More sexual abuse allegations surface against former priest

By Ron Cassie News-Post Staff

Allegations that the Rev. Aaron Cote sexually abused two young Massachusetts boys, though reported to police more than a year ago, were never mentioned in a local lawsuit against the former Montgomery County priest’s religious order that was settled this summer.

The Dominican order agreed in July to pay $1.2 million to Brandon Rains, 20, after Rains’ 2003 allegation that Cote had molested him when Rains was a teenage altar boy at Mother Seton parish in Germantown.

Brother Ignatius Perkins, a spokesman for the Dominican Fathers and Brothers Province of St. Joseph, based in New York City, confirmed Friday that a Massachusetts family alleged in the spring of 2006 that Cote had abused their two young sons. The family also reported those allegations to local police at that time, Perkins said.

The Springfield, Mass., family were longtime friends of Cote who is from Massachusetts. They wish to remain anonymous to protect their sons, now four and six years old, according to Rains’ attorney Mike Finnegan.

For more than a year leading up to the conclusion of Rains’ suit, province officials did not disclose that more allegations had been made against Cote since 2005 when he was removed from his duties in Germantown and sent to St. Pius V Church in Providence.

Attorneys for the Dominican officials instructed them not to answer questions about anything that happened after the filing of Rains’ suit in November 2005, depositions from that case reveal.

Asked generally, not about the Rains case specifically, if such new allegations are typically shared with all concerned parties during the discovery process, Joanne Suder, an attorney involved with the Rains suit said, “absolutely.”

“I will say I’ve been under-impressed and often disappointed with the lack of candor of some religious institutions in providing information,” Suder said.

Suder, a Baltimore litigation attorney, said she expects a bill will again be considered in Maryland this year that seeks to open a 1- to 2-year window for all victims of childhood abuse to file civil claims. That window now closes after the victim turns 25 years old. Similar legislation passed this July in California and in Delaware.

Susan Gibb, a spokeswoman with the Archdiocese of Washington, said the Archdiocese was not alerted by the Dominican order of the new allegations and learned of them only recently through media reports. The archdiocese was a defendant in Rains’ suit, though not part of the settlement.

The new allegations were made public a week ago when Springfield media covered a press conference by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. According to the media reports, the Agawam Police Department and the Hamden County District Attorney’s office are investigating the case. Agawam police referred inquires to the D.A.’s office, where a spokeswoman would neither confirm nor deny an investigation involving Cote was under way.

No-man’s land

During Brandon Rains’ civil suit, his family and his attorneys kept Montgomery County police up to date about the case as new information came to light during the discovery process, Joe McMorrow, Rains’ stepfather said.

Joe and Toni McMorrow, Rains’ mother, live in Urbana. Rains does not want to reveal where he now lives or works, McMorrow said in August after the settlement was reached.

Finnegan, Rains’ lead attorney, said he has spoken to Montgomery County police within the last two or three weeks and believes the criminal case against Cote has been reopened. The Montgomery County Police Department and the District Attorney’s office would not comment.

Documents and letters found in Cote’s file with the Dominican order cite serious concerns about the priest’s drinking and attention toward underage males as early as 1985 when he was a seminary student. Complaints from priests and parishioners about inappropriate and illegal behavior followed him throughout his career from Ohio to Peru to the Archdiocese of Washington.

Cote has never been criminally charged with child abuse or child sexual abuse. He now lives at the home of the Dominican Fathers and Brothers Province of St. Joseph on E. 65th St. in New York City.

McMorrow said his wife Toni was recently contacted by the Springfield boys’ grandmother, who had learned about the previous accusations against Cote and Rains’ settlement after finding news about the lawsuit on the Internet.

McMorrow said he has spoken to parishioners in Providence, R.I., “who were up in arms” after learning of Cote’s problems only after the priest’s 2005 removal from active ministry.

“You make the assumption that there is interstate communication between the Montgomery County police department, Providence and the police in the Springfield area, but that family has been in no-man’s land for over a year and meanwhile A.J. (Aaron) Cote has been left to do whatever he wants,” McMorrow said.

The Dominicans knew about the accusations as well, but didn’t report them during the discovery phase of Rains’ civil case, he said.

“The long and short of it, is by coincidence, this Springfield family found us and the police are re-evaluating this.

“And I hope to God that this finally leads to someone stopping this man.”