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Grammy-winning Florida pastor restored to ministry after abuse accusations retracted

This is an album cover titled "Very Jerry: Intimate Self-Revealing Songs" by Father Jerome Kaywell, who "has been returned to ministry, effective immediately" as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda, Fla., and his "good name … restored" after accusations of alleged sexual misconduct with a minor were retracted by the accuser, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice announced March 14, 2024, in a letter to parishioners. Father Kaywell was removed from his parish duties in January pending an investigation of the claim made against him. (OSV News screenshot/YouTube)

(OSV News) — A Florida priest and Grammy-winning recording artist has been restored to ministry after accusations of alleged sexual misconduct with a minor were retracted by the accuser.

Father Jerome Kaywell, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda, Florida, “has been returned to ministry, effective immediately” and his “good name …  restored,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, in a March 14 letter to parishioners.

Father Kaywell had been placed on administrative leave in January after the diocese 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 had maintained his innocence throughout the investigation, which in accord with diocesan safe environment policy included notification of the State Attorney’s office and the engagement of an independent investigator.

However, on Feb. 13 the diocese received word from the accuser’s attorneys that “the alleged victim withdrew his allegation, and an apology was written by the accuser declaring it was a false memory,” said Bishop Dewane in his letter.

The diocesan review board met March 13, and after “(examining) the investigatory report and all aspects of the matter, unanimously (concluded) that there was no evidence to support the allegation,” said the bishop. “The Diocesan Review Board recommended that Father Kaywell be returned to ministry. I have accepted their recommendation.”

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.

OSV News is awaiting a response to its request for comment from Father Kaywell.

Gina Christian is a multimedia reporter for OSV News. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @GinaJesseReina

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