A co-founder, president and CEO of a Mesa-based international Catholic youth organization resigned Friday, effective May 15.
Phil Baniewicz helped establish the Life Teen program in 1985 at St. Timothy Catholic Community in Mesa.
Under his leadership, the program expanded to almost 950 parishes in 20 countries, involving about 120,000 teens.
Baniewicz did not indicate future plans. “I feel God is leading me and my family to something different after two decades of youth ministry,” he wrote in a news release.
Baniewicz and the Rev. Dale Fushek, also a Life Teen cofounder, remain defendants in a civil lawsuit alleging they and another priest sexually abused a teenager in 1985.
After William Cesolini filed the suit in January 2005, Life Teen’s board put Baniewicz on administrative leave pending its own investigation. The board reinstated Baniewicz to the top post on April 11, 2005.
Cesolini’s allegations are based on repressed memories, or dissociative amnesia. In February 2003, while he was getting counseling at a Gilbert parish, Cesolini said he could recall the abuse he suffered as a teen in 1985. Cesolini’s attorney, Frank Verderame, said Friday the suit is tentatively set for trial in September but probably will be delayed.
On Thursday, Life Teen was dropped as a defendant in the suit. The two sides agreed “when it became clear that under the facts alleged in the case, it was no longer appropriate” for Life Teen to be part of it, Life Teen spokeswoman Clarissa Gonzalez said Friday.
Fushek is scheduled to go on trial June 2 on five counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, two counts of indecent exposure and three counts of assault.
Seven men and boys, who had been in Life Teen, brought the complaints alleging the incidents happened between 1984 and 1994 on church property. All charges against Fushek are misdemeanors.
The interim president and CEO of Life Teen will be Randy Raus, current vice president of parish ministries and a Life Teen employee since 1996.
Baniewicz, father of four, was praised Friday in a statement from the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix.
“Words cannot truly express the gratitude the diocese, as well as thousands of young people around the world, has for Phil Baniewicz,” diocese spokeswoman Mary Jo West said. ”For 21 years, this dynamic leader has devoted his life to Life Teen, bringing God’s message of love and hope to those young people who are the future of our Catholic Church.”