Cross to Bare | News | Phoenix | Phoenix New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Phoenix, Arizona

Cross to Bare

Monsignor Dale Fushek had long been the rock star of the Catholic Church in the United States. He founded America's largest program for Catholic teenagers, Life Teen, at his parish in the East Valley in 1985. Today, about 100,000 high-school-age Catholics across the country attend his program each week. As...
Share this:
Monsignor Dale Fushek had long been the rock star of the Catholic Church in the United States.

He founded America's largest program for Catholic teenagers, Life Teen, at his parish in the East Valley in 1985. Today, about 100,000 high-school-age Catholics across the country attend his program each week.

As the flamboyant, charismatic leader of that program, Fushek reigned as the de facto spokesman for the country's Catholic youth. He is credited with bringing America's young Catholics back to the church by energizing, personalizing and modernizing church doctrine. He also is credited with bringing Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa to the Valley.

During the pope's visits to Tempe in 1987 and to St. Louis in 1999, Fushek organized and led major youth events associated with the trips, essentially serving as the ambassador to John Paul II and the national media for America's next generation of Catholics.

Fushek, not long ago second in command to former bishop Thomas O'Brien, also was arguably the most powerful, popular and financially connected priest in Arizona.

He was so connected, for example, that he both successfully solicited massive donations from Charles Keating and later became close friends with the man credited with dismantling Keating's crooked savings-and-loan empire, local attorney Mike Manning.

But, for two decades, there also have been whispers.

Fellow priests used to joke that Fushek created Life Teen to "get teens."

A mounting number of former Life Teen members and church employees lately are saying that wasn't a joke.

New Times interviewed several former employees, co-workers, fellow priests and students of Fushek's, some in exclusive interviews within days of their giving sworn statements to investigators for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office regarding the monsignor.

Together, their stories depict a spiritual leader with a chillingly calculated pattern of recruitment and seduction of teenage boys spanning at least a decade.

"Dale is a master at normalizing deviant behavior," says one of his alleged victims, who has spoken to the County Attorney's Office in its month-old investigation of Fushek.

"What kills me is thinking about how many kids out there he affected who are afraid to talk," says Mark Olsen, a Life Teen member in the late 1980s and now a businessman in Mesa. "Dale scared me away from religion at a critical time in my life. Who else has he done this to?"

Fushek was placed on administrative leave by Bishop Thomas Olmsted in late December after Olmsted was notified that Fushek was accused in a lawsuit of masturbating while watching a sexual assault on William Cesolini, then 14, by convicted child molester Mark Lehman, who served under Fushek at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Mesa for two months in the 1980s.

Olmsted then notified the County Attorney's Office, which opened an investigation of the activities of Fushek and his top assistant, Phil Baniewicz, whom Cesolini says in the suit looked on as he was sexually accosted by Lehman.

Through his attorney, Manning, Fushek denies that he ever inappropriately touched teenagers or subordinates, or witnessed any sexual assault by others. Baniewicz also denies the claims.

Lehman, confronted at his home with the allegations, declined to comment.

Manning, the longtime friend of Fushek's and a board member of Life Teen since the mid-1990s, went further regarding the Cesolini complaint.

"Cesolini is delusional," says Manning, who also is representing Baniewicz.

"Frankly, regarding Life Teen, the real story is that, even with hundreds of thousands of teens involved in such an emotionally charged environment, there has never been a single complaint filed by a teen against a priest," Manning says.

He's saying there's been no complaint against a priest by a teen in the 842 parishes worldwide where the program is used. Cesolini, who was a teen when he was allegedly assaulted, waited until he was an adult to complain.

At St. Tim's, the dearth of complaints by teens, Fushek's accusers say, had more to do with fear of retaliation than lack of abuse.

And to imply there were never sexual indiscretions surrounding Fushek and his program is a profound case of mincing words.

For one, Fushek has worked with, lived with and mentored a who's-who of priests accused or convicted of preying on children.

