Dale Fushek

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Dale Fushek (born 1952) is the leader of the Praise and Worship Center in Chandler, Arizona and the former Vicar General of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix. In 2005 he was charged with 10 criminal misdemeanor counts related to alleged sexual contact with teens and young adults. By February 2010, the charges were adjusted to four counts contributing to the delinquency of a minor and one count of indecent exposure. On April 15, 2010, Fushek agreed to a plea bargain offered by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office in which he pleaded guilty to one of the charges. The four other charges were dropped and he was fined $250, in addition to being sentenced to 364 days of probation.

On December 15, 2008, the Diocese of Phoenix announced that Fushek had been excommunicated by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted for establishing the Praise and Worship Center, a community outside the Catholic Church, in defiance of the bishop's order for him to cease ministry.

Early religious education[edit]

Fushek was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1952. His family moved to Phoenix, Arizona in the 1960s. After graduating from Phoenix Central High School in 1970, he attended St. John's Seminary in California, where he decided to dedicate his religious work to children and teens. In 1978 he was ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix. Later, he attended the University of Notre Dame and received a Masters degree in theology.

Ministry as Catholic priest[edit]

As a young priest, Fushek was assigned to St. Jerome's Parish in Phoenix. There he began to work toward bringing children and especially teens back into the ministry and founded Active Christian Teens (ACT). ACT sought to expand the ministry to teens and young adults, part of the religious community whom Fushek believed felt out of place in church.[1]

In 1983 Fushek was transferred to St. Timothy's Catholic Parish in Mesa, Arizona. There he founded Life Teen, a program similar to ACT at St. Jerome's. The program Fushek developed for teens proved extremely popular and numerous other parishes and dioceses began to develop Life Teen programs of their own. Fushek is no longer involved in Life Teen as of his resignation in 2005.

Fushek was instrumental in planning and organizing the 1987 visit of Pope John Paul II to the United States. He again played the lead in the 1989 visit of Mother Teresa. On April 19, 2000, Fushek was appointed to the post of Vicar General, second in command of the Diocese of Phoenix, by then-Bishop Thomas O'Brien. On February 15, 2002, Fushek was named a Monsignor, an honorary title reserved for priests of distinction.[2]

Allegations of sexual misconduct[edit]

In May 2002, Fushek disclosed to his congregation that in 1995 the Diocese of Phoenix had settled a sexual harassment suit that had been filed against him by a former Life Teen staff member.[3] In April 2004, the newly installed Bishop Thomas Olmsted accepted Fushek's resignation from his position as Vicar General. In late December 2004, additional complaints against Fushek emerged and the Diocese of Phoenix began to conduct an investigation. Fushek was placed on paid administrative leave shortly thereafter.[4]

On January 27, 2005, a lawsuit was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court alleging that Fushek witnessed a sexual assault committed by a priest, and did nothing, and on April 4 of that year Fushek resigned as a pastor of St. Timothy's Catholic Church[5] The suit, settled by the Diocese of Phoenix for $100,000 in December, does not imply any admission of guilt,[6] and was dismissed with prejudice.[7]

Fushek was arrested on November 21, 2005, and charged with 10 criminal misdemeanor counts related to alleged sexual contact with teens and young adults.[8] Three of the counts were dismissed in 2006 at the request of the prosecution.[9] As of 2005, Maricopa County prosecutors have not ruled out the possibility of more serious charges.[10]

Pope Benedict XVI laicized Fushek in 2010 after Church investigations of the allegations. During this 3-year internal trial, Fushek opted not to participate in his own defense.[11][12]

On April 15, 2010, Fushek pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor assault, ending five years of prosecution on charges of inappropriate sexual behavior involving teens. Fushek was sentenced to 364 days of probation and fined $250. Four other charges were dropped.[13]

Praise and Worship Center and excommunication[edit]

In late 2007 Fushek, along with Mark Dippre, who left the priesthood and is now married, established a Christian assembly called the Praise and Worship Center. Services started at Thanksgiving 2007 and have attracted between 500 to 700 people;[14] they are currently held at 2551 North Arizona Avenue, Building #3, in Chandler, Arizona 85225.

The Praise and Worship Center is not a Catholic organization, although their website asserts that it is not "anti-Catholic".[15] The Center's vision statement declares an intention "to bring together people of all traditions who are willing to follow the person of Jesus Christ and form a non-judgmental community of faith." [16] According to the Center's website, "The Center is being founded by a small group of people who are searching for something to supplement their own spiritual journeys."[17] In addition, "there are no doctrinal guidelines or mandated acceptance of proscribed theology required for membership."[18]

On January 4, 2008, the Arizona Republic reported that the "Diocese [of Phoenix] urges Catholics not attend to Fushek services." [19]

On December 15, 2008 the Bishop of Phoenix, Thomas J. Olmsted, issued a decree of excommunication against Fushek and Dippre:

Fushek and Dippre have incurred the censure of excommunication because they have chosen to be in schism with the Catholic Church by establishing and leading an opposing ecclesial community known to the public as the Praise and Worship Center. Both priests have consistently refused to comply with explicit directions by Bishop Olmsted to discontinue engaging in public ministry. The excommunications were incurred after repeated offers of reconciliation were ignored. The decree of excommunication by Bishop Olmsted declares the censure that Fushek and Dippre, as ordained priests, have brought upon themselves. The purpose of these sanctions is to reconcile both men with the Catholic Church and to preserve the integrity and unity of the Diocese.

As excommunicated priests, Fushek and Dippre cannot participate in the celebration of the sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist or in any other ceremonies of worship. They are also prohibited from celebrating or receiving any of the sacraments. In addition, they forfeit the benefits of dignity, office, or any function that they had previously acquired in the Catholic Church. [20]

Shortly after the announcement, Life Teen president Randy Raus posted a letter regarding the excommunication [21] to ym.lifeteen.com, Life Teen's website for adult leaders.

This excommunication is not connected in any way with the ministry of Life Teen, as all of the actions that led to this occurred after Rev. Dale Fushek’s involvement with our ministry. Further, I want to make it clear that Life Teen is in no way associated with his new venture.

Even though it has been almost four years since he has been directly involved with the movement of Life Teen, the media continues to associate Rev. Dale Fushek with Life Teen. While we continue to pray for Rev. Dale Fushek, the movement of Life Teen is in full support of Bishop Olmsted and Diocese of Phoenix in this matter.

Life Teen continues to faithfully and enthusiastically serve the Roman Catholic Church in complete obedience to the Magisterium and strict fidelity to Church teachings.

Autobiography[edit]

In March 2011, Fushek released his autobiography, The Unexpected Life: An Autobiography of a Very Human Priest. The cover states that, "Dale Fushek presents a candid, flesh and blood portrait of the sacred and the profane in his life as an ordained priest. The good, the bad, and the unbelievable are described with gratitude and commitment to a larger purpose. Unflinching yet always dignified, Dale Fushek gives his reaction to the events that sent his personal ministry into chaos, and changed the very fabric of his existence."

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