Pope Francis chastised American Bishops in a complete mishandling of sex abuse by the clergy in a letter penned earlier this month.
“The Church’s credibility has been seriously undercut and diminished by these sins and crimes, but even more by the efforts made to deny or conceal them,” Francis wrote. “This has led to a growing sense of uncertainty, distrust and vulnerability among the faithful.”
Many outlets and critics were quick to note Pope Francis excluded any mention of punishment for those guilty of molestation, including the 301 members of the clergy in Pennsylvania an explosive court filing cited for more than 1,000 incidences of child abuse. Instead, the pope urged the church to internally strengthen and repair itself.
“Let us try to break the vicious circle of recrimination, undercutting and discrediting, by avoiding gossip and slander in the pursuit of a path of prayerful and contrite acceptance of our limitations and sins,” Francis wrote.
One of the people not buying into the words from the pope is Arthur Baselice Jr. He is a father who speaks on behalf of his son, Arthur III, silenced by a fatal heroin overdose in 2006 after years of mental anguish stemming from repeated clergy abuse.
In the mid-1990s, Arthur III was sexually abused by two Franciscan clergyman at Archbishop Ryan High School in Northeast Philadelphia. The perpetrators included the principal Rev. Charles Newman and Brother Regis Howitz, then a maintenance worker at the school.
Newman eventually resigned from his position after it came to light that he stole $1 million from the school and the Franciscan Order, a crime that would cost him four years in jail. His crimes of pedophilia, however, have never been served inside a cell.
“[The] pope is just a puppet controlled by the curia. In reality, nothing in the church will change until the laws ... are changed,” Baselice said in a conversation with Philadelphia Weekly. “Can the pope confirm that the god he claims to represent is agreeing with his nonsense?”
For Baselice, one of the laws that needs to be remedied is Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations, which robbed his son of any judicial recompense. Currently, the state law gives sex abuse victims – who are 18 or older during the time of the abuse – just two years to file a civil suit. Those younger have 12 years after they turn 18 to file civil charges. The age cutoff to file a criminal charge of child sexual abuse is 50.
“It's all about due process. That's the argument, due process, right? But due process is a double-edged sword,” Baselice challenged. “So why is it that the accused have due process and the victims have been denied due process? When are the victims going to get due process?”
Baselice believes a major roadblock in sexual abuse reform is Joe Scarnati, president pro tempore of the Pennsylvania State Senate. Scarnati has twice blocked bill passage that would allow older victims to sue their perpetrators. Baselice also noted that Megan Crompton, the wife of Scarnati’s chief of staff, Drew Compton serves as the vice president of government relations at Long, Nyquist & Associates, a lobbying firm that represents the Catholic Church.
“They tortured him to friggin’ death”
The first time the retired Philadelphia detective knew something had happened to his son was when Arthur III called him, saying he was being investigated by a man, named Jack Rossiter, of the FBI. Baselice called Rossiter, whose first name is actually Joe, and soon found out that he previously worked for the FBI. In actuality, he was an archdiocesan investigator.
“He said, ‘get your son some help, he was abused by a couple of priests from the archdiocese,’” Baselice recalled. “He said, ‘get your son some help and I'll get the archdiocese to pay for it.’”
Two years later, Arthur III at just 28, would be found dead in a Camden apartment. His death had arguable connections to his past sexual trauma. But Baselice affirmed that it was more than an arguable connection, it was apparent, as he claims it was Newman who introduced his son to drugs, giving him Oxycontin and other substances before sexual attacks.
“He took his life, because they tortured him to friggin’ death,” he said.
Baselice explained that since his son’s perpetrators were Franciscan, he was not eligible for any compensation associated with the ongoing child abuse investigations against accused Pennsylvania priests.
However, it is a sum of money that he wouldn’t take even if eligible.
“Who is this guy to tell me that the misery is of the past, present and future? He is going to put a dollar value on my son's death and our misery? Bullshit,” said Baselice, who now lives in a New Jersey suburb. “Is it going change the carnage that our lives have become, the misery? What's it going to change?”
No matter his personal situation, Baselice attested he stands in solidarity with the other victims and hopes the trials will bring, at the very least, justice to those who have gone for so long without it.
“What I do for my son, I do for the other victims,” said Baselice. “I'm not interested in this for myself, although I do have an agenda, I want these two guys who molested my son to be held accountable for their actions, and I want the other victims to have the same due process that we are all entitled to.”
This wish arrives on the heels of last month’s state Supreme Court ruling to conceal 11 of the priests’ names on the Grand Jury report. Released in August, the initial report revealed 270 of the priests’ names to the public. State Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a champion in the scandal’s unveiling, has criticized the decision to withhold the 11 names.
“I have consistently fought for the release of the entire, unredacted Grand Jury report into widespread sexual abuse and cover up within the Pennsylvania Catholic Church,” Shapiro said in Dec. 3 in a public statement. “Today’s Order allows predator priests to remain in the shadows and permits the Church to continue concealing their identities.”
Shapiro explained that while he is unable to release the names, the church still can.
“While this Order bars me from releasing the names of these 11 petitioners, nothing in this Order prevents the Dioceses from sharing the shielded names with their parishioners and the public. I call on the Bishops to do so immediately, consistent with their recent calls for transparency.”
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Franciscan order found both of Arthur III’s sexual abuse allegations credible. However to date, according to Baselice Jr., the only punitive action taken against Newman and Howitz was restriction to nonpublic ministry.
“They are living the life of prayer and penitence, while I'm living a life of misery,” said Baselice.