Arizona Excommunications

CNS reports that Phoenix bishop Thomas Olmstead has excommunicated LifeTeen founder Dale Fushek and one other priest who have been active in setting up a parallel liturgical community, The Praise and Worship Center.

My first exposure to LifeTeen was through a parishioner about ten years ago who moved to Iowa from Arizona. She spoke highly of Fushek and his parish and suggested we implement some of the aspects of LifeTeen in our liturgies. What was interesting is that my friend was a mother of four, the oldest about nine years old, I think, at that time. Why was she so attracted to this model? It wasn’t because she was a refugee from her own teen years.

She said LifeTeen Mass was a family-friendly experience for her and many of her peers. I wonder what the teens thought about those families settling in on Sunday night liturgy.

I see some advantages to the LifeTeen format. It was big on the Kansas side in the KC metro area. As youth ministry was scaled back on the Missouri side or relegated (with crossed fingers, maybe) to the high schools, Kansas parishes were drawing some youths away from their parishes.

I can’t say I’d initiate LifeTeen were I serving a parish that lacked it. I wouldn’t oppose it in my parish were it well done. I prefer to keep teens in the mainstream of parish ministry, keeping it mutual: youth ministry is not just about serving and servicing kids. It must also include young people being apprenticed in the whole Catholic spectrum, including reaching out to serve others.

That said, I’m sad and disappointed for these two priests and the whole diocese of Phoenix. I’m not sure what the excommunication accomplishes, except to put a canonical definition on the status of clergy who have left behind their bishop and parishes and gone off to build something different.

I think many Catholics and some non-believers would find curious this has nothing to do with accusations of sexual misconduct:

The decision had nothing to do with Fushek’s legal issues, where he faces trial for several misdemeanor counts of sexual misconduct, according to a statement by the Diocese of Phoenix.

The Church’s approach with these penalties is not individual punishment. It would see the seduction of people away from Catholicism as a grave evil. Of course, sexual attack from a spiritual leader accomplishes pretty much the same thing, plus imparting lots of other hang-ups.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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9 Responses to Arizona Excommunications

  1. Tony says:

    I’d be interested to find out why some people consider the Holy Mass to not be “family friendly”.

  2. Todd says:

    My own experiences have been positive, but others relate incidents of rude stares at fussing children, a refusal to slide to the center of a pew, the occasionalo fuss from an usher who demurs about seating a family of six or more … things like that. I’m sure readers with families have similar experiences.

    I suspect that some parents appreciate the catechetical possibilities of the LifeTeen practice of gathering the young assembly around the altar. Again, I wouldn’t institute it in a parish that didn’t do it, but I can understand how proximity to the altar might inspire the religious imagination of children.

  3. Gavin says:

    I’m confused as to what exactly happened here. Did the priest set up his own parish or something? I’m pretty sure he didn’t get excommunicated for having guitars in Mass, which is how the conservative blogosphere makes it sound.

  4. crystal says:

    This reminds me of a post at America’s blog by James Martin SJ in which he asked why Fr. Bourgeois faced excommunication while priests involved in the sex abuse crises were not. It seems like being disobedient is considered worse than being actually bad.

  5. Todd says:

    I suspect the crime of leading the faithful astray spiritually is considered the most grave sin a priest can commit.

    I can accept that, but it also begs the question about bishops who have chased away Catholics by their cover-up of sexual abuse. Is it as bad to show a horrific example as it is to advocate heterodoxy? Some might say it is.

  6. Liam says:

    Crystal & Todd

    Well, if sex abusers went to try to teach the faithful that what they did was good and righteous, you might find a parallel with someone who attempts to bind the faithful by simulating an invalid sacrament and defends such.

    Simulating invalid sacraments is about the quickest way to draw canonical lightning. Bad acts as such, no matter how grave, are not. That’s a centuries-long result of the Catholic tendency to relax the law, not the Catholic tendency towards rigor. If people want to revive canonical rigorism, they are welcome to, but they need to realize what they are asking for.

  7. Liam says:

    Oh, ignore that botched comment. My bug has had the better of me.

  8. Neil says:

    I think that we have to draw a distinction. The purpose of a public excommunication – as far as I understand – is not to declare that someone has committed a sin, but to declare that someone has committed a sin “which impugns the identity of the body of Christ” (Wm Cavanaugh). Without such a public declaration of excommunication, the inclusivity of the church would be threatened.

    What has Rev. Fushek done? First, he has ignored a suspension from public ministry that arose from alleged sexual misconduct. Second, he has started a “multidimensional” ecclesial community that meets on Sunday mornings and has “no intent to do anything to encourage anyone either to join or leave any particular church or denomination.”

    How could this threaten the inclusivity of the church? Whatever his intentions, Fushek’s dismissal of his suspension implicitly suggests that there is a radical insufficiency in ecclesiastical governance. His nondenominational and unlicensed ministry – which, while not including the celebration of the Eucharist, includes preaching, leading, and direction – seems to suggest that there is a priesthood clearly outside of the one priesthood under the Catholic Bishop of Phoenix.

    The danger, then, is that the Catholic participants in his relatively ill-defined community will recognize a governance in addition to ecclesiastical governance and a priestly ministry in addition to the priestly ministry of the Diocese of Phoenix. The burden of this “supplement” might not be terribly heavy, but no Catholic should ever feel obligated to accept it.

    After all, one thing that we Catholics should have confidence in is that our church, however wounded and sinful, is sufficient for us. We do not need to anxiously seek out extra professions of faith or more and more forms of ecclesiastical governance. Of course, we might find ourselves attending Anglican evensong or an evangelical Bible Study, but this attendance should not be motivated by the fear of radical defect in Catholic practice – some sort of nervousness that there must be “more out there.”

    If we are so motivated, we will inevitably become exclusive.

    Rev Fushek is in my prayers. I don’t want to suggest that he has malicious intentions. But his actions have, I think, potentially disastrous consequences unless they are further clarified.


  9. Gavin says:

    Thank you for the clear explanation of the situation, Neil. I had been wondering what was wrong with Fr. Fushnek’s actions, and you explained it quite well.

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