The parents never saw the Catholic brother as a threat to their son.
They encouraged his relationship with their boy, allowing him to take the child to baseball games and on overnight trips. They hoped he would inspire the boy to pledge his life to the church, as the man had done.
One night, while the two were sleeping in the same bed, the family friend fondled the boy’s genitals, his sister later reported to authorities. The allegation appears on Page 443 of the Maryland attorney general’s report on child sexual abuse and cover-ups within the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The survivor himself described the abuse when contacted by the archdiocese in 2003, according to the report.
He felt responsible for what had happened, the report states, and for 10 years “guilt ate him alive.”
The report refers to the accused man only as “No. 153”; his name and the names of nine others accused of abuse are redacted under an order from the courts.
The Baltimore Banner has identified No. 153 as Ronald Nicholls, 74, of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, who taught social studies at the old Cardinal Gibbons High School in Southwest Baltimore in the 1970s. More recently, he served as a youth mentor and English language teacher at the Lutheran Church of Our Savior in Rehoboth, WRDE Coast TV reported.
Banner reporters matched details in the attorney general’s report to news articles, school yearbooks, property records and church directories to identify him.
Nicholls has not been charged with a crime. He is part of a cluster of eight men accused of child sexual abuse who taught at Cardinal Gibbons or lived in the school’s faculty residence in the 1970s. The archdiocese opened the all-boys school in 1962 and closed it in 2010 after years of declining enrollment.
Reached by phone, Nicholls was asked if he knew the attorney general’s report included one allegation against him.
“This is a personal issue. I’m not going to discuss that. Thanks,” Nicholls told a reporter before hanging up.
Four days later, an attorney sent an email to notify The Banner that Nicholls “reserves his right to pursue any and all defamation lawsuits if you or your company publish any article identifying his name.” The Banner asked the attorney four times if Nicholls denies being No. 153 in the report. The attorney did not respond to phone messages or emails.
Nicholls is the sixth man accused of abuse whose name was redacted from the report that The Banner has unmasked.
The other church figures include the Revs. Joseph G. Fiorentino, No. 148; John Peter Krzyzanski, No. 151; Samuel Lupico, No. 152; and Joseph O’Meara, No. 155. The Banner also identified No. 156 as Michael V. Scriber, who attended a seminary and intended to join the clergy, according to the report, but who dropped out for academic reasons.
Spokespersons for the attorney general’s office and the archdiocese declined to comment for this article.
Also redacted are the names of five church officials who handled allegations of abuse. “Official C” has been identified as as W. Francis Malooly, the retired bishop of the Diocese of Wilmington. That identification was made last month by Terry McKiernan, the founder of BishopAccountability.org, a Massachusetts nonprofit that collects documents related to clergy sexual abuse cases. The Baltimore Sun identified four additional redacted church officials and late Wednesday named the Rev. Thomas J. Hudson of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Western Maryland as alleged abuser No. 150.
Nicholls first came to the attention of the archdiocese in 2003 when the woman reported that he sexually abused her brother, the report states. The document describes the boy as 10 to 12 years old and does not specify the year the alleged abuse took place. His sister decided to speak up after Nicholls contacted her on social media in an attempt to reach him.
“She felt he did so because of the large volume of sexual assault allegations coming to light at the time and was worried about liability for his own abuse,” investigators wrote in the report.
The church reported the allegation to the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office and the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, an archdiocesan spokesperson said without specifying that No. 153 was Nicholls. The church also notified the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, writing that the “allegation appears to be credible,” according to the report. That’s because Nicholls had moved to Philadelphia by that time. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia did not respond to messages.
The sister said that she was told by the state’s attorney’s office that prosecutors will not do anything “because of the age of the victim,” according to the report. He was an adult when she reported the allegation. The office today could not find records of the allegation or any investigation. Legal experts say the act as described in the report would have been a misdemeanor at the time and subject to the misdemeanor statute of limitations, typically one year. Prosecutors are bound by the law as it existed when the abuse happened.
Nicholls is not the only former Cardinal Gibbons teacher accused of abuse. By 1969, three people who were later accused of child sexual abuse were teaching there, and a fourth lived in the school’s faculty residence, according to the report and a database maintained by BishopAccountability.org.
One of the men was accused of soliciting sex from and fondling several teenage boys who attended Mount St. Joseph High School, where he worked in the 1980s after leaving Cardinal Gibbons. Another alleged abuser who taught religion at Cardinal Gibbons was accused of repeatedly molesting twin brothers while serving as pastor of a Connecticut church.
The third person, the Rev. Kenneth Farabaugh, worked at Cardinal Gibbons for more than a decade and overlapped with Nicholls.
Years later, Farabaugh drove his car into a tree and was killed shortly before he was scheduled to speak with police about an allegation that he sexually assaulted a John Carroll High School student. Before his death, Farabaugh denied the allegation, but the archdiocese “questioned his credibility,” according to the report.
The other men accused of child sexual abuse who were associated with Cardinal Gibbons in the 1970s include the Rev. Robert Lentz, the Rev. John J. Sheehan and Brother Bob A. Lindemann, who was the high school’s assistant media director the same academic year Nicholls joined the staff.
The Banner identified No. 153 as Nicholls by matching details in the report to descriptions of Nicholls’ background and work history in a 2016 article from Camp Rehoboth Inc., a nonprofit community service organization dedicated to supporting the beach town’s gay and lesbian visitors.
The report describes No. 153 as a member of the Marianist religious order who left the group and was released from his final vows in 1980. Nicholls, the article states, left the Marianists in 1980 because he felt “too constrained by the order,” which requires members to pledge vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience.
The article’s description of Nicholls’ work as a teacher at Cardinal Gibbons in the mid-to-late 1970s matches the assignment history for No. 153. Yearbooks from that time show that Nicholls worked at the school as a social studies teacher for six years, starting in the 1975 school year.
Nicholls and Brother Matthew Betz both left the Cardinal Gibbons staff after the 1980 school year, as No. 153 did. But Betz was never released from his Marianist vows. He remained an active member of the religious order until his death in 1982, according to an obituary. He also joined the Cardinal Gibbons staff more than a decade before No. 153′s first known assignment in Baltimore.
Property records further connect Nicholls to the Marianists and to the report’s description of No. 153. Nicholls previously lived on Beechwood Avenue in Baltimore at an address listed in the Official Catholic Directory as a residence for Marianist brothers. Nicholls later moved to Philadelphia, according to property records and the Camp Rehoboth Inc. article. The report states that No. 153 also lived in Philadelphia.
The article goes on to describe Nicholls’ various jobs in New Jersey and Philadelphia after leaving Cardinal Gibbons. He taught elementary grades at a parochial school, drove a laundry truck and worked in catering as well as briefly for the Internal Revenue Service.
Nicholls’ name does not appear on the archdiocese’s list of credibly accused priests and brothers, nor does it appear on a similar list maintained by the Marianists.
Asked by the author of the Camp Rehoboth Inc. article what he wants as his legacy, Nicholls said he wants to be remembered well for the things he’s done.
“Especially, by the kids I taught and mentored,” he added. “I want to be regarded as having been a good influence.”