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S.L. woman’s suit accuses priest of 6-year sexual affair

SHARE S.L. woman’s suit accuses priest of 6-year sexual affair

A woman has sued a priest whom she says used his "spiritual authority" while counseling her to initiate a six-year sexual affair.

Cherry Caouette of Salt Lake City filed her civil complaint in Lucas County Common Pleas Court in Ohio, where the priest, who formerly served in Utah, last served as pastor.The suit targets the Rev. Dennis Kelsch, most recently a pastor at St. Pius X Church in Toledo, Ohio. It also names Kelsch's order, the Oblates of St. Francis De Sales, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.

While Caouette is the sole plaintiff in the case, the suit identifies by initials four other women - three in Michigan and one in Utah - with whom Caouette says Kelsch engaged in sexual relations.

Caouette declined to discuss her suit. Her Dayton, Ohio, attorney, Thomas Schaffer, did not return phone calls.

Salt Lake Diocese records show Kelsch served in various roles in Utah from August 1981 to July 1995, when he moved to Ohio. He was a counselor and teacher at Salt Lake's Judge Memorial High School from 1981 to 1990, was a pastor in Moab the next four years, then served a year in Price.

Kelsch could not be reached for comment. A secretary at St. Pius, who refused to give her name, said Kelsch was transferred to Colorado.

But his name is not listed on the rosters of Colorado's three dioceses, and church officials there said they had no information on his whereabouts.

Meantime, Monsignor Terrence Fitzgerald, the vicar general of the Salt Lake Diocese, said attorneys had told him not to discuss the matter.

Caouette says she met Kelsch during a 1984 parents night sex education seminar at Judge Memorial High School, where her son was a student. Kelsch soon became a counselor to Caouette, who had just separated from her husband. The couple later divorced.

Caouette's suit, filed last month, alleges that in July 1991, the friendship became a sexual relationship, which she broke off six years later after purportedly learning he had initiated and maintained relationships with other women he had met as a priest.

Caouette contends that, as a consequence of the affair, she suffered physical and emotional pain, including an unspecified "sexual and personal injury" that required medical and mental-health treatment.

In requesting a jury trial, Caouette also seeks damages from the Oblates of St. Francis De Sales and the Salt Lake Diocese, contending they are "vicariously liable" for Kelsch's behavior.