Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix is being pressured to defrock and stop paying Monsignor Dale Fushek, former pastor of St. Timothy’s Catholic Community in Mesa.
Fushek is on paid leave as he awaits trial on seven misdemeanor counts of sexual misconduct with minors.
In a Thursday letter, David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called on Olmsted to act swiftly to rein in Fushek, who is preaching publicly even though he says he doesn’t represent himself as a priest. Diocesan policy calls for pastors to refrain from public ministry while they await resolution of sexual misconduct cases against them.
Last fall, Fushek co-founded the nondenominational Praise and Worship Center, which holds services in Mesa. He has been preaching to more than 700 people at each service, a sizable number of whom had been parishioners of St. Timothy’s, where he was a popular priest for about 20 years.
The diocese has issued a series of calls to Catholics to “refrain from attending or supporting the Praise and Worship Center” and underscoring that “the ultimate form of praise and worship” is always the Catholic Mass where the Holy Eucharist is received.
But Clohessy said stronger action should be taken by the bishop.
“Your spokesperson, Jim Dwyer, claims you have no control over Fushek’s actions, and yet he remains on your payroll and as a priest in your diocese,” the letter said. “Once again you have chosen to sit back and do nothing rather than take action to protect children and reach out to those who have been harmed.”
But Dwyer calls that statement false.
“I have never made that claim to a reporter,” he said Friday, adding that he has emphasized only that Fushek “continues to be a disobedient priest on administrative leave.”
Dwyer said the network “has every right to hold the church accountable. Nobody argues with their cause, but their methods sometimes leave a lot to be desired.”
He said Olmsted had not received the letter as of Friday.
Fushek, who until April 2004 was vicar general, the No. 2 position in the diocese, was put on leave in late 2005 when 10 charges were formally filed after a criminal investigation by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office for incidents between 1984 and 1993, when the priest was leading Life Teen, which he co-founded.
Three counts were later dropped, but he is awaiting an Arizona Supreme Court ruling on his request for a jury trial. Charges related to activities with five teen boys include counts of assault, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and indecent exposure.
Just telling Catholics “to avoid Fushek is the bare minimum anyone could do,” Clohessy said, adding that the situation puts the responsibility on the innocent to protect themselves from abuse. He called on the bishop to:
• Defrock Fushek and “act quickly and decisively to push this case through the Vatican bureaucracy.”
• Stop paying the priest because “he is not abiding by the terms of his removal” and he “should not be rewarded for his dangerous behavior.”
• Include accurate and current information about Fushek in all diocesan communications, such as bulletins, Web sites and in talks to groups. People should be encouraged to contact law enforcement if they have information on Fushek, he said.
Dwyer said that the issue of whether to continue to pay Fushek has been discussed , but it is a private matter.