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.