The Reverend Charles Newman, former president of Archbishop Ryan High School in Philadelphia, was sentenced on Friday to three to six years in prison for stealing almost $1 million from the school, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
As if that isn’t bad enough, prosecutors say that Newman gave about $54,000 to Arthur Baselice III, once a student at the school, as “hush money” so he would keep quiet about their sexual relationship. Authorities contend that the abuse began when Baselice III was 16-year-old junior at the school. He graduated in 1996. Ten years later, on November 30, 2006, Baselice III died of an overdose in a drug house.
During Newman’s sentencing, the young man’s mother, Elaine Baselice, addressed the court. “He plied my teenage son with alcohol and drugs so that Arthur could be more easily abused,” she said, according to the Philadelphia Daily News. “Newman had me believe my son was full of demons. Standing in the courtroom today, I am faced with the true demon!”
Newman was not charged with sexual abuse because the statute of limitations had expired. He was charged only for the theft. The priest spoke briefly during the hearing in disjointed remarks, but did not apologize to the Baselices or explain what happened to the money. The court didn’t buy whatever he said.
“Your explanations are sorely lacking … and that’s putting it mildly,” Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi said. “Your explanations are bizarre.”
Reading the coverage of this case, it seemed to me that the Reverend Charles Newman fit the profile of a sociopath.
Child abuse in Ireland
The Newman case was bad, but not nearly as shocking as another story now in the news—the endemic rape and abuse of thousands of children in Ireland, from the 1930s to the 1990s, by Catholic priests and nuns.
On May 20, a 2,600-page report by Ireland’s Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was released. It found that children in 250 church-run schools, orphanages and other institutions, supported by taxpayer funds, were routinely abused and molested. Catholic religious orders ran more than 50 workhouse-style reform schools. One of the orders, the Christian Brothers, which ran several boys’ institutions, harbored serial child molesters and sadists on its staff.
The report took nine years to complete. Thousands of still-traumatized men and women, now in their 50s to 80s, testified, some traveling back to Ireland from America or Australia.
“A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions and all those run for boys,” the report stated. “Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from.”
At the time, however, the religious orders were concerned only about preventing scandal, not the danger to the children. According to the Associated Press, “The management did not listen to or believe children when they complained of the activities of some of the men who had responsibility for their care,” the commission found. “At best, the abusers were moved, but nothing was done about the harm done to the child. At worst, the child was blamed and seen as corrupted by the sexual activity, and was punished severely.”
The report may not lead to prosecution of the perpetrators because in 2004, the Christian Brothers successfully sued to prevent them from being named. “Most leaders of religious orders have rejected the allegations as exaggerations and lies, and testified to the commission that any abuses were the responsibility of often long-dead individuals,” AP reported.
The Irish government has paid 12,000 abuse survivors an average of $90,000 each, a total of more than $1 billion, and another 2,000 claims are pending. But in 2001, Irish Catholic leaders cut a deal with the government that capped its contribution to the claims at $175 million—a fraction of the total cost.
Betrayal by Spirit
In The Betrayal Bond, author Patrick J. Carnes, Ph.D., specifically discusses how abuse by clergy affects victims. “It is generally agreed that the impact on survivors of sexual abuse by spiritual leaders is greater than survivors of other forms of power abuse,” he writes. “Since part of coping with trauma is spiritual, sexual abuse by a spiritual leader further complicates the recovery process.”
Why is this so? Carnes writes:
Every journey or recovery depends on the survivor coming to a point where all that person has gone through means something.
Betrayal by the spirit means that the person who betrays the victim also plays a critical role in the resources the victim has for defining meaning. The victim’s spiritual path is blocked. The fundamental question all victims have to answer for themselves is, ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ It is a far more troubling question when the cause of the problem is supposed to be the resource for the answer.
Close to home
For me, all of this scandal hits very close to home. My cousin was abused by a priest. His was one of the early cases—he got a settlement at least 15 years ago. I don’t know how much it was, and I don’t know exactly what happened. According to the terms of the settlement, he’s not allowed to talk about it.
But I do know this: My cousin’s life is a disaster. His marriage fell apart. He was never able to hold a steady job. He spent his settlement money buying drinks for friends in bars. He became addicted to heroin. He assaulted his elderly father. His brothers want nothing to do with him.
When my cousin and two other men first pursued their claims against the priest, his mother, my aunt, took the word of the church over the word of her son. She went to her grave believing that my cousin lied about the entire thing.
I wonder if my aunt could believe today’s news.