Besides Mark Lehman, who spent 10 years in prison for molesting children, there was Father Patrick Colleary, who is awaiting extradition from Ireland on two counts of felony sexual conduct with a minor, and Joseph Lessard, who served three years' probation for a 1985 molestation conviction. All lived with and worked closely with Fushek at either St. Tim's or at his earlier post at St. Jerome's in Phoenix.

In 2002, a Life Teen volunteer and former Life Teen employee at St. Tim's, Mark Gherna, was sentenced to a year in prison on three counts of sexual misconduct with a minor.

A fellow priest, who soon will be meeting with county attorney's investigators, claims he walked in on Fushek with his hands down a boy's pants at St. Tim's in the mid-1980s. The priest also says he reported the incident to then-bishop O'Brien, a close friend of Fushek's, who responded by chastising the priest for bringing the accusation.

There is no record of this complaint in diocesan files, diocese officials say.

And in 1995, the Phoenix Diocese quietly settled a sexual-harassment claim against Fushek by a former Life Teen employee.

Fushek has described that case, which was blanketed with a confidentiality agreement, as a misunderstanding by the former worker.

"Several years ago," Fushek told his parishioners at St. Tim's in 2002, "I found myself in a situation where my own words and actions, which I considered to be words and actions of affection, were interpreted by an adult staff member as having sexual connotations."

In an extensive interview with New Times, the victim in that case, Jim Partsch, paints a much less innocent picture of Fushek's actions and intentions. He says Fushek obsessively questioned him about his sexual practices and desires and, on several occasions, cajoled Partsch into bathing naked with him in Fushek's hot tub at the St. Tim's rectory.

"My only goal in complaining back then was to get Dale the therapy he needed," Partsch says from his home in Colorado. "He agreed he needed treatment, but then he just turned it all around. You end up finding out he's an amazingly manipulative human being."

Partsch's former fiancée, who lived in Mesa during Partsch's time with Life Teen, agreed with Partsch's assessment.

"There was so much emotional and sexual manipulation," says Rini Montano, who now lives in California. "Jim was a wreck for quite a while after he got away from Fushek. [Father Dale] completely messed with Jim's mind."

Fushek's emotional and sexual manipulation of Partsch appears to be, at least among young men Fushek brought into the inner circle of the group, more the rule than the exception.

Cesolini's attorney, for example, says he now has 50 witnesses who will be called in the case, many of them people who contacted him with information and allegations regarding Fushek.

A similar wave of information is hitting the state's support group for victims of priest abuse.

"We're beginning to hear this same story again and again," says Paul Pfaffenberger, leader of the Arizona chapter of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "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."

But while a pattern of grossly inappropriate behavior seems clear in Fushek's past, county prosecutors say criminal actions will be much harder to prove. There are statute-of-limitations issues regarding several statements by victims. Fushek has yet to be accused of penetrating anyone, minor or young adult, male, female, consensual or otherwise. And for the most part, Fushek apparently knew the law regarding sexual assault on a minor better than most cops.

"That's the other pattern," Pfaffenberger says. "For most of these guys, the really heavy stuff didn't start until after they were 18."

In three cases, Fushek is accused of getting naked and inviting teens into his bed for back rubs and tickling fests within one month of their 18th birthdays.

"These guys were all adults -- technically," Pfaffenberger says. "It was like he kept all their birthdays on a special calendar."

Dale Fushek, now 52, has described his own adolescence as a difficult, confusing time.

And like many young Catholics in the 1960s and early 1970s, he found the church a joyless place that had little relevance in his life.

Fushek was born in Cleveland. After his family moved to the Valley in 1960, he attended Central High School in Phoenix.

He has told different stories about why his high school years were difficult.

Partsch and Montano both say Fushek was clear on several occasions that he believed he struggled with questions about his sexuality.

"Father Dale was saying that, at that time, people didn't come out about being homosexual," Montano says. It was his cross to bear. She remembers Fushek's saying that "for a lot of guys in that situation, the seminary was a sort of safe haven."

