Maryland State Boychoir founder among redacted abusers in AG report on sex abuse in the Catholic Church

Baltimore Sun [Baltimore MD]

May 26, 2023

By Lee O. Sanderlin, Jean Marbella, and Maya Lora

The ethereal sounds of the Maryland State Boychoir have soared through spaces sacred and secular the world over, from the Vatican to the White House.

The late Gov. William Donald Schaefer once designated the organization as “Maryland’s Official Goodwill Ambassadors,” and more than 1,000 boys have passed through its ranks.

But for all the accolades it has gathered over the past several decades, the 130-member group began humbly, when Frank T. Cimino Jr. brought together 14 boys in his mother’s basement in 1987 to hone what he later called the “miracle” of their young voices.

But there was something left out of its origin story: That same year, Cimino, a Baltimore native and Peabody Conservatory graduate, had been fired from his job as minister of music at St. Thomas More Roman Catholic Church in Northeast Baltimore.

The reason: A man reported Cimino had sexually abused him when he was a choirboy at the church.

Cimino’s name is redacted, but he is No. 147 of the 156 people on the “List of Abusers” in the Maryland attorney general’s report on child sexual abuse in the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore. People familiar with an unredacted version of the report confirmed to The Baltimore Sun that Cimino is named in it.

He has not been criminally charged and denied the allegations to Catholic Church officials when he was fired in 1987, according to the report.

In addition to serving as president and director emeritus of the Boychoir, Cimino, 75, is currently the music minister at St. Matthew United Church of Christ in Northeast Baltimore’s Mayfield neighborhood.

Cimino did not return phone calls, text messages or an email seeking comment. A reporter visited his office and his home Thursday, but was told he was unavailable.

An attorney, F.J. Collins, called The Sun on Friday in response to contact information a reporter left a day earlier with a woman staffing the choir office. Collins declined to say if Cimino is his client, only that he represents someone whose name has been redacted from the attorney general’s report.

“There is a legal process in place,” Collins said, referring to an ongoing court battle over redactions. Collins called it “inappropriate,” “illegal” and “irresponsible” for The Sun to reveal the redacted names. Collins threatened to sue the publication for defamation on behalf of his unnamed client if The Sun published redacted names. In an email, Collins wrote “there is no evidence to support the allegations” against the people whose names were redacted in the public report.

The names of the 10 alleged abusers, including Cimino’s, are redacted in the version of the report issued April 5 to the public because they are living and had never been publicly identified. The attorney general’s office learned about their alleged crimes as part of its four-year investigation into child sexual abuse in the Catholic archdiocese. Much of the office’s 463-page report relies on the Catholic Church’s records, which the attorney general obtained using a grand jury subpoena.

A Baltimore judge is expected to hold a hearing in July on whether the attorney general can release those names, as well as those of five high-ranking clerics who helped cover up abuse, silence victims and protect priests from criminal prosecution.

Attorney General Anthony Brown has said that while his office is prohibited from releasing the 15 names without the court’s permission, the archdiocese can release them at any time. The archdiocese is not prohibited from publishing information in its files

The Catholic Church is paying legal costs for a group of people named in the report but who are not accused of abuse. Members of that group fought successfully to keep all proceedings around the report’s release secret. It’s not publicly known exactly who the group members are.

With Cimino being revealed, 14 of the report’s 15 redacted abusers and Catholic officials who helped to cover up abuse have been named, leaving the hearing largely moot. The Sun either originally identified or independently confirmed the 14 identities.

Abuser No. 149 has never been publicly identified and the report offers few distinguishing details. What’s known is this: She was a nun from 1943 to 1945, though the report does not say which order she belonged to. She was a teacher at a school during that period; the report does not name it.

She is accused of repeatedly orally raping one of her first grade students, a 6-year-old girl, in the coatroom at the back of the class “several times a week for the full school year” starting in 1944. Additionally, the report says the nun hit students “on their bare bottoms,” had them slap their own hands with rulers until they turned red and made them eat soap as punishments.

According to the report, the nun left her order in June 1945. Archdiocesan directories from the time do not list the names of every nun in the Catholic Church’s service.

