Church Officially Strips Dale Fushek of Priesthood

By Jim Walsh
The Arizona Republic
February 16, 2010

The Roman Catholic Church officially booted former Monsignor Dale Fushek out of the priesthood after investigating allegations that he had sexually abused teenaged boys decades ago.

The Diocese released a statement Monday that Pope Benedict XVI had "laicized" Fushek, stripping him of all priestly duties.

Fushek had already been excommunicated in December 2008 for creating a schism with the church by acting as pastor of his own breakaway congregation, the Praise and Worship Center, said Jim Dwyer, a diocese spokesman.

The so called "laicization" is a final sanction and means that any Catholic who takes part in services officiated by Fushek and receives communion from him could also face excommunication.

Fushek had defied Bishop Thomas Olmsted's orders not to participate in any public religious services while he was suspended from his duties. The Praise and Worship Center, in Mesa, was founded by many of Fushek's former parishioners at St. Timothy's Catholic Church, also in Mesa.

Fushek's laicization completes his downfall in the Diocese of Phoenix from a position of respect as the second highest ranking official to a denouncement as someone unfit to serve as priest.

In the two previous decades, Fushek had rocketed to rock-star status within the church, powered by his charismatic speaking ability.

"It's a sad day but we had to do what's right," Dwyer said. "When a trust is violated, we have to restore the credibility of the church."

As second in command under former Bishop Thomas O'Brien, Fushek arranged the visits of Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa.

His downfall began when he was accused in a civil suit of watching another priest commit a sex act with a teenaged boy in the rectory of St. Timothy's Catholic Community and failing to protect the victim or report the crime. The church eventually settled a civil suit filed by the victim out of court.

In December 2005, Fushek was accused of a series of misdemeanor sex crimes involving teenaged boys in the 1980s who were participating in Life Teen, an international ministry he found for teenagers.

After a series of appeals in which Fushek won separate jury trials, he was scheduled to face trial on April 30 in San Tan Justice Court on a charge of contributing to a delinquency of a minor.

Carl Mawhinney, who prosecutors allege is the victim, said he was encouraged by The Pope's decision to strip Fushek of all priestly powers.

"It's one step closer to bringing closure to this case," Mawhinney said. "It gives me comfort that the church and the Holy Father saw this person had to be removed from the priesthood."

Fushek faces four additional trials on contributing to the delinquency of a minor charges and one count of indecent exposure. The crimes are alleged to have been committed from 1984 to 1993, during Fushek's 20-year tenure as pastor of St. Timothy's.

He could potentially be required to register as a sex offender if convicted.

While Fushek awaits trial in Arizona criminal and civil courts, "this means the Catholic Church has found him guilty on a theological level," Mawhinney said.

A diocese press release said Olmsted received a "Decree of Dismissal" in January for Fushek from his status as a priest. The decree was issued in Rome by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which acts as a high court within the church. Dwyer said the Pope approved the dismissal.

The congregation acted after reviewing an investigation by the diocese of the sexual allegations leveled against Fushek.

Dwyer said its possible for a priest to be voluntarily "laicized," to leave the priesthood because he is unable to continue for whatever reason, such as getting married, without being excommunicated.


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