A popular Mesa priest, on leave while church officials investigate claims of sexual misconduct with a 14-year-old boy, announced Saturday he is resigning in order to protect his parishioners from the "ordeal."
Monsignor Dale Fushek penned a heartfelt goodbye letter in the church bulletin for his parishioners to read as they left mass Saturday, stating his resignation would be effective June 30.
Fushek led St. Timothy’s Catholic Community in Mesa for 20 years and founded the nation’s largest Catholic youth organization, Life Teen.
He has been on leave since December, when former church member William J. Cesolini accused Fushek of masturbating while watching another priest sexually abuse him in 1985, according to a lawsuit filed in January. Cesolini said he retrieved repressed memories of molestation by the Rev. Mark Lehman, who served 10 years in prison for molesting students in the late 1980s.
"My resignation is in no way an admission, or even a suggestion, of guilt," Fushek wrote. "The ‘repressed memories’ that have brought about these circumstances are utterly untrue. However, it will take many months and a lot of energy to deal with these hurtful accusations. It would be selfish of me to force the community to go through this ordeal, with me as your pastor. It is best for our beloved community to move on."
The letter came as a double blow to the hundreds who attended mass to mourn the passing of Pope John Paul II.
Some cried openly when they read the letter.
Some said they understood his reasons for leaving, but added they wanted to stand by his side and defend their pastor.
"He should fight with us," said Abel Durand of Mesa. "I think it’s wrong. I have to believe in him. If I don’t believe in him, I don’t believe in anything."
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, called Fushek’s resignation "a sad moment for all of us" in a response letter also published in the bulletin. He asked for prayers for Fushek.