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Life Teen Catholic Youth Ministry?

Life Teen Catholic Youth Ministry?

Richard Salbato 11-26-2007

Two years ago I returned from Fatima and Panama to be close to my children and grandchildren. My daughter was teaching Bible Study and Confirmation Classes at Lake Arrowhead Catholic Church and three of my grandchildren were attending the Confirmation Classes. As part of the Confirmation Classes the students were required to attend the Sunday 6:30 PM Sunday Life Teen Youth Mass and from there to the Confirmation Class. I attended this Youth Mass one time and found it very disturbing to say the least, because of the music and the socialization during the Mass. It seemed very charismatic to me, so I asked my daughter about it. She said that this was part of an international group called, Life Teen, and that the Confirmation students were required to belong to Life Teen in order to be confirmed.

Not long after that my three grandchildren went on a mandatory Life Teen two day retreat about 100 miles away. They all came back very upset, and even crying, about what they experienced at the retreat. They attended a Mass where everything was very disrespectful: people speaking in tongues, singing hip-hop music, waving arms in the air, and hugging each other. That was not the worst part, they also attended Eucharistic Adoration, where they were unable to pray because of the speaking in tongues, loud hip-hop music and disrespect before the Body and Blood of Christ including talking and inappropriate clothes.

My daughter, who taught the Confirmation Classes, decided to pull her children from the Life Teen group but the pastor told her that if they left Life Teen they could not be confirmed. It was then that she consulted me and we had all the remainder of my grandchildren Confirmed with the home schooling groups. When the pastor found out that we confirmed them outside of his parish, he fired my daughter as teacher of the Confirmation Class.

I have wondered about Life Teen ever since, because I know it to be part of the Charismatic Movement within the Catholic Church and I am very much against this movement, which I was in at one time.


What is Life Teen?

Life Teen is a Catholic Youth Ministry organization and movement originating in the United States. It was established in 1985 at St. Timothy’s Parish in Mesa, Arizona. Pastor Father Dale Fushek, Youth Minister Phil Baniewicz, and Music Minister Tom Booth came up with the plan aimed to revolutionize youth ministry and bring the message of Jesus Christ to teenagers in a way they could understand it. It was decided that a new approach was needed to evangelize the Catholic youth in their area. According to Life Teen sources, they now have over 1000 individual programs in the United States and around the world. Life Teen programs are typically established in individual parishes. Monsignor Dale Fushek founded Life Teen, one of the largest international Catholic teen organizations, that today has about 120,000 youth enrolled in 1,080 programs in 20 countries.

Father Fushek had led St. Timothy’s to grow to 6,000 registered families with 8,000 attending weekend Masses. Bishop Thomas O’Brien, then head of the Phoenix diocese, bestowed the “monsignor” title on him in 2002 when Fushek was also the diocese’s vicar general and second in command for the diocese.

He coordinated the Valley visit of Mother Teresa in 1989 and was vicar of worship for the Mass at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe for the 1987 visit of Pope John Paul II.

The fruits of Father Fushek seem wonderful would you not agree. But this is just another example of why people need to be more careful about their spiritual life and their trust in others. Fruits can be good or bad even when they appear good.

To understand Life Teen Masses, Life Teen Adoration and Life Teen retreats check out their propaganda video at: or their web site at It is easy to see why teens love this social movement but what are the risks to their souls? You will see below the real reason for the founders of Life Teen’s interest in your children.

Co-founders of Life Teen arrested for pedophilia

Monsignor Dale Fushek, Phil Baniewicz, former priest Mark Lehman, Bishop O’Brien, and Life Teen Inc. have been arrested, and/or sued on criminal and civil charges of pedophilia. The new bishop, Olmsted, has worked hard to clean up this mess and help the victims of the abuse.

Monsignor Dale Fushek, once second-in-command of the Phoenix Diocese and founder of the nation's top church-based program for Catholic teenagers, has been arrested on 10 misdemeanor counts involving sexual misconduct with teenage boys and young men.

Two co-founders of Life Teen, the nation's largest Catholic youth ministry based in the Valley, were accused in a lawsuit of covering up and helping carry out sexual attacks on a 14-year-old boy two decades ago.

The lawsuit, filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, also claimed that the Life Teen program at St. Timothy's parish in Mesa had "a social culture which inappropriately focused upon sexual activity . . . and fostered an environment that led to inappropriate sexual behavior."

