Jury selection in Cincinnati Catholic priest's rape trial scheduled to begin Friday

Geoff Drew accused of raping altar boy 30 years ago
Rev. Geoff Drew in court August 21, 2019
Posted at 5:00 AM, Apr 23, 2021

GREEN TOWNSHIP — Jury selection in the trial for Geoff Drew, the Cincinnati Catholic priest accused of raping an altar boy decades ago, is scheduled to begin Friday, according to Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Leslie Ghiz, who is presiding over the trial.

Drew, 59, is charged with 9 counts of rape. He faces life in prison if convicted.

The priest insists he's innocent, according to court documents filed by Drew's defense attorney, Brandon Moermond.

Cincinnati police arrested Drew in August 2019. He's being held at the Hamilton County Justice Center on $5 million cash bond.

On Tuesday, Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Leslie Ghiztold representatives from local news organizations covering the trial that she believed a jury could be seated in a day.

Ghiz held the meeting with journalists because of widespread interest in the case, COVID restrictions at the courthouse, and the need to set additional rules for protecting the identities of some witnesses, including the alleged victim.

The victim was 10 when Drew began sexually assaulting the child, according to charging documents in the case.

According to those court records, Drew raped the boy from 1988 to 1991 at St. Jude Catholic Church and school in Green Township.

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At that time, Drew was the St. Jude music minister.

He became an ordained Catholic priest in 2004.

Drew assaulted the child in his church office during and after school, according to charging documents.

The alleged victim, now in his early 40s, is expected to testify at Drew's trial.

Geoff Drew's defense attorney Brandon Moermond with Drew in August 2019
Geoff Drew's defense attorney Brandon Moermond with Drew in August 2019

On Tuesday, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati confirmed that Drew is still a Catholic priest and has not been permanently banned from ministry.

"He is on administrative leave," Archdiocesan spokeswoman Jennifer Schack said. "He maintains his innocence. He has not applied for his own laicization; nor have we pushed that forward on our end."

Moermond has not said whether Drew will testify in his own defense.

The evidence

The alleged victim testified before the grand jury that indicted Drew, according to Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters.

Deters described the testimony as "emotional" for the alleged victim and the grand jurors.

That testimony will also be a critical part of the prosecution's case during the trial.

But, according to court filings by prosecutors, other witnesses will provide important information about Drew and context for his alleged behavior with boys.

Court records show a second man has accused Drew of sexually assaulting him at St. Jude in the 1980s.

He's listed in court documents as a potential witness at Drew's trial.

Prosecutors said they couldn't file charges against Drew for the second alleged victim's abuse because of the statute of limitations.

According to court records, other witnesses – including a former clergyman – claim they saw Drew inappropriately touch boys during the late 1980s and early '90s, the period when Drew is accused of raping the boy.

Those additional witnesses will be allowed "limited" testimony, according to the order issued by Judge Ghiz.

Prosecutors expect to call a supervisory FBI Special Agent to testify about how child abusers "groom" their victims.

Geoff Drew was a music teacher at Elder High School from 1983-1990
Geoff Drew was a music teacher at Elder High School from 1983-1990

Drew repeatedly exhibited grooming behavior with boys when he befriended them, touched them inappropriately when they were alone, and had sexual conversations with them, according to court filings by prosecutors.

Internal Catholic church documents may also become an important part of this case.

Prosecutors and the defense subpoenaed Drew's records from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

Those documents include internal reports on Drew's conduct, and spiritual and psychological questionnaires that may have been part of the treatment the archdiocese said Drew would receive while on administrative leave.

As the archdiocese scrambled last summer to address concerns about Drew's conduct, Green Township Police Department officers quietly executed a series of search warrants in the case.

They searched church property and Drew's rental storage unit, seizing computers, 188 computer floppy discs and other evidence identified in court records and police documents examined by the WCPO I-Team.

Officers carried out the search warrants on Aug. 2, 2019, three days after the alleged victim walked into the Green Township Police Department and accused Drew of sexually assaulting him 30 years ago.

Within days after police took possession of the computer-related evidence, officers brought it to the Regional Electronics and Computer Investigations Unit for analysis, according to the Green Township police evidence chain-of-custody report.

RECI is a multi-jurisdictional task force based in Hamilton County designed to identify electronic evidence in criminal cases.

Prosecutors also revealed that investigators downloaded data from Drew's iPhone 6S.

In their six-page response to a demand for discovery from Drew's attorneys, prosecutors disclosed a list of evidence that includes a 1983 letter Drew wrote to Sister Joanne Mary of Our Lady of Lourdes and a letter she wrote to Drew a few weeks later.

Prosecutors don't reveal what Drew and Sister Joanne Mary wrote in those letters.

Why the alleged victim came forward

On July 23, 2019, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati publicly announced it had placed Drew on leaveas pastor of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

The archdiocese said it had suspended Drew for sending inappropriate text messages to at least one boy.

Drew's suspension followed years of complaints about the priest's "inappropriate" behavior around teen boys.