It didn't mean much to Partsch and Montano at the time. Who cared? A sizable percentage of priests in the Phoenix Diocese were homosexual.

As one former diocesan official tells New Times: "About the only guys you could assume were straight were the 'FBIs' -- the Foreign-Born Irish."

The fact is, studies show, most priests maintain their vows of celibacy -- except, perhaps, for a dalliance or two. There are those, however, who chronically violate their oath. Most of the chronics either date other priests or have discreet relationships with adult partners. The identities of the celibates, straight or gay, and the names of the clerics who take their vows far less seriously are poorly kept secrets inside Phoenix's sometimes catty priest community.

There is a smaller group that clearly likes young males.

There is a still smaller group -- including Lehman, George Bredemann, Lessard, John Giandelone -- that likes children. They are pedophiles.

Between, there are the pederasts, the priests who like adolescent boys.

Which leads to this point:

There is a very fine line -- a single day, in fact -- between criminal pederasty, statutory rape and legal sexual contact between two adults.

And then, further graying the grayest of areas, there's the Clintonian question of what exactly is sex?

The most serious accusations against Fushek are that he watched the sexual assault of a child by Lehman and once put his hand down a boy's pants.

Mostly, he variably is accused of watching, groping, running around naked, suggesting others do the same, and obsessing over young men's underwear and masturbatory practices.

What is highly inappropriate behavior, especially by a spiritual leader in charge of young people, is not always illegal behavior.

According to his alleged victims, Dale Fushek seemed much more aware of the lines between legal and illegal than the lines between appropriate and inappropriate, helpful and devastating.

After high school, Fushek attended St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, California, just north of Los Angeles. The seminary, it was later documented, was a breeding ground for pedophiles and pedophile protectors in the church. Fushek received his master's in divinity there.

He was ordained in 1978. His first assignment was at St. Jerome's in Phoenix under Richard Moyer, who later became vicar-general, second in command under Thomas O'Brien, Phoenix's former bishop. In 2000, Fushek joined Moyer as co-vicar-general under O'Brien.

At St. Jerome's, Fushek began building a youth program that would become the precursor to Life Teen. During his stay at St. Jerome's, Fushek pursued his master's of liturgy from the University of Notre Dame by spending summers in South Bend, Indiana. As he studied the church's liturgy, he said he became increasingly convinced that the church had to speak to young Americans in ways that were relevant to their lives.

Under Fushek, teens became involved with all levels of the liturgy, from planning to acting as Eucharistic ministers and readers.

Besides a Sunday evening Mass designed specifically for teens, a high-energy Mass full of fun and rollicking music, Fushek's program also involved lengthy group and individual discussions of the issues teens were facing.

Sex, drugs, alcohol, peer pressure, anything that affected teenagers and challenged their faith.

Fushek moved over to St. Tim's in 1985 and began Life Teen in 1986. Within only a few years, Life Teen was picked up by churches around the country. And Fushek was becoming a star both at home and nationally.

It was quickly apparent, too, that Dale Fushek was Bishop Thomas O'Brien's golden boy. Fushek's Life Teen program brought the Diocese of Phoenix the most positive local and national press ever. Fushek also proved himself to be a whiz at organizing major events, and a charismatic spokesperson when those events arrived. And as Fushek ascended the diocesan chain of command, he increasingly became in charge of forging O'Brien's own legacy as "The Builder Bishop."

In turn, Fushek's critics say, O'Brien refused to hear critical words about his beloved henchman.

By 1990, it seemed clear that Dale Fushek would someday succeed O'Brien.

Jim Partsch had always been a huge fan of Dale Fushek's. Using Fushek's Life Teen program at his own parish in Grand Junction, Colorado, Partsch had watched a whole generation of the city's Catholics become excited and inspired by their faith.

"It was a great program," says Partsch, who is not a priest. "We took the model and made it our own, and it ended up being extremely successful."

