Sins of the Father
WHILE THE FAITHFUL and holy gather in the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Art Baselice stands outside, bearing witness in his own way. He isn’t interested in prayers for Bishop Joseph Cistone, who is leaving Philadelphia to run a diocese in Michigan. He isn’t hoping to shake hands with the cardinal and all of the archbishops, who have come together on this summer afternoon for Cistone’s farewell benediction.
Surrounded by a handful of priest abuse victims and their advocates, he holds a sandwich-board sign bearing photos of his son, Arthur Baselice III, and two clerics, Brother Regis Howitz and Father Charles Newman. As a pair of clergymen head into the service, Baselice raises up his billboard. They look over for a moment, then move on. “See what I get?” Art says. “There’s a man of God. He turns his head.”
Back home in South Jersey, the ashes of Art Baselice’s son sit in a marble urn, surrounded by trinkets and photographs, as if part of a funeral that never ends. The man Art holds responsible is Father Charles, the former president of Archbishop Ryan, the largest Catholic high school in the city. With his wife and two children, Art would attend Saturday mass, and walk up the aisle to Father Charles, who would place the Holy Eucharist in their outstretched hands or on their tongues. Art is mostly bald now, and stocky, with the meaty hands of a prizefighter. He rarely smiles, and when he speaks, there’s an edge to his words, like he’s spitting them out — partly the South Philadelphia Italian in him, partly the ex-city cop. But his sharp cadence is mostly a reflection of what he can’t stop thinking about. “He started grooming Arthur the day he met him,” Art says of Father Charles. “Not only Arthur. He groomed us.”
That Father Charles was sent to prison in May for stealing more than $900,000 from his religious order and high school gives Art little comfort. In his mind, there are crimes for which the priest, and the Philadelphia archdiocese, haven’t been punished. His son is dead. So is his faith. As Bishop Cistone and his holy brethren worship inside the cathedral, Art tightens his grip on his sign, trying to make sense of how he — the ex-cop, the devout Catholic, the father — ended up here, and when his healing will begin.
This isn’t a story like so many that have surfaced since 2002, when the Boston Globe’s reports on Catholic clergy abuse tore apart that city’s archdiocese. Since then, tales of pedophile priests have been told by the hundreds, as other cities, including Philadelphia, began to examine the church in a way they once dared not. In 2005, a grand jury investigation launched by district attorney Lynne Abraham culminated in a 418-page report. The revelations it contained were horrifying. One priest molested a fifth-grader inside a confessional booth. Another raped an 11-year-old, then took her to a clinic for an abortion. Sixty-three priests were named in all, and the scores of children they violated would grow up battling addiction, suicidal thoughts and mental illness. But there is another group of victims and survivors — the families whose lives were ruined by depraved men cloaked in priests’ vestments.