One week after the archdiocese suspended Drew, the alleged victim told Green Township police what Drew did to him.

In a letter publicly released in September 2019 by a Cincinnati detective, the alleged victim wrote that he wanted victims to know that they are not alone, that they are loved and worthy and that they can save others with their testimony.

“I have come to the realization that approaching my fears and speaking out about the disgusting events that have transpired can provide others with a chance not to feel that same pain,” according to the letter.

By the time the alleged victim shared his letter, the WCPO 9 I-Team had revealed other complaints concerning Drew's conduct with boys.

Bishop Joseph Binzer
Bishop Joseph Binzer

In 2013 and 2015, parents at St. Maximilian Kolbe in Liberty Township complained about Drew's behavior to Bishop Joseph Binzer, according to Mike Schafer, Director of Communications and Mission Promotion for the archdiocese.

At that time, Binzer was the Auxilliary Bishop and was the director of the Priest Personnel Board.

"The alleged behavior involved a pattern of such things 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,” said Schafer during a news conference in August 2019.

At the 2019 news conference, Schafer said the archdiocesan officials forwarded the noncriminal complaints to Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser's office, but didn't share them with the Priest Personnel Board or Archbishop Dennis Schnurr.

Drew had been pastor at St. Maximilian Kolbe from 2009 to mid-2018.

In July 2018, Drew left that church to become pastor of St. Ignatius Loyola in Cincinnati, a parish with the largest Catholic elementary school in Ohio.

A month later, a Pennsylvania Grand Jury report revealed the names of 300 priests who had sexually abused children for seven decades.

Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr
Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr

Archbishop Schnurr addressed the Pennsylvania report and emphasized his personal commitment to protect children on August 17, 2018, in a public letter to "Friends in Christ."

Schnurr wrote that "the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is unequivocally committed to the protection of all people, children and adults, involved with any of our various ministries. At this time, there are no active cases of clerical abuse of minors anywhere in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati."

He added, "the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is committed to transparency."

Schnurr's letter angered a longtime lay leader at St. Maximilian Kolbe who believed the archdiocese had not been transparent about Drew's behavior.

In a letter written to Schnurr in August 2018, the lay leader told Schnurr he had failed to deliver on his promise of being "unequivocally committed" to children and that the church had ignored "red flags" about the Rev. Geoff Drew.

The mother of three told Schnurr she experienced "anxiety and anger, distrust and frustration" after reading his comments, and that she had a "lack of belief in your commitment today."

The archdiocese referred the lay leader's letter to the Butler County Prosecutor's Office.

It was the third time since 2013 that the archdiocese had forwarded complaints about Drew's conduct with teenage boys to Gmoser's office.

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser
Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser

Gmoser determined Drew's behavior was inappropriate but not criminal.

In an Aug. 7 interview with the I-Team, Gmoser said he told the archdiocese Drew should be monitored and kept away from children.

Instead of following Gmoser's directive, as the archdiocese admitted during that August 2019 news conference, Drew was allowed to self-report his behavior to an outside monitor.

The archdiocese also acknowledged it didn't share any concerns about Drew with leaders in the St. Ignatius Loyola parish or school.

In June 2019, the archdiocesan central office received a complaint from a St. Ignatius family that Drew had texted their teenage son.

That complaint was provided to the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office.

“It’s obvious that in this matter we have handled things very, very poorly, made serious mistakes," Schnurr said in a statement. "And for that I am deeply, deeply apologetic. I’m deeply sorry. I’m sorry for the pain that this has caused so many people.”

The archdiocese placed Drew on leave in July 2019.

The persistent revelations about Drew that summer appear to have prompted the alleged victim to come forward.

“Speaking up provides others the chance not to cry themselves to sleep," he wrote in his letter shared with news media in September 2019. "Speaking up provides others the chance not to look in the mirror and wonder if they will be alright. Speaking up provides others the chance to live in a way that I, or you, did NOT get to.”

Abuse survivors following the trial

The trial is being watched closely locally and nationally by members of the group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

"I think the trial is going to be hell for survivors," said Gerry Ahrens, a longtime Catholic school teacher and member of SNAP.

Ahrens said a priest sexually abused him during confession decades ago in Cincinnati.

Gerry Ahrens
Gerry Ahrens

Ahrens said he believes the trial will reignite his own painful memories of abuse, but he still plans to follow the testimony and show his support for Drew's alleged rape victim.

"If I could get into the trial, I would," Ahrens said. "I think the man needs an enormous amount of support. And I want to be as supportive as I possibly can."

Dan Frondorf, a longtime Cincinnati spokesman for SNAP, said the trial is important because it provides public accountability for an accused priest.

"I've got a very big interest in the trial," Frondorf said. "We don't often see priests being hauled into court."

Frondorf said the news coverage of the trial may wind up helping survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

"It's tremendously important," Frondorf said. "There's a healing factor for survivors who see these cases. It will make them more likely to come forward."

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