Dale Fushek became a fan of Jim Partsch's, too. Here was an energetic, charismatic and well-organized young man who ran one of the most successful programs outside of the Valley.

Partsch attended Life Teen conferences at St. Tim's in 1990, when Partsch was 20, then again in 1991.

After the visits, Partsch says, Fushek began calling him often in Colorado. Fushek told him he was worried about Partsch's spiritual growth. But the topic always seemed to be sex -- whether Partsch was having sex with his girlfriend, whether he masturbated, whether she masturbated him, whether he thought about men.

Partsch kept a journal through the early and mid-1990s. He showed that journal to New Times.

From July 1992:

"I returned home from Mesa July 2. On July 5, Fr. Dale called me to see how I was doing. He questioned me about my sexuality with my girlfriend. He wanted to know how I was doing with masturbation, had I done anything with my girlfriend? He would ask very bluntly questions like: 'Did she masturbate you? Did you finger her? How far would you go?' I said, 'I didn't know,' he then asked: 'Would you have intercourse? Would you shower with her? Would you have oral sex?' I responded to his questions. Then he talked about the Life Teen Program, and he told me how things were in Arizona, but he never asked about our program. He then left a number of messages for me on my answering machine."

Although Fushek's questions made him uncomfortable, Partsch trusted Father Dale, who told him that he wanted Partsch's sex life to be right with God.

One year later, in June of 1993, Fushek offered Partsch the full-time paid position of director of Life Teen at St. Tim's. The job had been held by Phil Baniewicz, also a layperson, who was moving on to become director of the national Life Teen program.

One thing quickly struck Partsch in the first few weeks of his work in the Valley.

"In Grand Junction, the program was all about spirituality," he says. "I got down to Arizona, and it seemed like Father Dale spent most of the time talking about sex."

Partsch found himself being invited more and more to Fushek's room at the rectory.

More journal entries:

"Dale talked to me about needing to be naked on both the inside and outside. Couldn't understand why I didn't feel comfortable hanging around the rectory in my underwear."

"He bought me underwear as a gift and later asked if I was wearing them. He asked if I would show them to him."

"He got me to hot tub with him in our underwear and said 'relax -- just be comfortable,' and 'this is how you get to be intimate friends -- naked on the inside and outside.'"

"He asked me to spend the night and cuddle, and he would hold me tight, and he said he felt connected and 'I love you so much! I'm glad you're here!'"

"In bed he would kiss me on the neck and cheek, and he would try to wrestle about. He would rub my back and get his hand down to my underwear line."

"I was so scared . . . not knowing what he was going to do."

The entries continue: There was the trip to the cabin in which Fushek kept walking in on Partsch while he bathed to talk about sex. More talk of relaxing and being more comfortable with his and Dale's bodies.

"He encouraged me to get my picture taken by a photographer I knew, in my underwear, and he asked if I would get a picture naked. He bet I wouldn't get my picture taken in my underwear but that if I did, he wanted to see [it]."

"He said he only wanted me to go to confession to him."

"He always [was] speaking of 'true loyalty.'"

Later entries show the toll on Partsch's well-being. He writes of being depressed. He writes of contemplating suicide. He writes of not knowing how to get out of the situation. He felt deceived, felt like he "was brought to St. Tim's to be Fr. Dale's pet."

Montano, Partsch's fiancée at the time, says she noticed Partsch becoming more distant and more depressed as the months passed.

One evening, Montano says, Partsch came over to her apartment happy about a recent retreat he had organized. He opened his journal and asked Montano to read what he thought were pages he had written about the retreat.

But they were the pages about Fushek.

"I'm reading this, and it's like, 'Oh my God, what is this?'" she tells New Times in a phone interview from California. "We were up all night [after that]. I was just telling him he had to do something. It was just so wrong what Dale was doing."

Partsch resigned from Life Teen during a Life Teen-sponsored excursion to Italy.

