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 CNS Story:

FUSHEK Jan-14-2008 (1,100 words) With photo. xxxn

Bishop warns Catholics to avoid services started by Life Teen founder

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The priest who founded the Life Teen ministry program has established a nondenominational Praise and Worship Center that is drawing hundreds of participants a week, prompting a warning to Catholics from the bishop of Phoenix to stay away from the services and not to support the center.

The Praise and Worship Center has held a handful of worship services in Mesa, Ariz., since Thanksgiving, attracting as many as 700 people for services built around Scripture readings, Christian music, prayer and preaching by the charismatic Msgr. Dale Fushek, a Phoenix diocesan priest who is on administrative leave from Catholic ministry, and another resigned priest.

Msgr. Fushek, who founded Life Teen, an international youth ministry program, has been on administrative leave 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 Msgr. Fushek's request for a trial by jury.

Since late in 2004, when he left St. Timothy Parish in Mesa where he had been pastor for 20 years, Msgr. Fushek has been barred from public ministry, in keeping with the diocesan policy for handling allegations of sexual misconduct.

On Thanksgiving Day Msgr. Fushek led the first service of the Praise and Worship Center at a Mesa hotel, with more than 500 participants.

Services have been held four Sundays since then, with as many as 700 people in attendance at the Mesa Convention Center. They are scheduled to continue weekly, and the plan is to eventually hold services and offer other ministries during the week, according to the center's Web site.

Although the organizers of the Praise and Worship Center emphasize that their purpose is not to compete with Catholic or any church's services or ministries, the diocese issued a warning to Catholics.

A Jan. 3 statement posted on the Web sites of the diocese and St. Timothy Parish said the diocese "wishes to express its 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.

The diocesan statement described Dippre as "a priest not in good standing" and said both men's actions "are not in union with the Catholic Church and may potentially mislead well-intentioned Catholics and other members of the Christian faithful."

"It is important for the faithful to know that both priests are acting contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church and remain disobedient to directives of the bishop of Phoenix to whom they pledged obedience and respect when they were ordained to the priesthood," it continued.

The diocesan statement encouraged Catholics "to refrain from attending or supporting the Praise and Worship Center. We remind Catholics that the ultimate form of praise and worship is and always will be the holy sacrifice of the Mass, and we urge them to keep the Mass as the center of their lives. There is no substitution for the graces received at Mass and no prayer more edifying."

The Web site of the Praise and Worship Center says organizers do not encourage people to either join or leave any particular church or denomination. The center "is not a 'new religion,'" it says, "but is a gathering of people of diverse religious backgrounds and experience as a community for the purpose of praising God in prayer and in service."

The center's mission statement calls for building a community through "worship of God, breaking open the word, total acceptance of each person and learning to love more deeply," to supplement the faith journey of its members.

In a note on the Web site, signed by "Dale," Msgr. Fushek said the goal of the center is to create the type of spiritual renewal experience found at the "tent revivals" he held as a pastor.

"First, we desire to create a gathering of people, of different faiths and backgrounds, in order to create community," he wrote. "Secondly, we desire to create an environment where lively prayer and music ignites our hearts and make us all more passionate for God."

Msgr. Fushek did not respond to Catholic News Service efforts to interview him.

Jim Dwyer, spokesman for the Phoenix Diocese, told CNS that although Msgr. Fushek, a former vicar general of the diocese, 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 process has not begun for Msgr. Fushek to be laicized, which involves an appeal to the Vatican. 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.

But, according to Dwyer, people are confused about Msgr. Fushek's status which prompted the diocese's statement. When the Praise and Worship Center's activities were announced, the diocese neither encouraged nor discouraged people from participating, he said.

But after the first service, the diocese received calls from people who still consider Msgr. Fushek a priest in good standing and asked whether they should participate, he said.

Another problem is that it's unclear what the plans are for the Praise and Worship Center, Dwyer said. "In a sense, it's competing with the Catholic Church. If they're not trying to draw people away, why are they trying to get people to contribute to building up something?"

Dwyer said he knew nothing about reports that employees of St. Timothy Parish were told their jobs were at risk if they participate in the Praise and Worship Center.

"I'm not aware of any direct threats," Dwyer said. "But I'd certainly consider it poor judgment if you're supportive of someone who's being disobedient to the bishop."

The Praise and Worship Center's Web site acknowledges Msgr. Fushek's unsettled legal situation and the type of charges he faces with a question and an answer.

It asks, "Will children under 18 be able to attend?" The response it gives is: "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."


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