Life Teen and Other Mixed Fruit

This week there have been published reports that the Diocese of Phoenix under Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted has warned the faithful to stay away from a nondenominational Praise and Worship Center that has been attracting hundreds of participants each week. 

The Center was started by Msgr. Dale Fushek, the charismatic priest who started Life Teen 20 years ago. In 2004 Msgr. Fushek was placed on administrative leave by the diocese because of allegations of sexual misconduct with teenagers. So now, in what Bishop Olmsted considers an act of disobedience, Msgr. Fushek and Fr. Mark Dippre, who left the priesthood in 2002, have started this new ministry outside the parameters of the Catholic Church. For more on this sad development, click here.

In my opinion, Msgr. Fushek’s situation is just one more illustration of the mysterious phenomenon of good fruits coming from questionable sources.

Life Teen has had its detractors and critics, and rightly so. In particular, for a time its liturgical approach–complete with “rock Masses” and youth huddled around the altar–went too far in accommodating the sensibilities of today’s youth. To its credit, the national Life Teen office and most local Life Teen groups have graciously accepted the Church’s intervention and guidance in this area.

The key point here, however, is the indisputable fact that despite any perceived shortcomings, as well as the more obvious failings of its founder, Life Teen has become arguably the most successful Catholic youth program in the United States, helping to bring many disaffected youth into the Church–some even to the point of discovering vocations to the priesthood or religious life.

There are many other notable examples of this phenomenon. One of the bright spots of the Church in the postconciliar era has been the emergence of the Legionaries of Christ/Regnum Christi movement. Just a few weeks ago, I read that dozens of young men were ordained as Legionary priests in Rome. Doubtless these men will be terrific, faithful priests, as the Legionaries tend to attract very bright, orthodox aspirants from wonderful Catholic families.

Yet, after years of controversy and alleged cover up of sexual abuse, the elderly founder of the Legionaries, Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, was the subject of this May 2006 statement from the Vatican:

“After having submitted the results of the investigation to attentive study, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the guidance of the new prefect, His Eminence Cardinal William Levada, has decided–taking into account both the advanced age of Rev. Maciel and his delicate health–to forgo a canonical process and to call the priest to a life reserved to prayer and penance, renouncing any public ministry. . . .”

In fairness, the Legionary family still vehemently denies that Fr. Maciel was guilty of any sexual misconduct. At the same time, diocesan and religious priests with relatively little evidence against them as compared with Fr. Maciel have been removed from public ministry without protest from any quarter.

I think to most objective, dispassionate observers, it at least appears that an abuser of young men founded the fastest growing religious community of the past half-century.

And then there’s the wild world of alleged Marian apparitions, where there never seems to be a shortage of miracles and conversions, yet the apparitions themselves have been of dubious (at best) authenticity. The most noteworthy example would be Medjugorje, which has never been approved by local Church authorities. A compelling case can be made that the Vatican will never recognize Medjugorje as an authentic apparition of supernatural origin. Yet, I know many solidly faithful Catholics who trace their conversion or “re-version” to Christ and His Church to a pilgrimage to this controversial apparition site.

Closer to home, in the 1980s I was looking for a solid religious community. Some suggested the Legionaries, but I was too old and probably too undisciplined. Then I was given a book by Fr. Robert Fox entitled The Call of Heaven, a biography of (then) Br. Gino Burresi, of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary. The story of this modern-day wonderworker (stigmatist, bilocation, reader of souls–he could do it all), coupled with the obvious orthodoxy of the Oblates, led not only me but also many other young men to the Oblate community. He also welcomed and ministered to countless pilgrims at the Oblates’ house in San Vittorino, Italy.

Fr. Gino was later accused of being a homosexual and a fraud. He left the Oblates and formed his own community. Only in more recent years did the Vatican really come down hard on him, removing his faculties to hear Confessions, give spiritual direction, and the like.

I know some people who have found their way into the heart of the Church through ultra-traditionalist organizations that oppose the Pope and offered illicit Masses. I have known others who trace their spiritual roots to Pax Christi or other problematic, “progressive” movements that brazenly consider themselves “Catholic.” And even when it comes to organizations that are fully “with the Church,” I have witnessed corrupt leadership. 

What’s the Holy Spirit up to in all this? It’s supposed to be much simpler than this: good fruit from good trees and bad fruit from bad trees.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers on this intriguing subject, but tomorrow I will lay out some principles to help bewildered lay Catholics sort all this out.

