Suit: Sex, Drugs, Hush Money
The sensational charges - sharply different and more current than those in other recent sexual abuse cases involving local Catholic priests - are contained in a suit filed yesterday by Arthur Baselice III, of Mantua, N.J.
Baselice, who turns 26 in two weeks, said he was molested by Newman and plied with cocaine, marijuana and alcohol throughout his years at Ryan, from 1994 to '96. He is now in the Caron Foundation, for substance-abuse rehab, near Reading, Pa.
"I thought it was wrong. I'm not sure. I was a kid. I trusted this man," Baselice said at a news conference yesterday.
The son of a former city police detective was joined by his parents and sister. The parents said they had trusted Newman and had thought he was trying to help their son kick his alcohol and drug dependency.
Instead, Baselice alleges in the suit, Newman pulled him from class, required him to visit daily at the priest's residence at the St. Pius X Friary, then had him commit sexual acts while he was drunk or high.
Lawyer Jay Abramowitch said that in addition to sporadic payments during the 1990s, Newman wrote checks of $10,800 and $32,000 to Baselice from Ryan scholarship and tuition accounts less than two years ago.
The priest, he said, was engaged in "duplicity beyond belief."
The suit alleges the provincial of Newman's religious order - the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor, based in Wisconsin - offered Baselice $50,000 more last month to sign a release that would absolve the order and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia of all future claims.
Baselice, says Abramowitch, refused to sign and contacted him instead.
Abramowitch, who has filed 18 suits on behalf of alleged victims against church authorities on abuse complaints, said the molesting included masturbation, oral sex and having the youth urinate on the priest.
The physical molesting by Newman ended in 1996, the lawyer said, but the cover-up and payments continued. The money, he said, was designed to feed addictions and buy silence.
He said the archdiocese is responsible for Newman's conduct because it runs the school and took a lead in arranging the young man's rehab treatment.
More than two dozen suits have been filed this year alleging sexual abuse of minors by Philadelphia priests.
Almost all involve incidents from the 1960s into the '80s, apparently beyond the reach of prosecution under the statute of limitations, and don't involve allegations of payoffs and hush money.
Since April 2002 a Philadelphia grand jury has been probing possible criminal culpability by priests and church officials.
Newman resigned abruptly last November as the archdiocese announced it was auditing Ryan's books because of financial irregularities.
In a statement yesterday, the archdiocese said it learned of abuse allegations a month later and "acted decisively and swiftly to report its findings" to the Philadelphia district attorney's office.
"There has been total cooperation with the D.A.'s office from Day 1," said spokeswoman Catherine L. Rossi. "It's a sign that our program and our policies [for reporting and combating priest sexual abuse] are working."
The audit, she said, is completed but "under internal review."
Newman's whereabouts could not be determined. The Rev. Thomas Luczak, the Franciscans' provincial, said Newman "was removed from active ministry" as soon as the order learned of allegations against him.
Luczak's statement said it was "impossible to comment on any specific allegations" because the order had not reviewed them yet.
Luczak is named as a defendant for allegedly offering $50,000 to Baselice late last month. Also named are the Franciscan order, the archdiocese, and cardinals Anthony Bevilacqua and Justin Rigali.
Rossi said if any such money were offered by Luczak, he was "not acting with prior knowledge or approval of the archdiocese."
Newman is not named as a defendant, Abramowitch said, because "we want to depose him under oath."
Ryan is the largest of 22 high schools in the archdiocesan system, with 2,554 students. Today's last day of school for freshmen was canceled late yesterday by the archdiocese - other classes had already completed the academic year.
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