as a priest in 2004, Drew became pastor at St. Rita in Dayton. A former student at the school said 40 to 50 boys signed their names to a typed letter asking school officials to tell Drew to stop touching them. The former student said school officials ignored their complaints and made them apologize to Drew for “being ridiculous.”
2011: A former altar boy said Drew gave him unsolicited hugs on multiple occasions. On one such occasion, he said, Drew told the boy he had nice legs and should wear long pants because his legs were distracting.
2013 to 2015: Parishioners at St. Maximilian of Kolbe in Liberty Township complained on at least two occasions about Drew touching boys’ shoulders or legs. Church officials referred the complaints to Butler County prosecutors. The alleged behavior involved a pattern with young boys of uninvited hugs, shoulder massages, patting of the leg above the knee and comments. Prosecutors determined in 2018 no crimes were committed but recommended the archdiocese more closely monitor Drew. The Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office also had a similar case with the same outcome.
Summer/Fall 2018: Drew left St. Maximilian to become pastor at St. Ignatius of Loyola in Green Township. The archdiocese did not tell St. Ignatius parishioners or staff about the complaints at St. Maximilian, which upset parents at both churches when the rape allegations against him regarding Neyer became public in the summer of 2019. Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoeser told FOX19 NOW in 2019 he personally contacted “the chancellor” at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2018 to warn them about Drew. Gmoser said he felt Drew was “sexually grooming” boys for future sexual abuse and he was upset to learn his verbal warning to the archdiocese was clearly not heeded because they granted his request to be moved to a parish on Hamilton County’s west side with the largest school in the archdiocese. An archdiocese spokeswoman identified the chancellor who spoke with Gmoser to FOX19 NOW in October 2019 as Father Steve Angi.
October 2018: The archdiocese received a letter from a St. Ignatius parishioner relating a family member’s experience with Drew years earlier when he was a student at Elder. The former student said Drew touched his leg and made him uncomfortable. The archdiocese forwarded the complaint to prosecutors, who again determined no crimes were committed.
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