During the trip, which Baniewicz also took, Partsch told his predecessor in Phoenix what Fushek had done to him. According to Partsch, Baniewicz -- who had often described Fushek as the "father I never had" -- defended Fushek and, apparently, later told Fushek everything Partsch had said.

At that point, Partsch says, Fushek began telling people that Partsch "had problems and needed help."

Partsch and Montano sought advice from a priest they knew in California. That priest told Partsch he needed to explain the situation to the bishop in Phoenix.

When the couple returned to Phoenix, Partsch went to the diocese.

When Fushek heard that Partsch was going to the bishop, Montano says, Fushek went to Montano's apartment.

"There's this knock at the door, and there's Father Dale," Montano says. "I said, 'Jim isn't here.' He said, 'I'm here to see you.'

"He tells me: 'Look, I know I have a dark side. But I'm dealing with the issue of homosexuality. Jim engaged in it, so he must have a problem, too. There's got to be some way the three of us can go to counseling.'"

Montano says she told Fushek to leave.

Partsch spoke to diocesan chancellor Sister Mary Ann Winters, before heading to St. Tim's to pick up his final paycheck. He had been told Fushek wouldn't be there.

But Partsch ran into Father Dale in a back room at the church. There, Partsch says, Fushek gave the same pitch he had given to Montano.

"He was crying and apologizing for what he had done to me," Partsch says. "He said he was 'dealing with the homosexuality issue in [his] life,' which is how he had said it to Rini. He fully admitted a need for long-term therapy. At that point, I was just very happy and relieved. He could get the help he needed and nobody else would get hurt. That's all that mattered."

Fushek never sought therapy, though. Diocese officials apparently didn't take the complaint seriously, either. In time, Partsch says, Fushek took a different route:

"He just started slandering me."

On the California priest's advice, Partsch got an attorney. In 1996, the Phoenix Diocese paid Partsch $45,000 in a secret settlement. However, Partsch says, Fushek broke the confidentiality agreement several times in the last nine years in attempts to downplay the incidences. So, Partsch says, "We're clearly no longer bound by that agreement."

Partsch and Montano moved back to Grand Junction together. But Partsch was a different man by then, she says.

"He was depressed, he couldn't make decisions, he was just floundering," she says. "At some point, I just couldn't take it anymore. We had to split up."

Partsch now has his own business. He's back on his feet, he says, and strong again in his faith.

"But that guy put a big hole in my life," he says. "I just pray for the others who have had to go through this."

William Cesolini is known to friends and family as Billy. For those who know him, the youthful nickname still fits. He is a frail, gentle, deeply devout man, and those who know him say he wouldn't hurt a fly and wouldn't know how to lie.

Fushek, Baniewicz and attorney Manning aren't calling Billy a liar. Billy, they suggest, very well may believe his delusions are real.

Billy Cesolini was 14 years old when his parents and seven siblings moved to the Valley from Massachusetts in 1985. The Cesolinis began attending church at St. Tim's, and Billy became involved with the church's youth program.

Until two years ago, Cesolini apparently had buried his memories about his time at St. Tim's.

Cesolini eventually ended up attending Mount Angel Seminary in California. From there, he went to live in a California monastery.

But besides struggling with emotional issues, Cesolini, who is gay, was also being harassed and followed by a domineering ex-lover. Cesolini decided to leave the monastery and return to Phoenix.

Cesolini went to see his priest at St. Anne's in Gilbert. The priest, Father Doug Lorig, sent Cesolini to a counselor, Sheila Howe, who works out of the St. Anne's offices. Cesolini began therapy in August of 2002.

Six months later, Cesolini attended a concert in Sedona with a Valley priest. During the trip, the priest made a sexual advance on Cesolini.

That advance triggered a flood of what Billy and his supporters believe are memories of Fushek and Baniewicz watching Lehman sexually assault him, and what Fushek and Baniewicz's supporters believe are twisted dreams.

