Catholic Diocese of Phoenix Settles Sex-Abuse Claim

Associated Press, carried in Arizona Daily Star
December 27, 2006

Phoenix - The Catholic Diocese of Phoenix has agreed to pay $100,000 to a man who claimed he was sexually abused as a teenager by two priests and a lay minister at a Mesa church.

According to the joint stipulation filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, William Cesolini agreed to dismiss his civil lawsuit against the priests and St. Timothy's Parish.

The suit filed in January 2005 alleged that Cesolini, now 35, had been sexually assaulted in 1985 by a priest, Mark Lehman, and a former teen minister, Phil Baniewicz.

Both men were accused of abusing Cesolini on multiple occasions.

Monsignor Dale Fushek, who was pastor of that parish and co-founded Life Teen, the nation's largest Catholic youth ministry with Baniewicz, was accused in the suit of giving alcohol to the teen and then watching Lehman sexually abuse Cesolini.

The suit also alleged that Fushek acted negligently in not reporting the sexual abuse and that he, Lehman and Baniewicz threatened Cesolini if he reported them.

Cesolini attended a seminary to train to be a priest. The suit said his "repressed memories" of the sexual attacks re-emerged in 2003 while he was in counseling.

The diocese and church officials were named in the suit for being negligent in their oversight of the priests.

Neither the church nor the priests admitted any liability in the agreement, which called for the case to be dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled.

Michael Manning, an attorney for Fushek, would only confirm that the parties had agreed to dismiss the case.

Baniewicz resigned as president of Life Teen in May. The Life Teen program, which Baniewicz and Fushek founded in 1985, is used in hundreds of Catholic parishes worldwide.

Lehman served a 10-year prison sentence for molesting students at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School in Phoenix.

Fushek was placed on administrative leave in 2004 when allegations surfaced against him.

He currently is facing seven misdemeanor charges, including contributing to the delinquency of a minor, assault and indecent exposure. Those charges stem from incidents with other youths in the Life Teen program dating back 10 to 20 years.


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