6 responses

  1. You website popped up on my computer a little bit ago. I had signed up for Google and Yahoo alerts re: Dale Fushek. I’ve known Dale ever since he came to St. Tim’s and enjoyed his preaching. He helped us get through some difficult things. He was a bit unorthadox e.g. changing the colors of the liturgical vestments, allowing the teens to stand around the altar, etc. We overlooked these things because we liked him, although I rather doubt if many in the congreation knew that they were wrong. I can no longer support him or what he is doing. I’m very saddened by his actions and way he is splitting our parish apart. My son assured me that the church will be stronger when the Fushek-ites leave. I have one correction to your article, although I haven’t been to the forbidden services nor do I plan to go…Dale is not attracting a youth crowd but rather an over-40 group. Please feel free to double check this claim…I only know what I read.

  2. Thanks for your note, Janet. I thought I had read that this new worship center was targeting youth, but as I re-read the CNS article, I find no basis for making that assertion, so I changed “youth” to “participants.”

  3. Thanks for bringing this up, Leon.

    Please pray for Fr. Fushek and the Fushek-ites!

    Janet, I think you calling Fr. Fushek, “Dale” is telling with respect to the formation at St. “Tim’s”. We need to get back to serious Catholicism – this is what really attracts the youth and KEEPS them.

    Read this

    God bless.

  4. I have an aquaintance who is a church pianist in a diocese were Life Teen is popular. She was heavily involved with it for years.

    Frank and honest discussion has lead us to the conclusion our liturgical sensibilities are very different. She insists this sort of worship gets the kids interested, involved, and then directs them to the regular parish Masses…

    I am a little nonplussed by rock & modern “praise and worship” music in the context of a Mass to begin with. In turn she is generally dismissive of chant or organ music (bear in mind, she is the one collecting a paycheck as a “music minister”; I am just the ex-seminarian liturgical trogladyte who claims no ministry title. I digress)…

    She claims that many orthodox vocations have come out of LT. I certainly hope that in the seminary, liturgical tastes changed a bit. I was pretty strict back in the day (a decade ago) when I was in the seminary. I worked my way more to the middle, I bet a lot of them do the same.

    I’d like to be positive about anything that gets kids interested in their Catholic faith… But at a number of levels, this sort of service really bothers me. Maybe it is the sort of “least common denominator” low church stylings of it. While not “heterodox” or “blasphemous” or any other number of unconstructive terms some reactionary types like to bandy about), I find some of the “I’ve-got-my-doctrine-to-keep-me-warm” (™ Serge, the Young Fogey) low-church sensibilities odd.

    Like “Catholic-lite” there have arisen parties that embrace the Magisterium and forms of traditional Theology, but beyond simply NOT abusing the Novus Ordo Mass and tossing in the Rosary and Eucharistic adoration (both good starts), interest in forms (traditional forms!) don’t seem present.

    Next time such a type is waxing poetic about “really exploring new things in the liturgy and being open to the Spirit” invite them to attend a Traditional Latin Mass or Eastern Catholic Eucharistic liturgy if they have never done so. In my experiences, 9x out of 10, explorers of liturgy decline to explore that option. Once its established there will be chant & incense the interest wanes…

    So I am left to wonder, when does “Jesus on my terms, keeping Him cool” just turn into “my terms”???

    Hard to say, but when a suspended priest starts his own extra-Eucharistic “worship center” you can feel pretty certain, he has already passed that point.

  5. I’m of the opinion that all authentic liturgical music, especially Gregorian chant, is “praise and worship” music, but not all “praise and worship” music is appropriate for the sacred liturgy. And surely the official Church has expressed her preference for Gregorian chant at Vatican II and other Church documents, while maintaining her openness to other artistic expressions.

    Life Teen has distanced itself from Msgr. Fushek and has done considerable good, but the tensions and shortcomings you describe are nonetheless quite real.

  6. Thanks for your article Separating the Fruit from Nuts in the March-April issue of Lay Witness.

    I too have witnessed much that you wrote about and appreciate the chance to look at such problems and be reminded that God is so good.

    Our family lives in the Phoenix AZ. area which has it’s share of liturgical problems including those arising from Msgr. Dale Fushek’s ministry. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s loving and compassionate guidance has been a great blessing to our diocese.

    We too have watched, first hand, the blessings that are coming from the Legionaries of Christ and Medjugorje despite their questionable roots.

    A friend, searching to become a faithful priest went from a seminary in Los Angeles, to a newly established American based seminary in Fatima, which dissolved. He then, like you, became familiar with Br. Gino and the Oblates of the Virgin Mary and entered that seminary and observed the problems there. The story, as your article points out ended well. While in Italy our friend met Mother Teresa and is now one of her priests. God is so good.

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