Sins of the Father
Art and Elaine Baselice are among the forgotten collateral damage from Philadelphia’s clergy-abuse scandal. In the early 1970s, the Baselices were like a South Philly fairy tale, two young Catholic kids in love. Art, a Bishop Neumann grad who served in the Air Force, married Elaine, a pretty Maria Goretti alum from the neighborhood. Despite the cost of Catholic education, their kids, Arthur and Ashleigh, would grow up the same way they had, with the discipline and moral guidance of the church. Fortunately, Archbishop Ryan High was less than a mile away from their new home in the Northeast.
Arthur Baselice didn’t stand out among the rest of his freshman class when he arrived at Ryan in 1992. He wasn’t a straight-A student, nor a delinquent, partly thanks to the discipline at home from his father, who had worked hard years in homicide and narcotics. Arthur loved rock music and sports, especially football, playing tight end at Ryan. Still, he was more of a goofball than a macho jock, always quick to crack jokes and laugh. He didn’t seem destined for Princeton or the NFL, but Arthur’s parents were proud. He was a good kid.
Elaine Baselice first met Father Charles at Ryan’s annual mother/son dance during Arthur’s freshman year. The priest approached her and asked if she was Arthur’s mother. “What a fine-looking son you have,” Father Charles said. It was a strange introduction, but dressed in his brown friar robes, with glasses and a round, soft face crowned by thinning hair, he certainly looked harmless enough.
Father Charles wasn’t a typical priest, though. He’d joined Ryan’s staff in 1978 as a lay teacher in the English department. There, he was drawn to the spirituality of the Franciscans, who lived at the friary on Ryan’s campus and worked at the high school as teachers and administrators. Newman left to join the seminary, and when he returned in 1985, in his mid-30s, he had become Father Charles.
As an adviser for the school theater group and chorus, Father Charles was a talented organist and well-liked. In the hallways, though, he was a disciplinarian. It was his business-like manner, not any schmoozing with the archdiocesan elite, that would ultimately lead to his promotion to principal. He was also appointed treasurer of the friary — not an important job, it seemed, for priests who’d taken vows of poverty, as the Franciscans do.
In his private life, Father Charles was more likely to stay in his bedroom than have a beer at the friary’s Friday happy hours. One friend of his, Brother Regis Howitz, was a custodian at the school. Otherwise, Father Charles didn’t have an obvious social circle. Like a method actor who was always “on,” he maintained a holy aura at all times and was rarely seen wearing anything but his habit. Father Charles seemed to be a man who fully understood the power of the priesthood. So when he began calling Arthur Baselice into closed-door meetings, no one thought to question him about it.