A three-week postponement was granted Thursday for the start of the trial of Monsignor Dale Fushek, former pastor of St. Timothy's Catholic Community in Mesa, who is charged with seven misdemeanor sex-related crimes.
San Tan Justice of the Peace Samuel Goodman moved the jury trial from Oct. 27 to Nov. 17 because of court calendar conflicts to try the cases brought almost three years ago regarding Fushek's alleged misconduct in his role as a Roman Catholic priest.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers wrangled for an hour Thursday morning over a motion on whether Fushek would get a fair trial if all five counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, one count of assault and one of indecent exposure were heard at one trial. The complaints were brought by five men who were minors in the 1980s and early 1990s when the incidents allegedly took place on St. Timothy's campus, where Fushek founded and led the Life Teen movement for Catholic youth.
Fushek's attorney, Thomas Hoidal, said a jury would be ill-equipped to hear testimony on the separate incidents without letting one case prejudice their thinking in another, and he argued for separate trials on each count. "The jury will be unable to compartmentalize the evidence" of one man's complaints from those of others, he said. Testimony on any one incident could color jurors' opinion of Fushek of having "aberrant sexual propensity" as other charges were outlined in a single trial, Hoidal said.
But Maricopa County prosecutor Barbara Marshall said the totality of the evidence was legitimate to present together. "The jury is entitled to hear all the evidence," she said. Hoidal said Fushek would gain a "bad character inference" and be painted as a "bad person" when evidence came out from other cases. One example given was an allegation that the priest videotaped boys in their underwear splashing around in the parish's baptismal font as Fushek was there preparing for parish Easter Masses when new Catholics are received. Hoidal cited legal rulings that disallowed a bundling of cases.
Marshall said much of the evidence in the trial will involve taped police interviews of alleged victims. But Hoidal said he expected the trial could take months if the prosecution were allowed to bring in other issues, such as an out-of-court settlement between the diocese and one of Fushek's other alleged victims.
The two sides said they were about 90 percent in agreement on the list of questions they would present to potential jurors when the trial gets under way. Goodman said he would take the separate jury issue under advisement and rule on it at a later date.
The priest, who had been integrally involved in the Valley visits of Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa in the 1980s, was present for Thursday's hearing but declined to talk to the media.
Fushek, 56, who has been suspended by the Diocese of Phoenix, had been a rising cleric over his three decades of work in the diocese, including serving as its vicar general. He later earned the honorary title of monsignor for his leadership. Fushek is one of the highest-ranking American Catholic priests to be charged in the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the church.
While Fushek had initially been on paid leave pending resolution of the charges, Bishop Thomas Olmsted ended payments earlier this year after Fushek and a former priest launched their own nondenominational ministry in Mesa in defiance of his order to not engage in public ministry.