Some of Fushek's supporters even see conspiracy in Cesolini's claims. They point to a long-running feud between Fushek and Lorig, pastor of St. Anne's, the only parish in the Valley that surpasses St. Tim's in membership.

"We believe this may have been manufactured or implanted by someone," Manning says.

Interestingly, the problems between Fushek and Lorig began during Fushek's troubles with Jim Partsch in the mid-1990s. Partsch had talked with Lorig before going to diocese officials. Fushek, angry that Lorig had spoken with Partsch, retaliated by spreading grossly trumped-up allegations about Lorig's beating his son (Lorig, who converted from Episcopalian to Catholic ministry after starting a family, is the only married priest in the Phoenix Diocese).

Essentially, Fushek learned that Lorig had paddled his oldest son. So Fushek went to Winters, the diocesan chancellor, and said that Father Lorig was a violent child abuser.

Lorig would not speak to New Times. But the allegedly abused son, Michael, now a business owner in Mesa, did speak.

"Fushek just made up a bunch of stuff to try to get my father," Mike Lorig says. "It was as simple as that. Fushek just flat-out made false allegations."

As history has shown, no impropriety involving the Catholic Church is complete without alleged conspiracy.

Fushek and Baniewicz's supporters are quick to note that Cesolini's flood of memories, which poured forth in February 2003, at first only involved Mark Lehman. It wasn't until 10 months later that Cesolini began remembering Fushek and Baniewicz's alleged involvement.

Mental-health professionals counter, however, that it is not at all uncommon for painful memories to come back in shattered pieces.

The picture Billy Cesolini now sees is this:

In 1985, shortly after Cesolini moved to the Valley at age 14, he was befriended at St. Tim's by Lehman, who, five years later, would begin the 10-year prison sentence for molesting children at a different parish.

One day, Lehman took Cesolini to play tennis.

After tennis, while sitting in a parking lot, Lehman begins making sexual advances toward Cesolini. Lehman then takes Cesolini back to the priest's bedroom at the St. Tim's rectory and sodomizes him.

Lehman, at his home in central Phoenix, told New Times he could not speak on advice of his attorney.

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

Cesolini says Lehman sodomized him several more times after that. Baniewicz, he claims, was only involved twice. Fushek, once.

Cesolini remembers walking down a hallway at the rectory one day after he had been sodomized by Lehman in Lehman's room. Baniewicz, Cesolini claims, emerged from a separate room in his underwear and stopped Cesolini.

"You like what you see?" Cesolini quotes Baniewicz as asking.

In his lawsuit, Cesolini says Baniewicz then pulled him into his room and sodomized him.

Manning says this allegation is "laughable."

The attorney says about Baniewicz, who is married with children: "Phil's problem is that he struggles with his absolute disgust with other people's homosexuality. The guy is about as fiercely heterosexual as you get."

Cesolini remembers one more visit to the rectory.

Lehman invited him to dinner. Cesolini remembers having Italian food and wine with Lehman, Baniewicz and Fushek.

He remembers feeling tipsy. He remembers Lehman taking him back to his bedroom.

He claims Baniewicz came into the room and rubbed his chest and kissed him on the neck. He remembers Fushek walking in, sitting down and watching as Lehman and Baniewicz touched him.

He remembers Lehman getting on his knees and performing oral sex on him. And he remembers Fushek looking on and masturbating.

He remembers crying afterward. He remembers Fushek telling him to compose himself. "You need to stop crying," he quotes Fushek as saying, "or your mom will think something is wrong."

He remembers composing himself before his mother picked him up from the rectory.

He says he saw Lehman only once more -- at a St. Tim's ice cream social. Then, Lehman moved on to St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School, where he sexually assaulted several children in the late 1980s.

Fushek wrote to the judge after Lehman's conviction asking for leniency.

Lehman was released from prison in early 2002 after 10 years.

Upon Lehman's release, church officials gave him a $1,000 advance as well as $400 to set up an apartment.

