Mesa Priests Accused of Molestation

By Kristina Davis
East Valley Tribune
January 28, 2005

A Valley man who says he's retrieved repressed memories of sexual abuse by Mesa priests and a youth minister filed a lawsuit Thursday filled with sweeping accusations against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix.

The complaint, filed by victim William J. Cesolini in Maricopa County Superior Court, named the diocese; St. Timothy Catholic Community in Mesa; Life Teen; Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, leader of the Phoenix diocese; Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien, former leader of the Phoenix diocese; two priests; and a youth leader.

The suit says Monsignor Dale Fushek, pastor of St. Timothy and arguably one of the diocese's most popular priests, masturbated while watching another priest sexually abuse a 14-year-old Cesolini in 1985.

"He knew of the sexual abuse . . . and did nothing to stop or prevent it; nor did Fushek report the sexual abuse to authorities," the lawsuit stated.

Fushek also is accused of giving the teen alcohol.

Attorney Frank Verderame notified church officials Dec. 22 that a former parishioner claimed to have recovered repressed memories of molestation by the Rev. Mark Lehman, who served 10 years in prison for molesting students in the late 1980s at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School in Phoenix.

Fushek was placed on administrative leave while church officials investigate. His attorney did not return phone calls.

Diocese spokeswoman Mary Jo West said church officials had not seen the suit as of late Thursday and they planned to respond today.

The lawsuit also accuses Phil Baniewicz, co-founder of Life Teen, of sexually abusing Cesolini more than once.

Fushek and Baniewicz founded Life Teen, the nation's largest Roman Catholic youth organization, in 1985.

The lawsuit stated Lehman, Fushek and Baniewicz threatened Cesolini and used their position of power in St. Timothy and the diocese to keep him "quiet" so he would not report the abuse to his parents.

The priests and youth minister "should not have been put in the position to be alone with, counsel and develop relationships with young boys," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit further blames O'Brien, the diocese, St. Timothy and Life Teen for failing to report the abuse to authorities as they did with other reports of sexual misconduct at the Mesa parish.

Cesolini is requesting an undisclosed amount in damages.


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