Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Life Teen: Rooted in Filth

Time line:

1978: Dale Fushek is ordained a priest of the Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona.  He plans to focus his ministry on children and teenagers.

1981: Bishop Thomas O'Brien is appointed Bishop for the Diocese of Phoenix.

1985: As pastor of St. Timothy's Catholic Church in Mesa, Arizona, Fr. Fushek founds Life Teen along with Phil Baniewicz.

1995: The Diocese of Phoenix pays $45,000.00 to settle a sexual harassment claim against Fr. Fushek by a former employee of St. Timothy's.  Fr. Fushek announces this settlement to his parish in 2002, stating that although he did nothing wrong, the settlement was paid in order to avoid costly litigation in the future.

2000: Bishop Thomas O'Brien appoints Fr. Fushek Vicar General of the Diocese of Phoenix.

2002: Fr. Fushek is given the title of Monsignor.

2003: As part of a deal struck with the Maricopa County prosecutor to avoid indictment, Bishop Thomas O'Brien admits to having protected sexually abusive priests in his diocese.  Shortly afterward, the bishop is charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident after striking and killing a pedestrian, then giving as his reason for not stopping that he thought he had only hit an animal.  He resigned as bishop four days later.

2004: More sex abuse allegations against Msgr. Fushek lead to the suspension of his faculties by the new Bishop of Phoenix, Bishop Thomas Olmsted.

2005: A man files a civil action is filed in the Maricopa County Superior Court alleging that in 1985, Fr. Mark Lehman (who afterwards served ten years after pleading no contest to attempted sex abuse) and Phil Baniewicz (co-founder of Life Teen) sexually assaulted him at Msgr. Fushek's parish, that the latter plied him with alcohol and masturbated while watching the abuse, and that all three made threats to prevent the plaintiff from reporting the abuse.  Also: Msgr. Fushek is indicted on several misdemeanor counts arising from alleged sexual contact with young boys.  Msgr. Fushek and Phil Baniewicz resign from Life Teen.

2008: Msgr. Fushek is excommunicated, together with Fr. Mark Dippre, for persistently participating in public ministry and holding non-denominational services, despite having been suspended and despite Bishop Olmsted's orders to cease and desist. 

February 16, 2010: The Diocese of Phoenix announces that in January of 2010, Dale Fushek was dismissed from the clerical state by order of Pope Benedict XVI.  Mr. Fushek incurred this penalty after the Diocese of Phoenix investigated allegations of sexual abuse against Mr. Fushek and forwarded its findings to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The excommunication previously imposed remains in effect.

Yes, it's true, Life Teen is filled with well-intentioned people.  It's also true that Life Teen distances itself from Dale Fushek and protests its fidelity to Rome and to the magisterium (though this fidelity is not terribly conspicuous in Life Teen-controlled liturgies).  But is there some reason the above should not raise the same red flags with Life Teen that, say, the revelations about Fr. Maciel have raised about the Legionaries of Christ? 


  1. We know (or should!) what Jesus said about those who lead the little ones to sin . . . . thank you for posting that!

  2. You can't let a few bad eggs spoil the whole dozen. Have you ever met Matt Maher? He's so devoted to the Lord! He and his team have brought so many teens back to the Church through Life Teen!

    Just like there are many priests that have been sexual predators, that doesn't mean that all priests are sexual predators. Same with Life Teen. Just because a couple of Life Teen priests were predators, doesn't mean that everyone in Life Teen is, and it doesn't mean that all of Life Teen is bad.

    I would argue the same thing with Legionaries of Christ. Just because one priest was bad, doesn't mean that everyone in the movement is. They've helped A LOT of people! They build houses in Mexico for the poor, they run soup kitchens, they run homeless shelters, and much, much more!

    Jesus asks us to forgive. Jesus ate with those seen as the worst of sinners of his time, including tax collectors and prostitutes. How would Jesus react to this? Remember that He said to forgive our neighbors not just 7 times, but 70 times 7 times.

    Remember that He also said that if something is causing you to sin to cut it off. Well, these priests have been cut off from Life Teen, and now they won't hold back the ministry anymore. So you can also look at it that way.

    Just please don't negate all of the good works that have come out of this ministry just because of a couple of bad priests. It's not fair. Many people have seen SO MUCH good come from it. Think like a Christian. We're called to bring Christ to the world, and that's what Life Teen has set out to do, and has done, despite the controversy and setbacks.

  3. W.C.: You set up an argument other than the one I am making, and proceed to shoot it down without addressing the salient points. I am not painting all priests with the same brush, nor can I reasonably be interpreted to be doing so. Nor does my post have anything to do with forgiveness. Besides which, forgiveness does not require us to tolerate deviancy and depravity in the priesthood, much less a means of providing predators with easy access to victims.

    As for the fruits of Life Teen, just the outrages perpetrated on the liturgy alone -- even setting aside the pederasty -- make me question just what it is that Life Teen is bringing to the world, and what it is that the kids involved in it are being brought to. Is it authentic Catholicism that is being held out to these kids, or something else? Can somebody point to some magisterial teaching or tradition that makes steel guitars and drum sets at Mass authentically Catholic? How is a kid who gets a rock concert at Mass going to come away from that Mass knowing that he has just been at the foot of the Cross and taken part in the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary?

    Just because a couple of Life Teen priests were predators, doesn't mean that everyone in Life Teen is, and it doesn't mean that all of Life Teen is bad.

    A COUPLE of priests? Try the founders. What in the hell worthwhile product ever came from a couple of chomos?