Arrested Priest Is Guilty until Proven Innocent
By E.J. Montini
The Arizona Republic [Phoenix AZ]
November 27, 2005
No one charged with a crime in Arizona is "innocent until proven
guilty," especially if he is a priest. Not after all the arrests,
all the lawsuits, all the news reports.
A suspect may be presumed innocent in a courtroom, but out in the world
it's pretty much just the opposite.
We live in a county where the most popular politician is a sheriff who
revels in making life miserable for those in his jails. When told once
that two-thirds of his inmates are pretrial defendants who are "presumed
innocent" he said, "They are criminals. We don't run a first-class
and a second-class section." He's been re-elected three times.
In civics classes, American children learn a principle of justice described
by writer Sir William Blackstone, who said, "It is better that 10
guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer."
Outside of school, we no longer seem to believe that there are
Last week, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas announced that his office
had filed a 10-count criminal complaint against Monsignor Dale Fushek
accusing him of indecent exposure, contributing to the delinquency of
a minor and assault against five boys and two young men in the 1980s.
The complaint listing the misdemeanor charges described a series of lurid
encounters alleged to have taken place between Fushek and the boys while
he was pastor of St. Timothy's Church in Mesa.
Fushek's attorney, Michael Manning, said that the incidents "never
happened" and that Fushek will fight them at trial.
It's too late.
The first call I got about the Fushek arrest was from a man who said that
it was "about time they got that guy." We all agree that Fushek
deserves his day in court. Who knows? A jury might even find him "not
guilty." But he already has lost.
Manning knows this, too. He once won a settlement of more than $8 million
for the family of a man who died at the hands of officers in a Maricopa
County jail. The dead man had not even gone to trial, yet most of the
people I heard from at the time believed that he got what he deserved.
After all, they said, he wouldn't have been locked up if he hadn't done
Outside the courtroom, "innocent until proven guilty" has become
"guilty until you prove to us that you're innocent." And unless
all of Fushek's accusers recant their testimony, that won't happen.
Fushek was once the most popular pastors in the Phoenix Diocese. But in
2002 word got out that seven years earlier the diocese settled a sexual-harassment
claim against Fushek for $45,000. Supposedly, the payoff was made to avoid
the cost of a lawsuit. Manning was Fushek's lawyer in 2002, and I asked
him then if the settlement had been a wise decision.
"If I were his (Fushek's) lawyer in 1995, I probably would not have
been able to foresee the atmosphere in 2002. And I probably would have
advised him that if you can settle this for less than the cost of defending
it, do it," he said. "Today I would not give him that advice.
Today I would say to him, 'Father Dale, in 2002 no priest who feels this
is an improper claim can do anything but try the case.' "
It's even more true today, though trying the case won't clear Fushek,
no matter what the verdict.
Our presumptions have changed. Maybe it's our reaction to crime or to
the news media or to popular culture. I asked a defense attorney recently
if he believed that most people presumed that his clients were "innocent
until proven guilty."
"Do you presume me to be na´ve?" he answered.
Reach Montini at email@example.com or (602) 444-8978.