PHOENIX (AP) – The Phoenix Catholic Diocese announced Tuesday that former Monsignor Dale Fushek has been defrocked. The Vatican removed Fushek from his right to exercise the functions of the priesthood.
The Diocese said the Most Reverend Thomas J. Olmsted received a “Decree of Dismissal” from the Vatican in which the Bishop was notified that the penalty of dismissal has been imposed on Fushek.
The Diocese said the penalty was imposed by order of Pope Benedict and the decision is not open to appeal.
Once the second highest official in the Phoenix Diocese, Fushek is charged with one count each of assault and indecent exposure, and five counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Fushek issued a statement Tuesday saying he chose not to participate or defend himself in the process, adding he is at peace and free to pursue God’s will.
The former Msgr. Fushek was once the most famous and pastorally successful priest in the Diocese of Phoenix. He had started a national youth ministry movement known as Lifeteen which touched countless American Catholic teens across the land. It all came crashing down when he was accused in 2004 of misconduct with a minor and some complicity in the sexual assault of another minor which he had witnessed.
The lawsuit was settled out of court by the Diocese for $100,000 without admission of guilt on his part. While he had lost his faculties to celebrate the sacraments, he proceeded to form a new parish community outside the canons of the Church for which he was eventually defrocked and excommunicated. That process is complete as of today.
I first met him at Notre Dame when he brought his Lifeteen program to campus for a week each summer. His charisma was undeniable and the effect he had on teens was impressive. He was a pied piper, to be sure.
It is still difficult for many to accept that someone who has done so much good could have abused minors or come even close to it. Will cases like his draw into question anyone who has a gift for youth ministry? Fortunately, the Church has excellent programs to educate clergy, staff and volunteers of the warning signs and red flags sent up by perpetrators. If we had had those programs in place years ago, so much of this tragedy could have been prevented.