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Issue Date:  January 25, 2008

Life Teen founder begins independent praise center

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

The priest-founder of a popular church youth program who has been suspended from public ministry has established a nondenominational Praise and Worship Center in Mesa, Ariz., that is drawing hundreds of participants a week. The local bishop has warned Catholics to stay away from the services and not to support the center.

-- CNS

Dale Fushek

Msgr. Dale Fushek, who founded Life Teen, an international youth ministry program, has been on administrative leave from the Phoenix diocese since late 2004, when allegations were raised that he had engaged in improper sexual conduct with teens. A year later he was charged with several misdemeanor criminal counts of assault, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and indecent exposure.

Some charges were dropped and the others have not come to trial. The Arizona Supreme Court is currently weighing Fushek’s request for a trial by jury.

The Praise and Worship Center has held a handful of worship services since Thanksgiving, attracting as many as 700 people for services built around the charismatic Fushek and a resigned priest, Mark Dippre.

Early in 2007, the Phoenix diocese agreed to a $100,000 settlement in a lawsuit filed over the original accusation that Fushek had watched while a seminarian sexually assaulted a teen. The settlement did not imply any admission of guilt, the diocesan attorney said at the time.

Since late in 2004, when he left St. Timothy Parish in Mesa where he had been pastor for 20 years, Fushek has been barred from public ministry.

According to information on the center’s Web site, the Praise and Worship Center is not meant to be in competition with Catholic church services or any church’s services or ministries, though weekly Sunday services and other ministries during the week are being planned.

The diocese has issued a statement expressing “grave concern for Catholics who may be misled or confused by the actions of Dale Fushek and Mark Dippre.” Dippre is a former associate pastor of St. Timothy who left public ministry in 2002 and later married.

Jim Dwyer, spokesman for the Phoenix diocese, told CNS that although Fushek has said he resigned from the priesthood in November, “it’s not that simple. You don’t just resign.”

Dwyer said, as far as he knows, the laicization process has not begun. Dippre has never been formally laicized, Dwyer said, but the diocese considers him “functionally laicized” because he has not been in ministry and has had no ties to the diocese for several years.

The Praise and Worship Center’s Web site acknowledges Fushek’s unsettled legal situation and the type of charges he faces. It says: “Rev. Dale has carefully adhered to the current requirement of the Justice Court of having no contact with individuals less than 18 years of age. The justice of the peace has allowed him to attend church and to visit other public places where children may be present.”

National Catholic Reporter, January 25, 2008

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