Opinion: Archdiocese must be held accountable for priest abuse

After a two-year investigation, the Vatican recently released a 450-plus-page report about now-defrocked Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and how the Catholic Church hierarchy failed to stop his predatory sexual behavior. Now, local Catholics are owed a similar in-depth investigation into the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and its complicity in failing to protect children from predatory sexual behaviors of local priests, such as Geoffrey Drew.

Although the Drew story is a microcosm of McCarrick’s, the system that allowed both men to go unpunished for decades, in spite of countless complaints, exists in every Catholic diocese, including our own. Drew, former pastor of St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish, was arraigned on nine counts of rape in July 2019, finally halting his access to children.

Shortly thereafter, Concerned Catholics of Cincinnati was joined by over 1,500 area Catholics in petitioning the Vatican and 80 Catholic leaders to investigate the handling of the Drew case by the Archdiocese. In a well-researched document, our group cited complaints about Drew spanning 30 years, three counties and four parishes. These complaints were both in writing and in personal meetings with then-Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Binzer. Even Butler County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Gmoser warned the Archdiocese to "keep an eye" on Drew, to assign him a monitor and to keep him away from children.

The McCarrick Report cites cover-up, negligence, refusal to believe or investigate accusations and outright lying in handling complaints about McCarrick. "For the good of the Church, keep this quiet," the report quoted one bishop, summing up the hierarchical attitude that enabled McCarrick’s 50 years of exploitation.

What happened in Cincinnati may not have been very different. Archbishop Binzer chose not to place any of the Drew complaints in the priest’s public personnel file, allowing Drew to move from parish to parish and continue his predatory behavior. Binzer has yet to be held fully accountable. In addition, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, Binzer’s immediate superior, admitted that the prosecuting attorney’s directives were never followed.

Today, Drew is in jail awaiting trial and the Archdiocese seems to be doing business as usual. Former Auxiliary Bishop Binzer is now "Bishop Emeritus" and celebrated Mass opening Catholic Schools Week. Archdiocesan information is still filled with inaccuracies and omissions. It conducts audits to measure compliance but only at parishes and schools suggested by the Archdiocese. It hides private files from public scrutiny until law enforcement pries them open, as is being done right now in dioceses across the country. They appoint boards of lay people whose oversight exists in name only. Is its own Decree for the Protection of Children still being completely ignored, as it was in the Drew case?  

And, most importantly, many local abuse survivors and their families struggle to find justice and healing.

Compounding the Catholic Church's failings, Ohio’s laws tragically protect predators instead of children. Laws limit the time during which a survivor must report abuse, preventing an alleged second victim of Drew’s from filing charges. In addition, there are no Ohio laws that specifically prohibit grooming behaviors.

When will the Archdiocese be called to accountability? When will the cover-up be called what it is? When will victims be heard? When will the Ohio Attorney General investigate Archdiocese of Cincinnati's private files?  When will Ohio legislators reform its laws to protect children? When will Cincinnati Catholics see accountability and transparency in our Archdiocese?

It is long, long overdue.

Teresa Dinwiddie-Herrmann and Jan Seidel are committee members of Concerned Catholics of Cincinnati. Dan Frondorf is the Cincinnati chair of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Kethy Weyer is chair of Cincinnati Voice of the Faithful. They can be reached at [email protected].

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