Hundreds disregarded a request from the Diocese of Phoenix to ignore services by former Monsignor Dale Fushek. According to the Arizona Republic, more than 600 people packed three rooms at the Mesa Convention Center last weekend.
Though the diocese has opposed the suspended priest’s non-denominational services since his inaugural service on Thanksgiving, Fushek has filled the center three times with a loyal congregation despite facing misdemeanor sex charges.
The former pastor of St. Timothy's Catholic Church in Mesa and founder of the youth ministry, Life Teen, drew 700 people to his service on December 23 and nearly 500 on Thanksgiving. Jim Dwyer, the spokesman for the Diocese of Phoenix told the Arizona Republic that “We're actually encouraging Catholics to refrain from attending. We would hope that they don't…”
However, Brad Kuluris, a Catholic and spokesman for Fushek’s ‘Praise and Worship Center’, said “I think people are looking for a style of preaching that's new and invigorating,” Kuluris said. “You’ve seen these mega churches. People are looking for preaching that brings new life to ancient ideas.”
The diocese has placed Fushek on administrative leave, but Fushek claims he resigned from the Church one day prior to Thanksgiving.
“It's not that simple,'' Dwyer said. “This is not a job. It's a vocation. It's a way of life.”
He also said Bishop Thomas Olmsted eventually would decide whether to initiate church proceedings against Fushek that could strip him of his priesthood, with the ultimate decision made by the Vatican.
Fushek said on Sunday that he is somewhat surprised by the sustained growth and interest in only the group's third meeting. He hopes that in the future, the “Praise and Worship Center” will provide “a spirit-filled support system for people” in the form of counseling groups and Bible studies. He denies that he is trying to set up a new church.
After the December 30 service, the diocese criticized Fushek for violating the terms of his suspension, which barred him from acting as a priest or engaging in any form of public ministry.
Fushek was suspended when he was accused in a civil suit of sexual abuse involving another priest and a teenaged boy. The parties reached a $100,000 settlement outside of court.
Later, Fushek was accused of the sexual exploitation of a minor and indecent exposure from relationships with five teenage boys between 1984 and 1993.