CHICAGO (STMW) – A lawsuit filed Friday in Cook County Circuit Court claims a woman grieving over the impending loss of her mother was lured into a sexual relationship with a Catholic priest who was counseling her.
The suit claims the woman met Fr. Fernando Zuleta in November 2008 when her mother was admitted to a hospice where he served as chaplain and grief counselor. She began daily counseling sessions to deal with the impending death of her mother from a terminal illness.
The priest encouraged the woman to meet him for a counseling session at a local restaurant for coffee, according to the suit. He began ordering alcohol for the woman until she became intoxicated.
The suit claims that even though the priest knew the woman was married he began kissing her and touching her body in a sexual manner. In subsequent meetings, he allegedly escalated his advances by engaging in intimate conversation, kissing and sexual touching.
The woman’s mother died one week after being admitted to the hospice and the woman and priest began having a sexual relationship on a regular basis, according to the suit. Until February 2009, the sexual relationship continued, often in the rectory of the priest’s parish, according to the suit.
In December 2008, the woman told her husband about the relationship, according to the suit. Her husband immediately informed the hospice, Zuleta’s immediate supervisor, officials at the Archdiocese of Chicago and the pastor of the parish.
The hospice terminated the priest, but the Archdiocese took no action, according to the suit, which names Zuleta, the Bishop of Chicago and the Archdiocese as defendants.
The suit claims the woman’s life began to spiral out of control during and following her sexual relationship with the priest. It also alleges she suffered extreme emotional distress, including loss of trust, a great sense of betrayal and of being exploited.
The eight-count suit seeks unspecified damages, expenses, attorney’s fees, costs and other relief.
Susan Burritt, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Chicago, said she wasn’t aware of the lawsuit and does not comment on ongoing litigation.
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