Monsignor Seeking Jury Trial in Sex Case
By Jim Walsh
The Arizona Republic
June 2, 2006
He is one of the Valley's most charismatic priests, represented by one of the Valley's toughest defense attorneys.
But as the next chapter in the saga of Monsignor Dale Fushek's legal drama unfolds, he is pulling out all the stops to keep his case from being decided by a low-level judge who doesn't have a law degree.
On Thursday, that judge, Justice of the Peace Sam Goodman, granted Fushek a last-minute continuance to allow him to appeal an earlier ruling that denied him a jury trial on six of the seven misdemeanor sex charges he faces.
If the appeal fails, Goodman alone will sit in judgment.
Once a star, the No. 2 man in the Diocese of Phoenix, Fushek, 53, faces a maximum of more than three years in jail on seven misdemeanor sex charges dating back 10 to 20 years. If convicted, he might have to register as a sex offender, according to his attorney, Thomas Hoidal.
No new date was set for the trial, which was to begin today.
Goodman presides over the San Tan Justice Court in Gilbert, usually the realm of traffic tickets and evictions. He rejected a motion to remove himself because he doesn't have a law degree, which is not a requirement for his job.
By law, misdemeanor cases are heard in Justice Courts or Municipal courts, but Fushek's case has taken on the air of a major felony trial, with two national experts scheduled to testify against him.
When the trial does begin, a host of loyal Fushek supporters are expected to turn out, as are members of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
Fushek's supporters, inspired by his work as longtime pastor of St. Timothy's Catholic Church in Mesa and founder of the Life Teen program for Catholic youths, have established a defense fund with a Web site.
"Monsignor Dale is the most gifted man I've ever known," one parishioner wrote in a testimonial on the Web site. "His homilies could go on for hours, and I would never want him to stop speaking."
Fushek dresses in the familiar black shirt and pants of a priest at the hearings, but does not wear a Roman collar. He is paid by the diocese but barred from acting as a priest in public, said Mike Haran, an attorney for the diocese. He can only say Mass in private and is the subject of an internal church investigation.
It's a steep slide from Fushek's days as one of former Bishop Thomas O'Brien's co-vicars general, one of two top aides in the diocese. Earlier, Fushek helped arrange visits by Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa.
Fushek is charged with five misdemeanor counts of contributing to the delinquency of minor, one count of assault and one of indecent exposure.
Defense attorney Hoidal is appealing to Superior Court Goodman's denial of a jury trial to Fushek on all but the indecent exposure count.
In a motion for the delay, Hoidal wrote that the issue of whether defendants accused of contributing to the delinquency of a minor have a right to a jury trial is of "statewide importance."
Fushek is not accused of molestation, but his trial is attracting national attention from victims groups. Life Teen has an estimated 120,000 participants in 995 parishes nationwide and 19 countries.
"This one is particularly significant because of Fushek's prominence, stature and clout," said David Clohessy, SNAP's national director. "It's my hope that the charges alone will inspire some victims to come forward."
The charges revolve around five men who were teens in the 1980s and early 1990s. Fushek is accused of engaging in explicit conversations about sex with the boys, inviting one into his bed, "engaging in kissing and snuggling," and exposing himself to the same boy.
Hoidal has argued that Fushek was counseling the boys as a priest and his actions are protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
"Premarital sex and masturbation are sins that must be confessed according to the church," Hoidal wrote. "By attempting to punish Monsignor Fushek for inquiring about these sins, the State is preventing him from fully practicing his religion. Fushek's views on the sexual issues should not be subject to censorship because they are part of his religion."
Prosecutors accuse Fushek of attempting to hide his sex crimes behind confession and plan to call Father Thomas Doyle, one of the nation's top experts on priest abuse, as an expert witness.
"It's wrong to use the sacraments to take advantage of anyone," Doyle said. "There's nothing in the First Amendment that allows a church to hide behind it."
Doyle said Catholics historically have erred by putting priests on a pedestal, thinking they are closer to God and beyond reproach.
"It's a blind faith and it's an uneducated faith," he said. "Priests are human beings like everybody else."
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