Named as defendants in the suit were Life Teen co-founders, Monsignor Dale J. Fushek and Phil Baniewicz, along with former priest Mark Lehman, resigned Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, the Diocese of Phoenix, St. Timothy's Parish and Life Teen Inc., the program founded at St. Timothy's parish in 1985.

This is not the full story. There appears to be more: The lawsuit repeated and expanded allegations brought to the diocese by William J. Cesolini, who said he was sodomized at St. Tim's parish in 1985 by Lehman while Fushek watched and performed sexual acts on himself without stopping to help or report the attack to authorities.

Cesolini, a one-time seminarian, said he regained his memory of the decades-old molestations in February 2003 after another priest made an unwanted sexual advance on him. He went to a church-paid counselor, who helped him gradually recover the details of the trauma. (Emphasis mine)

Monsignor Dale Fushek was arrested in 2005 for sexual misconduct with minors and accused of using Life Teen as a grooming ground for victims.

The charges stem from the accounts of six men who all say they were drawn into unwanted sexual situations by Fushek when they were involved with Fushek's Life Teen program at St. Timothy's Catholic Church in Mesa between 1985 and 1994.

The Maricopa County Attorney's five-page criminal complaint against Fushek reads like a Reader's Digest condensation of New Times' investigative piece "Cross to Bare," published last February. The cover story detailed the sometimes lurid life in the inner sanctum of the Life Teen program Fushek created at St. Tim's in the mid-1980s.

Four of the six men cited in the criminal complaint first spoke publicly for that story, which outlined what one victim called "Dale's tried-and-true method for getting teenage boys in bed with him."

The charges include five counts of contributing to the delinquency of minors, three counts of misdemeanor assault and two counts of indecent exposure.

"Acting in his capacity as a Catholic priest," the complaint reads, "Dale Joseph Fushek used a relationship of trust to perform criminal acts, including but not limited to sexual activities, improper sexual discussions and physical contact, upon vulnerable minor and adult victims."

The complaint states that in the mid-1980s, Fushek contributed to the delinquency of a minor, Marc Tropio, by engaging in discussions including "questions by defendant about Marc Tropio's masturbatory conduct and/or other sexual activities. At the time, Dale Joseph Fushek misrepresented them as part of the Catholic sacrament of confession. The physical contacts included defendant inviting Marc Tropio into his bed then engaging in kissing and snuggling. Said contact was unwelcome by Marc Tropio."

The five other victims describe a similar pattern of conduct, one that began with Fushek engaging certain teenage boys in his parish in explicit sexual discussions that eventually led to what victims perceived as unwanted sexual advances by the priest.

In a January discussion with New Times, Paul Pfaffenberger, leader of the Arizona chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, summed up the coming story and criminal complaints.

"We're beginning to hear this same story again and again," Pfaffenberger said. "That there was unwanted sexual contact by Dale Fushek, and that it came about through this very manipulative grooming process associated with Life Teen. There is definitely a pattern of behavior beginning to form."

Prosecutors have not finished their investigation of Fushek, says Barnett Lotstein, special assistant county attorney. The misdemeanor charges needed to be filed now, he said, to avoid problems with the one-year statute of limitations on the misdemeanors.

"There may be more charges in the future," he said.

There are essentially two tiers of allegations against Fushek -- soft-core and hard-core.

At the time of the New Times story, the amount of evidence supporting the misdemeanor charges was much greater than evidence supporting felony charges.

The six men accusing Fushek in the misdemeanor complaints are all credible witnesses, mostly men in their 30s with families and professional careers and little to gain except embarrassment from coming forward with their stories.

Most didn't know each other before this year, and all tell chillingly similar stories. Most have friends or family members who can substantiate their versions of events.

At the same time, however, none claims that Fushek ever forced the physical relationship beyond inappropriate discussions, creepy canoodling and his own nudity.

The county attorney investigation began, however, because of much more serious charges in a lawsuit filed in January by a former Life Teen member named Billy Cesolini.

Cesolini claims to have recovered memories of convicted pedophile Mark Lehman performing oral sex on him in 1985 at the rectory at St. Tim's while a fellow priest, Fushek, watched and masturbated. Cesolini was 14 at the time.

Manning, Fushek's attorney, called Cesolini "delusional" and his claims "laughable."

Prosecutors have been tight-lipped about the ongoing investigation of those considerably more serious charges.

The strength of felony criminal charges likely would hinge on testimony from Mark Lehman.

