Supporters of Monsignor Dale Fushek, former pastor of St. Timothy Catholic Community in Mesa, are trying to raise $100,000 within two weeks for the priest’s legal defense.
Fushek, arrested Nov. 21, has pleaded innocent to 10 misdemeanor sexual misconduct charges and remains under house arrest in Phoenix.
“I just know him well enough to know there is nothing Dale has done that is criminal,” said Mark Keough of Mesa, a 30-year friend who helped established “The Stand Together Fund,” recently renamed the “Monsignor Dale and Phil Baniewicz Justice Fund.”
Baniewicz and Fushek are co-defendents in a civil lawsuit filed one year ago today by an alleged victim in a separate incident. Baniewicz serves as president of Life Teen, a Mesa-based international Catholic youth program.
“Msgr. Dale & Phil need our help!” reads a flier placed on vehicle windshields Sunday at St. Timothy’s parking lot. Citing the urgent need for $100,000, the fliers note that the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix would pay none of Fushek’s legal costs “until he is found innocent.”
Diocesan attorney Michael Haran said Thursday the diocese would not cover any criminal defense costs, but it would pay civil trial costs if Fushek wins that case.
Fushek, 53, is believed to be the highest-ranking American priest accused of sexual misconduct with minors. He helped coordinate Valley visits of Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa in the late 1980s and served as pastor for 20 years at St. Timothy’s until he resigned last April after his bishop put him on a leave of absence.
Keough said fundraising was “going OK,” but he would not say how much has been contributed.
“Dale has done a tremendous amount for our community and especially our church and the priesthood in general,” he said. “To just leave him out there hanging with this sort of stuff . . . is not what we do with one another when we are friends.”
He said Fushek lacks resources to defend himself for what is expected to be a series of criminal trials.
The former vicar general for the diocese is accused of molesting seven men and boys on church property between 1984 and 1994.
The civil suit against Baniewicz and Fushek was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court by former Life Teen member William Cesolini, then 14, who claims the two men were present in 1985 in the rectory when a seminary student and later priest, Mark Lehman, sexually assaulted him.
Lehman was later convicted and served 10 years in prison for molestation of students at a Phoenix school. Cesolini claims he was sexually abused more than once by Baniewicz. He accuses Fushek of serving him alcohol, failing to protect him and using his power to keep him silent.
It was during a therapy session in 2003 that Cesolini’s counselor determined he had suffered from repressed memory, which originally prevented him from recalling the events 18 years before. The defense is expected to discredit the validity of repressed memory.
Contributions to the Fushek-Baniewicz fund may made to Chase Bank account No. 712442680.