Sins of the Father
Still, there seemed to be reasons for hope. On the final Wednesday of November 2006, Governor Ed Rendell expanded the state’s criminal statute of limitations for sex crimes and made other changes to the law that were a direct result of the grand jury’s recommendations. It was too late to help Arthur legally, but he seemed to have already turned a corner. After violating probation on a drug possession charge, he completed six months in court-mandated drug rehab and a halfway house. He returned home and held down a job, installing granite countertops. At 28, he was spending time with his son and staying clean. For the first time in a decade, the Baselices had their boy back.
On the night that Rendell signed the sex crimes bill, Arthur ate lasagna with his mother, gave her a kiss, and left the house for a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Elaine didn’t know that earlier in the day, her son had called his sponsor. That old feeling was back, and it scared him. No one is sure why Arthur left NA and drove to Camden. Perhaps he was fighting the urge to kill himself, like the time he nearly jumped from a second-story window in a drug-fueled frenzy. Maybe, as he wrote in one of his letters, he’d had another nightmare that he was wearing black socks with Father Charles.
The next morning, a man stirred in a Camden apartment around 4th and Royden streets. He looked over at Arthur, who was on the floor, leaning back against a chair where his hooded sweatshirt, phone and keys sat. His skin was cold to the touch, and his nose and mouth were caked with a foamy fluid. Seeing that Arthur was dead, the man took a shower, called the police from a pay phone, and walked away.
That afternoon, Art Baselice answered his doorbell to find two Camden officers, their faces as grim as the news they carried. He realized his son had died in the same drug-infested neighborhood he combs on his parole beat. “That,” he says, “is what we get for being good Catholics.”
IN HIS FIFTH-FLOOR office in Center City, Bishop Joseph McFadden, who oversees Catholic education for the archdiocese, is dressed in black, bearing a cross around his neck and a look of heavy concern on his face. The only archdiocesan or Franciscan priest who agreed to speak on the record about clergy abuse and Father Charles, McFadden expresses his sadness for the Baselice family and other victims. He also points to a study that suggests there are more predators in public schools than in Catholic ones. As for what the church has learned after decades of inaction or subterfuge when predatory priests were accused, McFadden says it’s “not only a learning curve for the church. I think it’s a societal learning curve. … We have to listen clearly to children, with a much more discerning ear than before, which I think sometimes we used to dismiss. The church has learned we take this seriously now. So what did the church not do back then? We did what society did. Sometimes we didn’t pay close enough attention.”