Lehman spent 10 years in prison for sexually assaulting several children in the late 1980s. He might have served more time if not for a letter to the judge by Dale Fushek asking for leniency.

Lehman could not be reached for comment for this story. In February, however, when reached at his central Phoenix home, Lehman said he could not speak on advice from his attorney.

"I would very much like to tell the whole story to you," he said then. "But the way the world is, I've been told I can't."

At the time, New Times learned of two other former priests who had claimed to have witnessed alleged assaults by Fushek. New Times failed to locate those two priests. It is unknown if county prosecutors have interviewed these men in relation to more serious charges.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted suspended Fushek from public duties last December, when Cesolini and his attorney first approached the diocese. Six months later, Fushek resigned under pressure as pastor at St. Tim's.

Fushek's star first began to fade with the fall of his mentor, former bishop Thomas O'Brien, who, after a series of New Times stories and another investigation by then-County Attorney Rick Romley, signed an agreement granting him immunity from criminal charges if he would take a reduced role in the church and admit that he allowed priests accused of sexual misconduct to continue working with minors. He also admitted to transferring problem priests to new parishes without alerting parishioners about the priests' past. In several cases, priests accused of sexual contact with a minor at one parish allegedly continued abusing children at successive parishes.

After signing the agreement, O'Brien then began stating that he had not actually agreed to the seemingly apparent terms of the agreement. That debate was quickly silenced when O'Brien was arrested in a hit-and-run incident that left a man dead. O'Brien resigned as bishop and was later convicted of the crime.

Deputy county attorney Barbara Marshall asked that Fushek be held on $50,000 bond because, she said, "based on past experience with similar defendants, we feel that flight is a serious risk."

Indeed. Besides O'Brien's run from the scene of a fatal accident, three Valley priests -- Patrick Colleary, Joseph Henn and Joseph Briceno -- have left the country and refused to return to face charges.

Instead of bond, however, Maricopa County Commissioner Barbara Hamner had Fushek placed under house arrest at his home where he will wear a bracelet monitoring his whereabouts. He was also ordered to surrender his passport.

Father Dale Fushek leaves the Church

Was Father Dale Fushek ever really a Catholic, or was he more interested in the Charismatic movement and sex in the name of God? That is easy to answer because he has now opened up a non-catholic Praise and Worship Center in Mesa, AZ and claims he is resigning from the priesthood.

The magnetism and the following that Catholic priest Dale Fushek developed during 20 years as pastor of St. Timothy’s Catholic Community in Mesa may still be alive two years after he was indicted on seven charges of sex-related behavior with male teens between 1984 and 1994.

Fushek is on administrative leave from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix and cannot represent himself as a priest, pending the resolution of his case. Though he waits for the Arizona Supreme Court to rule on whether he should be allowed to have a jury trial, Fushek is applying his personal style of spirituality to the Praise and Worship Center, which was launched Thanksgiving Thursday morning at the Mesa Convention Center with a two hour service and 550 people in attendance.

The ministry is billed as nondenominational and intended to complement — not take the place of — people’s primary worship elsewhere. The next service is expected to be Dec. 23.

Thursday’s services featured prayer, music, praise and a message. But it was not a Mass, nor was the Holy Eucharist served — steps that would have violated Catholic canons.

“When he was put on administrative leave, he was told not to administer the sacraments and to not present himself as a priest,” Jim Dwyer, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, said Friday. “If he is not violating that, we wouldn’t have to know specifically what he is doing.”

The Praise and Worship Center answers some key questions about the new ministry on a Web site, The site spells out the ministry’s mission statement, among other things.

“We heard about some of the promotional materials that were done, but we didn’t know if it was ever going to take place,” Dwyer said. “We made it clear to the Catholics at St. Timothy’s that it wouldn’t be (regarded as) an official Catholic service. But other than that, we have no control on what he does as a Catholic citizen.”

Mark Dipree, a former priest, is working with Fushek in the ministry. The Web site listed 2029 N. Alma School Road, Suite 107-14, Chandler as the address for the Praise and Worship Center, but the location is a mail drop, not a church office.

If Fushek is convicted, he likely would have to register as a sex offender, which would restrict him from being around youth. A Web site called continues to solicit funds for Fushek’s legal defense, and it uses the same address as the Praise and Worship Center.

“He misses the community that was removed from his life. ... He misses working with the youth,” that site notes.


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