The nun’s victim, whose accusation is recorded in the report, would be in her 80s today — she reported the abuse in July 2004. The nun would most likely be at least 100.

In several statements, Archbishop William Lori and other Catholic officials have said none of the 10 abusers whose names are redacted are in active Catholic ministry. While that’s technically true, Cimino remains in active ministry in another branch of Christianity, and has maintained access to boys whose parents didn’t know why he left St. Thomas More — all while the Archdiocese of Baltimore has kept what it knows secret.

The archdiocese declined to answer questions for this article, including whether church officials ever notified authorities about the allegations against Cimino. The report does not say.

The Rev. Eugene Bartell, the former pastor of St. Matthew’s, strongly defended Cimino, saying he could not reconcile the allegations with “the wonderful guy” he worked with starting in 2009.

“I can’t imagine him ever, ever, ever being guilty of these allegations,” said Bartell, who retired three years ago. “I know in my heart of hearts they’ve got to be false.”

Bartell said the church, which has shrunk over the years, no longer has a pastor, and he and several others preach there on a “Sunday by Sunday” basis.

The Sun’s revelation shocked supporters of the boychoir.

Leon Podles, coincidentally the author of a 2008 book, “Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church,” had with his wife donated $50,000 to the choir to help fund a 2001 European tour.

“Damn it,” Podles said when reached by phone Friday morning. “I was cautious about [the donation].” Podles said he was “always nervous” about the potential for sexual abuse in boychoirs, but that he did not have reason to believe Cimino had such a problem.

With the revelation about Cimino, Podles is now worried about the choir’s future.

”It’s an excellent institution and we’ve heard no complaints about [current director] Stephen Holmes,” he said.

Holmes, who sang in the choir himself as a boy, did not respond to multiple calls and messages seeking comment. Messages to the choir’s board of directors were not answered.

In 1975, according to the attorney general’s report, Cimino shared a hotel room with a boy during a choir tour and would often walk around naked after showering, Sometimes he would caress the boy’s back to wake him up, the report said. Other times, he would put his arm around the boy when they drove places. On one trip to Ocean City, Cimino convinced the boy to masturbate with him, the report said.

The incidents culminated in 1977 when Cimino told the boy he loved him, took his hand and placed it on the outside of his pants near the zipper. According to the report, Cimino had an erection and, with the boy’s hand pressed against his crotch, said “I love you this much.”

At the time, Cimino was the music minister at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in the Hamilton Hills neighborhood. The report says Cimino started work there in 1968.

Archdiocese officials became aware of Cimino’s behavior in 1987 when parents complained he was buying gifts for children. The victim from the ‘70s, who at that point was a seminarian, told a pastor about his experience. Catholic Church officials confronted Cimino, who denied doing anything wrong, according to the report. Catholic archdiocese officials told the victim that Cimino would never be allowed on church property ever again.

The same victim came forward with the allegation again in 2020, according to the report. It does not say to who the victim reported.

Cimino is not on the archdiocese’s public list of those credibly accused of sexual abuse, which only includes clergy.

Either as the minister of music at St. Thomas More or running the Maryland State Boychoir, Cimino has taught thousands of boys over the past 55 years.

The boychoir is comprised of boys between ages 7 and 20. They’re from either Baltimore City or one of nine Maryland counties and represent “a wide range of ethnic, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds,” according to its website.

Despite retiring from the organization, Cimino draws a yearly salary of about $41,000, according to its federal tax filings. Those filings list him as the president and state he works 40 hours a week.

In addition to his role as music minister at St. Matthew’s, he operates a private studio for the formal study of piano and organ, according to the choir’s website.

Cimino also began the Baltimore Boychoir Festival. An annual event, this year’s iteration was held May 19-20 at St. Matthew’s — which doubles as the Maryland State Boychoir’s headquarters. Cimino’s organization purchased the church in 2006.

“From the beginning, his mission has remained the same — to identify and offer talented boys the opportunity to sing; and through singing, encourage them to develop a sense of self-esteem and self-discipline,” reads Cimino’s biography on the choir’s website. “To his choristers, ‘Mr. Frank’ is a leader, teacher, and mentor.