Conviction ‘cathartic’ for family of victim

A former altar boy who was abused as a teen by a Roman Catholic priest in Germantown said Monday that he had the safety of other children in mind when he went public with his story.

“The first day I signed the paperwork for a lawsuit, we learned [the priest] was planning a youth retreat that weekend and we stopped that,” said Brandon Rains, 22, who lives in Florida. His motivation for the lawsuit in 2005, he said, was to keep the Rev. Aaron Joseph Cote from hurting more children. Police filed charges against Cote after the lawsuit was settled in 2007.

Judge Louise G. Scrivener found Cote, 57, a former youth pastor at Mother Seton Parish, guilty Monday of a third-degree sex offense involving Rains when he was 14 and 15 years old.

Scrivener will consider a plea agreement, filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court last week, under which Cote pleaded not guilty in court and did not object to a statement of facts presented by prosecutors. Cote agreed to complete counseling and serve 10 years’ probation, five of it supervised. Prosecutors will review a sex offender evaluation given by a private doctor and determine whether a state doctor will evaluate him. Cote will maintain his right to appeal.

If Scrivener accepts the terms, Cote would also register as a sex offender.

“While [Cote] was anxious to fight these allegations during trial, the agreement that we had that would allow him to completely avoid jail time and avoid any admission of wrongdoing is too good to pass up,” his attorney, Terrence McGann, said.

Scrivener will sentence Cote in October.

“We really wanted jail time,” said Rains’ stepfather Joe McMorrow after the hearing. “We’ve had time to understand the importance of what he has agreed to. ?This is vindication for Brandon. [Cote] was convicted today. ?This makes children more safe from him. He will be on the sex offender registry for the rest of his life.”

“It was a cathartic moment when I heard the judge say ?I find you guilty,'” McMorrow said.

Rains, who does not attend church but studies the Bible, lives in Florida and is engaged. He said after Monday’s hearing that Cote will “never see the punishment on earth. He’ll never see any consequences for what he’s done until he meets our Almighty.”

Cote abused Rains from 2001 to 2002 in Germantown, Assistant State’s Attorney Karla Smith said in court Monday. The abuse included sexual touching and watching pornography, she said. Cote bought Rains gifts, took him to dinner and gave him money for marijuana, she said.

The abuse, which the family says also occurred in Washington, D.C., was reported to police in 2003 while Rains was in substance abuse treatment. His family grew dissatisfied with the lack of police action and filed a lawsuit against Cote and the religious order to which he belonged in 2005.

Although The Gazette rarely names alleged victims of sex crimes, Rains and his family went public with the case.

The lawsuit, which was filed in D.C. Superior Court, was settled for $1.2 million in August 2007. The family has received the settlement.

Montgomery County Police charged Cote with one count of child abuse in July 2008.

Documents filed in the lawsuit indicate that the Dominican Order of Fathers and Brothers had records from church officials and parents suspicious of Cote’s relationship with children and possible abuse. Those reports date to the 1980s, when Cote was a pastor in Ohio. Smith said in court that a teacher in Ohio would have testified that Cote watched pornography with and molested a sixth-grader in the late 1980s.

Cote served at St. Jane Frances de Chantal Catholic Church in Bethesda in the late 1990s, prior to his Mother Seton assignment. He was an associate pastor and youth minister at Mother Seton from 1999 to 2002.

After Rains’ allegations were made in 2003, the Dominican order sent Cote for psychological evaluation, conducted an investigation and cleared him of any wrongdoing, church officials have said. Officials with the Dominican order did not return calls for comment Tuesday. McGann said Cote is still a member of the order.

Cote then was assigned a position as youth minister and associate pastor at a Providence, R.I., church. When Rains went public and filed the lawsuit, Cote was placed on administrative leave from the church, church officials have said.

In 2008, a Massachusetts couple filed a lawsuit against Cote and the Dominican Order alleging that he abused their two young sons. The attorney in that case, Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., who represented Rains in his lawsuit, said late Friday that the lawsuit is on hold while they “evaluate what is in the best interest of these children.”