The parents of Lehman's victims were infuriated when they learned of the payouts. At the time, one of the parents said the diocese's continued financial support of Lehman looked like "hush money of some sort."

Church officials countered that it was simply their responsibility to help Lehman get reestablished in the outside world.

Essentially, says Billy Cesolini, that is all he has ever wanted, too.

"I just want to heal," he says today.

"But I feel I must talk, too, because there may be others out there who have been hurt."

Mark Olsen, now a businessman in Mesa, was more your typical Life Teen member.

Fushek and Baniewicz often targeted popular high school kids to join their program. They felt that, basically, if the cool kids were doing it, everybody would want to do it.

In 1988, Olsen was a 15-year-old sophomore at Dobson High School and a member of the junior varsity baseball team.

At the time, Phil Baniewicz was helping coach the baseball team.

One day after practice, Baniewicz invited Olsen and three other ball players to attend a Life Teen meeting at St. Tim's.

"I was interested," Olsen says. "I wasn't a religious kid, but I was certainly curious about religion."

Olsen began attending meetings with friends. Early on, they went on a Life Teen retreat in the mountains around Payson.

"Every night on the retreat, Father Dale would walk into our bunkhouse and give . . . guys a kiss on the lips," Olsen says. "I remember thinking it was awfully weird. But [somebody said]: 'Oh, settle down, that's just what priests do.'

"Looking back, it's amazing what things were passed off as normal behavior."

Through his two years in the program, Olsen says, Fushek increasingly began talking with him. And the topic increasingly involved sex and masturbation.

"He was fascinated that I was having sex with my girlfriend at the time," Olsen says. "He was always asking about it. And he talked about erections a lot, about masturbating. It was really uncomfortable, but as a kid, you just figure the guy's trying to save your soul or whatever."

One afternoon, when Olsen was 17, Fushek invited Olsen to have dinner with him. The two went to a nearby Sizzler.

Throughout dinner, Olsen says, Fushek drilled him with questions about his sex life and what thoughts give him erections.

"I remember asking him: 'Well, what happens to you when you see a good-looking girl with a great body?' And [Fushek] says, 'I get an erection.' At the time, I'm thinking that's a pretty honest answer from a priest. Now I'm just thinking why the hell was this guy always asking a teenager about his erections?"

After dinner, Fushek invited Olsen back to the rectory. There, Olsen says, Fushek suggested they go into the hot tub together. All of a sudden, Olsen says, Fushek is tossing a pair of swim trunks at him as Fushek is pulling off his own pants.

"He just drops his pants right there," Olsen says. "He's buck naked, and he just stands there watching me while I change. At this point, I'm getting really nervous."

Olsen followed Fushek into the hot tub. Fushek, he says, quickly began talking about sex again.

"At that point, I finally bolt," Olsen says. "That was it. It was just too weird."

"I mean, you start thinking of everything," he says. "What the hell am I doing there? Why does a priest have swim trunks that fit a boy? What the hell is a priest doing having a hot tub? And who the hell invites kids to hot tub with them? And who the hell hot tubs in the middle of a Phoenix summer? And what would have happened had I stuck around with him until I was 18?"

Olsen went home and told his mom what happened and that he was quitting Life Teen.

"I was shocked about what he told me," Diane Olsen recalls. "But, the fact is, I didn't do anything at the time. I didn't want to embarrass Mark. He wanted to handle it himself, and I let him. And, to tell the truth, we just weren't sure what route to take.

"I was just happy Mark had made the decision to leave. For us, that was the end of it."

Olsen's story is frighteningly similar to the stories of others who are now stepping forward.

Three other men, now in their 30s, say that, within weeks after their 18th birthdays, Fushek had them naked in his bed, touching and tickling them and telling them they needed to be more comfortable with their bodies.

"All of them took issue with his advances at the time," says Pfaffenberger, the state SNAP leader who also has talked with the three men, all of whom wish to remain anonymous. "But Dale would just keep normalizing the behavior. His line was that being comfortable with each other's bodies was a way to get comfortable with God, and one way to learn vulnerability with God was to be physically vulnerable with each other."

