Monday, December 24, 2007

Sex, Drugs... and Catholic Education?

In a blistering presentment late last week, Philly DA Lynne Abraham -- whose 2005 grand jury report on clergy sex-abuse (and its cover-up) is still resonating in the pews and trenches here -- announced another grand jury's indictment, this time charging a (Brown) Franciscan who headed the city's largest archdiocesan high school with taking $900K from the school and his community...

...and, um, worse:
In presenting a grand jury's multi-count theft-and-forgery indictment against the Rev. Charles Newman, 57, Abraham said at least $53,000 in checks and cash went to the late Arthur Baselice, who in the 1990s attended Archbishop Ryan, Philadelphia's largest Roman Catholic high school.

Abraham said that many of the payments were made openly, in front of bookkeepers and other staff who became concerned and complained to administrators about the apparent impropriety.

Before his death of a drug overdose in 2006, which Abraham characterized as "suicide," Baselice filed an unsuccessful civil suit against the archdiocese, saying Newman "routinely performed oral sex" on him while plying him with drugs and alcohol.

Baselice's lawyer, Jay N. Abramowitch, said in court filings that the abuse caused his client's lifelong problems with cocaine, marijuana and alcohol.

It was not immediately clear whether Newman had retained a lawyer. A message left at the Wisconsin friary where prosecutors said he now lives was not immediately returned.

The archdiocese said yesterday in a statement: "The fraudulent use of funds was a betrayal. The greater tragedy was the sexual abuse of a minor which was discovered by the archdiocese during the financial audits."

Officials said Baselice made the sexual-assault allegations after the deadline for filing sex-abuse charges had passed.

Newman, a teacher and principal at the Northeast Philadelphia school for 22 years, became president of the school in July 2002 and was fired in November 2003 after a forensic audit revealed some of the alleged thefts.

At that time, said Abraham, Newman admitted he had made mistakes and was ordered by the church to undergo counseling and treatment for "sexual predatory conduct."

Pressuring students for sex and using drugs and alcohol to seduce them, Newman led them "from the office, then to the rectory, then to his bedroom," Abraham said.

Among the alleged financial improprieties, she said, were accusations that he exchanged the school's "two very expensive grand pianos" for inferior replacements and pocketed the cash difference.

A subsequent investigation by the district attorney revealed the thefts from the friary.

Abraham said she was convinced that Newman was "hopelessly lost in his relationship and guilt" and that Baselice was not blackmailing him.

"I don't believe it was extortion. If you're going to extort someone, you don't do it in front of a bookkeeper," she said.

Cases involving clergy sexual abuse are particularly thorny, Abraham said.

"Sexual involvement with a person of high regard is doubly difficult," Abraham said, "because you are essentially accusing someone who represents God's word on Earth."
The accused, however, has his defenders:
"The guy was a saint," McLaughlin said yesterday of Newman. "We went to him if we needed someone to talk to, and he was always there."...

[F]ormer students, saying they are "shocked" to hear of the charges, said the Franciscan friar was known to give money to poor students in need.

McLaughlin, who said he is the youngest of 10 brothers and sisters, said that Newman used money from the archdiocese to pay the entire tuition for him and his siblings one year.

For instance, the year McLaughlin started ninth grade, he said he had a brother and a sister in the 12th grade. He said Newman paid tuition for all three McLaughlin siblings that year.

"You're talking about a tuition of $10-, $11-, or $12,000 a year each back then," said McLaughlin, a truck driver.

"That's the kind of thing that Father Charles and the other friars would do for us," McLauglin said.

"He only gave money to people who needed it, people who needed lunch money, calculators or other things for school," McLaughlin said. "He'd toss me a $5 bill and say, 'Here, get some lunch.' "

Justin Kain, another man who identified himself as a former Ryan student, e-mailed the Daily News to say:

"You couldn't have been more wrong about this man! . . . IF he did take any money from the school, it was to help out students in need. . . . , " Kain wrote.

"I would consider him a modern day Robin Hood because IF he did take any money it was for the students who had sick parents dying from cancer or poor students who couldn't afford tuition. He NEVER used any money for personal fulfillment because he wore rags!!!!!"...

McLaughlin also said that he didn't believe that Newman had sexually molested Bacelice or anyone else because he and four brothers attended Ryan and Newman "never laid a hand on any of us."
Currently resident in the Midwest, the DA demanded Newman's return before Christmas.

So far, though, no sign of his wheels-down.