Msgr. Dale Fushek was a star in the Catholic world. He was pastor of St. Timothy’s Catholic Church in Mesa, vicar general of the diocese of Phoenix, and founder of LifeTeen, a popular program for teenagers used by Catholic churches around the nation.
He’s been suspended from ministry for two years because of accusations of sexual abuse, for which he has been indicted and is awaiting trial. A civil suit was settled for $100,000.
He faces one count of assault, five counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and one count of indecent exposure. He is accused of engaging in sexually related discussions with teenagers during confessions and exposing himself to teens as he got into his hot tub.
A Phoenix newspaper has the latest, which is sure to shock many of his defenders: he’s started a “Praise and Worship Center.” He says it isn’t a church, that it is meant to supplement what people get in their churches. Another former priest, Mark Dippre, is working with him. Via Rod Dreher.
The “Praise and Worship Center” webpage has this FAQ:
8. Because of Rev. Dale’s legal situation, will children under 18 be able to attend?
Rev. Dale has carefully adhered to the current requirement of the Justice Court of having no contact with individuals less than 18 years of age. The justice of the peace has allowed him to attend church and to visit other public places where children may be present.
Update: The Diocese of Phoenix isn’t very concerned about Fushek’s actions.
“When he was put on administrative leave, he was told not to administer the sacraments and to not present himself as a priest,” Jim Dwyer, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, said Friday. “If he is not violating that, we wouldn’t have to know specifically what he is doing.” …
“We heard about some of the promotional materials that were done, but we didn’t know if it was ever going to take place,” Dwyer said. “We made it clear to the Catholics at St. Timothy’s that it wouldn’t be (regarded as) an official Catholic service. But other than that, we have no control on what he does as a Catholic citizen.”
So, he can preach, he can lead worship, he can organize a new ministry–just so long as he doesn’t administer the sacraments or “present himself as a priest.” Even though he is a priest. And a very visible one. A priest with a following. A celebrity. An indicted celebrity. And the diocese has already settled claims with an accuser.
As his friend for over 30 years, and now as pastor of St. Tim’s, I say, with sadness, that I cannot, and do not, support him in this, and that the parish cannot and does not support him on this.
Update (11/28): Statement from the Diocese of Phoenix:
On Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2007, Dale Fushek, a priest of the Diocese of Phoenix on administrative leave, conducted a praise and worship service that was in opposition to directives given to him to cease all public and sacred ministries. Mark Dippre, a priest who left public priestly ministry to enter into a civil marriage and is not a priest in good standing, also participated in the service. The service was not Catholic nor was it endorsed by the Catholic Church. We encourage the Catholic faithful to keep the Holy Mass, the ultimate form of praise and worship, as the center of their lives.
Update (8/28/2008): Fushek’s trial on sex charges will begin November 17.
Update (10/27/2009): I noticed this post still gets several hits each day, and was curious about the status of the trial. Well, they’ve been haggling for a year over whether he’d get one trial on all counts or separate trials. Judge ruled there was no “pattern” to his misconduct, and so each accusation gets treated separately. This bizarre ruling was upheld on appeal. He continues to do this thing at the Praise and Worship Center.
Update (2/18/2010): He was excommunicated in December 2008 for his actions with the Praise and Worship Center (not for sexual misconduct), and now has been laicized (removed from the priesthood) by Pope Benedict XVI (another story). His first criminal trial is set for April 30.
Update (8/11/2010): Once more I lost track of the case. In April 2010 Fushek pled guilty to a single count of misdemeanor assault. The other charges were dropped. He was sentenced to 364 days probation and fined $250. Fushek commented on it on his church’s webpage (scroll down to April 2010 posting).