Grammy-winning Florida priest placed on leave for alleged misconduct with minor

(OSV News) — A Florida priest and Grammy-winning recording artist has been placed on administrative leave due to alleged sexual misconduct with a minor a decade ago.

Father Jerome Kaywell, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda, Florida, has been removed from his duties pending an investigation, according to a Jan. 26 letter to parishioners by Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida.

The bishop said the Diocese of Venice had received notice from an unspecified law firm that the popular priest had allegedly engaged in misconduct “with someone who was a minor at the time … in the Winter of 2013/2014.

“Father Kaywell denies that the allegation is true and maintains he is innocent,” said Bishop Dewane in his letter. He urged that “anyone who believes that he or she has been the victim of sexual misconduct by someone serving in ministry for the Diocese of Venice, or any organization, should contact law enforcement officials.”

Bishop Dewane also listed the telephone number of the diocesan victim assistance coordinator: (941) 416-6114.

According to several media interviews between 2004 and 2007, Father Kaywell, a Florida native, had discerned early in life a religious vocation, inquiring with the Maryknoll Fathers at age 12 and entering a Franciscan monastery at age 17. Shortly after releasing his first album in 1975 while he was a seminary musical director, he left religious life to perform in a band with his brother and later moved to California, where he was involved in youth ministry and professional songwriting for advertising and television for more than a decade.

In 1984, the future Father Kaywell entered the seminary and was subsequently diagnosed with lymphatic cancer. He sought alternative therapies (which brought him into contact with actors Gilda Radner, who died in 1989 after a long battle with ovarian cancer, and her husband, Gene Wilder), and managed to record the 1986 Grammy-winning gospel album “Let My People Go” with The Winans.

With his cancer in remission, he resumed his priesthood studies in 1989 and was ordained in 1991. Two years later, Father Kaywell began producing benefit concerts and touring with his music.

In 1996, he released the album “Above the Clouds: Heavenly Music from Father Jerry” and unveiled his 2020 album, “Very Jerry: Intimate, Self-Revealing Songs” in a November 2020 Facebook post.

Father Kaywell’s singles include “The Ballad of St. Thérèse” and “Lullaby of the Light (for Evia),” the latter of which featured singer Leslie Smith. Both songs debuted in 2020.

Karen Barry Schwarz, diocesan director of communications, told OSV News that “an independent investigator” has been hired to look into the allegations, and that as a matter of policy the diocese does not offer comment “when there’s an ongoing investigation.”

She also said that “as a matter of course, we always issue a letter to the state attorney in the county in which an allegation is made,” which in this case is Charlotte County, Florida.

OSV News is awaiting a response to a request for comment placed with Florida State Attorney Amira D. Fox, who represents the county.

Gina Christian is a multimedia reporter for OSV News. Follow her on X at @GinaJesseReina.

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