The former vicar general of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix was arrested Monday on charges he fondled boys and young men and asked them prying questions about their sex lives that he pretended were part of confession.

Monsignor Dale Fushek, 53, becomes one of the highest-ranking priests to be charged in the sex scandal that has engulfed the church. The vicar general is the highest-ranking administrator of a diocese next to the bishop.

Fushek was charged with three counts of assault, five of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and two of indecent exposure. All are misdemeanors, punishable by no more than three years and nine months in all.

Fushek "used a relationship of trust to perform criminal acts, including but not limited to sexual activities, improper sexual discussions and physical contact, upon vulnerable minor and adult victims," prosecutors said in court papers.

Prosecutors said Fushek committed the acts between 1984 and 1994 at St. Timothy's Catholic Church in Mesa or on property belonging to the church. The alleged victims were seven young men and boys.

Fushek resigned as pastor of St. Timothy's in April after someone claimed to have recovered a repressed memory involving sexual improprieties by Fushek in 1985. He has denied the allegations.

Maricopa Attorney Andrew Thomas said the priest conducted "sham confessions" in which he extracted details about people's sex lives for his own gratification.

Thomas said the diocese has been cooperative. "I've been impressed by the overall atmosphere that has been projected by this new bishop," he said.

Prosecutors had clashed with the diocese over sex abuse allegations when it was headed by Bishop Thomas O'Brien. O'Brien resigned in 2003 after being arrested in a deadly hit-and-run. Fushek was O'Brien's top aide at the time. The diocese is now headed by Bishop Thomas Olmsted.