Sins of the Father
The Baselices already had their suspicions, but they weren’t prepared for what they were hearing from their son. The priest’s comments and behavior, all of those clues that they’d submerged over the years, suddenly became buoyant.
His parents’ anguish only deepened when Arthur moved back home in 2004. Arthur couldn’t hide the abscess on his arm, or his swollen, bloated hands, like those his father had seen on the heroin junkies he used to lock up, and in the halfway houses he still patrolled for the New Jersey parole department.
The Baselices had reached their breaking point. Determined to show the church firsthand what Father Charles had done, they dragged Arthur — colorless and gaunt, sick from withdrawal — into a tense meeting with counselors for the archdiocese. “The only thing I want is my son back the way you got him,” Art Baselice said. “You broke him. I want you to fix him.”
The counselors took detailed notes, then passed the Baselices along to the Franciscans for help. Since Father Charles wasn’t a diocesan priest, they reasoned, he wasn’t the archdiocese’s responsibility. At the Baselice kitchen table a few days later, Arthur and his father met with three Franciscans, including Father Thomas Luczak, the regional head of their order. Before Arthur told them his story, Art excused himself. He couldn’t bear to hear the details of his son’s abuse by a man he’d once shared dinner with in that same room.
The Franciscans agreed to send Arthur to rehab. Less than a week into his stay, Arthur received a $50,000 offer from Luczak in exchange for a waiver of his right to sue. Arthur returned home without signing the agreement. “You know, Dad,” Arthur said one night, “I think Newman wanted me dead. I think he was trying to get rid of me.”
THE BASELICES CONVINCED Arthur to talk to a lawyer. Civil court was their only recourse for justice, since the criminal statute of limitations had already expired; that’s also why no criminal charges were filed in the wake of the 2005 Philadelphia grand jury report about priest abuse. Charlie Gallagher, the assistant district attorney who led that investigation — and, later, the one that would send Father Charles to jail for his thefts — wasn’t sure he believed victims who waited a decade or more to come forward with their stories. The grand jury investigation changed his mind. The same patterns of abuse and cover-up that had emerged in other cities were unfolding before his eyes. “Someone coined the phrase ‘soul murder,’” says Gallagher. “These victims I dealt with — their soul was killed, their spirit was killed, their faith was killed.”
Gallagher first met Arthur Baselice after Arthur filed a civil lawsuit in June 2004. He no longer resembled the young man from his high-school football photos. The drugs had cut him down below his normal weight, and there was an emptiness behind his blue eyes, making it hard to tell whether he was seeing what was in front of him or replaying the past. A year later, a state appeals court would dismiss Arthur’s suit and 16 others, not based on merit, but because the complainants came forward too late.