|Defrocking of Dale Fushek Not Routine Action
By Michael Clancy
February 27, 2010
When the Catholic Church kicked Dale Fushek out of the priesthood last week, the Phoenix Diocese said the decision was made because of sexual-abuse allegations against him.
But other proven abusers, including several who actually served prison time, never had similar steps taken against them - at least not publicly.
Fushek is the third priest to be dismissed from the priesthood in the Diocese of Phoenix and the first under Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted. Two others - George Bredemann, who remains in prison, and Mark Lehman, who served a 10-year sentence - also have been defrocked.
Although all have not been "laicized," or defrocked, all of the priests credibly accused of abusing minors in the diocese have been permanently removed from ministry, diocese spokesman James Dwyer said.
Phoenix had at least 30 priests accused of abusing minors over the years. Several of them have died, including former Bishop James Rausch.
Numerous others, including the Rev. Paul LeBrun, who is serving 111 years for three counts of sexual conduct with a minor and three counts of child molestation, are religious-order priests, and the diocese has no direct control over them.
Several abusive priests left the priesthood voluntarily, including John Giandelone, who served time in jail in the 1980s and again in the 2000s.
Those remaining include a fugitive and another who is one of the diocese's worst abusers, as well as a few who were removed from ministry but never faced legal charges, either because the evidence was sketchy or because the cases were too old.
"Some of these may be in the process of laicization, but the process is completely confidential," Dwyer said.
Actions taken against priests are just one of the efforts the diocese is making.
Olmsted regularly holds healing Masses around the diocese, including one Friday night in Mesa. The Masses are meant to give the faithful a chance to pray for abuse victims. Dwyer said they typically are well-attended.
The diocese also has an Office of Child and Youth Protection, which provides services to victims.
Fushek's notoriety - he may have been the best-known priest in the diocese when Olmsted took over six years ago, and he is the only one to publicly start another congregation - probably is the reason he was laicized and not the others, said the Rev. Thomas Doyle, an expert in canon law and abuse cases.
"If others have not been laicized, the reason in this case is that the bishop is trying to distance himself," Doyle said.
Nationally, it is fair to say that defrocking has not typically been used to punish abusers.
The Web site Bishop Accountability lists about 330 known laicizations among the estimated 4,500 priests who were credibly accused of abuse. Many of the accused died prior to the allegations.
"It's tough to identify the defrocked priests because the Vatican takes forever to make the decision, and even these days, the dioceses sometimes don't announce it," said Terence McKiernan, who runs the Web site, an aggregation of documentation about the scandal.
It may be safe to say that no laicization is anticipated for the following priests - mainly because their legal cases preceded Fushek's by years in most cases, and nothing has been announced.
• Joseph Briceno. Briceno was placed on leave in 1992 after accusations he abused a young brother and sister in the early 1980s, but he was not permanently suspended from ministry until 10 years later. He served two years in prison and currently is on probation.
• Karl LeClaire. He was sued in 2002, accused of abusing a male for seven years, starting at age 13. He served a year in prison.
• Joseph Lessard. He was placed on leave in 2001, but he admitted in 1986 to sexually abusing a boy. He avoided prison and was not permanently relieved of his duties until 2003.
• Wilputte "Lan" Sherwood. Sherwood served a 10-year prison term for abuse. Notorious for picking up hitchhikers along Interstate 10 and videotaping their encounters, he was considered one of the worst abusers in the diocese.
• Patrick Colleary. Colleary fled to his native Ireland after charges were dropped accusing him of abusing an 11-year-old boy in 1979. He later was accused of abusing another boy, but extradition was refused.
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