It's a pickup line Pfaffenberger has heard over and over as he has talked to victims around the country.

The men also tell stories similar to Partsch's. Gifts of underwear. Being asked to model their underwear. Being cajoled to get naked.

In one case, one of Fushek's former Life Teen underlings, who was 21 at the time, claims Fushek had him go to his home and bring all of his underwear back to the rectory. He says Fushek then had him write the letters "FD" upside down on the crotch of the underwear.

The idea, the young man was told: If he got an erection, the letters FD (short for Father Dale) would rise up to remind him of his sin.

All three of the men have given, or will be giving, sworn statements to county attorney's investigator Mark Stribling.

Fushek has admitted in depositions that he has hot-tubbed naked with other adult males at the rectory.

But he admits to no inappropriate -- much less illegal -- activity.

Fushek refused to discuss the allegations against him with New Times. And Manning admits that he has never asked Fushek about what he did with young men of legal age.

"We simply haven't talked about that," Manning says. "What I do know, again, is that none of these complaints has ever come forward before now. Doesn't that seem odd? For 20 years, nothing. Nothing to the board of Life Teen, nothing to the diocese -- except Partsch.

"I have a pretty good bullshit antenna," Manning says, "and I never heard that alarm sounding [regarding Fushek]. That in itself says something to me."

Dale Fushek's stock already was falling within the diocese before Cesolini's allegations came out in December.

But before 2004, his stock was always blue chip.

When close friend Bishop O'Brien named him vicar-general of the diocese in April of 2000, he became second in command over nearly half a million Catholics in central and northern Arizona.

In February 2001, he was given the honorary title of monsignor by Pope John Paul II.

At that time, it seemed very clear that Fushek would be the next bishop once O'Brien, then already 65, retired.

In 2002, all that changed as new scandals emerged in the Phoenix Diocese.

Overarching the new charges of abuse by area priests was evidence that O'Brien and his underlings had long covered up reports of abuse by Valley priests. O'Brien was found to have often quietly shipped abusive priests to new parishes without notifying staff or parishioners of the priests' pasts.

A county attorney's inquiry ensued. Investigators found proof of a cover-up, and O'Brien, in an immunity agreement, admitted shuffling troubled priests from parish to parish during his tenure.

It was also believed that Moyer and Fushek knew of and assisted in the moving of problem priests.

In June 2003, O'Brien resigned after his arrest in a fatal hit-and-run accident. O'Brien was later convicted in the notorious case, becoming the first Roman Catholic bishop in the United States to be convicted of a felony.

It was Fushek who went to O'Brien with news that his church superiors were requesting his resignation.

In April 2004, new bishop Thomas Olmsted removed both Fushek and his old mentor, Richard Moyer, as co-vicars-general. Fushek was reassigned to oversee building projects for the diocese.

In late December, after receiving word of the Cesolini complaint, Bishop Olmsted immediately placed Fushek on administrative leave until an internal investigation is completed. Olmsted also notified the County Attorney's Office, which opened its investigation.

Considering the way the diocese has handled past allegations against priests, Olmsted's response to the Cesolini complaint was startling in its swiftness and decisiveness.

"All of a sudden, they're holding a press conference and Fushek is being placed on administrative leave," says Cesolini's attorney, Frank Verderame. "Frankly, it blew me away. You get the sense that they know something I don't.

"It appears these next few months are going to be very informative," the attorney says.

"This is how it happens, this is how it has happened here in the past," says SNAP's Pfaffenberger (whose group can be contacted by calling 480-600-7811). "One person finds the courage to speak, and that inspires others. And that is the process that leads us to the truth."

Can you help us continue to share our stories? Since the beginning, Phoenix New Times has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix — and we'd like to keep it that way. Our members allow us to continue offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food, and culture with no paywalls.