Two diocesan priests have been declared excommunicated from the Catholic Church for their continued involvement with a small, Mesa-based faith community.
Msgr. Dale Fushek and Fr. Mark Dippre, neither of whom has been active in the Catholic Church in recent years, received notice of their excommunication Dec. 9 from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted. This type of censure carries with it the consequence of not being able to receive the Eucharist, celebrate Mass or receive other sacraments of the Church. Also, they cannot represent themselves as priests.
“The bishop is doing this for the care of the faithful,” said Fr. Fred Adamson, vicar general and moderator of the Curia. “The bishop’s desire is for reconciliation and unity in the Church.”
For one to be excommunicated, a baptized Catholic must knowingly place oneself outside of full communion with the Church, according to canon law. In the cases of Fushek and Dippre, diocesan officials claim that their excommunication was incurred as a result of their involvement in the Praise and Worship Center, in direct defiance of Bishop Olmsted’s requests to discontinue engaging in public ministry. The priests’ ongoing leadership roles within the Mesa-based organization constitutes the support of an opposing worship venue, putting them at odds with the bishop and the pope — also known as schism.
In effect, the excommunication became “automatic” once the two priests engaged in actions against the Church. The bishop’s notice to them, the “Decree of Excommunication,” was the formal declaration of what had already happened by virtue of their schism.
While this particular type of excommunication is in fact a sanction, it is one that is “medicinal” in its purpose. The intention is to make the offenders aware of the danger that their behavior and their actions pose to themselves and the Catholic faithful who may be confused and scandalized by such activity, according to Fr. Chris Fraser, judicial vicar for the Diocese of Phoenix.
“There is special concern when a cleric separates himself from the communion of the Church, either by his teaching or actions,” said Fr. Fraser.
By declaring the excommunication, the bishop hopes to motivate these two priests to come back to the Church and seek reconciliation with the Catholic faithful, according to Fr. Fraser, an expert in Church law. The primary purpose of excommunication is to repair the scandal caused by the teachings and actions of the cleric, to restore justice in the Church and to reform the offender.
“Bishop Olmsted’s pastoral concern is not only for the two priests, but for everyone who is affected by their persistent disobedience,” he said. “This excommunication is something that these two men have brought upon themselves, and it was time for the bishop to declare them excommunicated for the good of the Catholic community. All efforts at dialogue have been exhausted at this point.”
Both men had been removed from priestly ministry prior to their involvement with the Praise and Worship Center, which they helped establish a year ago. The weekly service at the center is not Catholic and the Catholic Church does not endorse it.
Fushek, former vicar general for the diocese and former pastor of St. Timothy Parish in Mesa, gained prominence for co-founding Life Teen, an international youth ministry program. Bishop Olmsted suspended Fushek’s faculties in late 2004 after an allegation was made that Fushek engaged in inappropriate behavior in the presence of a minor at the Mesa parish in 1985. Fushek later resigned as the parish’s pastor on June 30, 2005. He currently faces charges on several misdemeanor counts of sexual misconduct.
Dippre, a priest since 1992, took a leave of absence from his priestly ministry in 2001 while pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Tempe. He entered into a civil marriage in 2003 and no longer has faculties within the Diocese of Phoenix.
The censure of excommunication does not mean that the two men are no longer Catholic, nor does it erase the indelible mark of the Sacred Order of their priestly ordination. In fact, diocesan leaders hope to bring the two priests back into communion with the Church. For that to occur, however, Fr. Adamson stated that Fushek and Dippre must be open to communicating with the bishop, must make a public acknowledgment of their errors, and must work with the diocese to undo the confusion that they have created by virtue of their work at the Praise and Worship Center.
In the past year, efforts had been made asking both priests to refrain from participating in the Praise and Worship Center. To date, attempts at reconciliation have not been fruitful, he said.
“It’s always difficult to see brother priests distance themselves from the community and the sacramental life of the Church,” he said.
Despite all that has happened, Bishop Olmsted’s desire and prayer is for reconciliation with both men and their return to full communion with the Church, Fr. Adamson added.