(News-Post) The parents of a local man who said a Catholic priest abused him as a teen announced Thursday that the Rev. Aaron Joseph Cote’s Dominican order has agreed to a $1.2 million settlement in the case.
Brandon Rains, 20, a former altar boy at Mother Seton parish in Germantown, alleged in 2003 that Cote, an associate pastor there from 1997 to 1999 and 2000 to 2002, had molested him in 2001 and 2002 – when Rains was 14 and 15 years old.
Brother Ignatius Perkins, of the Dominican Fathers and Brothers Province of St. Joseph in New York City, acknowledged the settlement Thursday and said Cote, though still a priest, is no longer active in ministry.
Rains’ stepfather and mother, Joseph and Toni McMorrow, live in Urbana. With them at Thursday’s press conference in Washington were representatives of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national, self-help organization of victims of clergy sexual abuse.
“Brandon doesn’t want to be in the spotlight, but he feels exonerated outwardly that they’ve had to publicly admit what was done to him,” Joseph McMorrow said.
After Rains’ allegations, which the archdiocese termed credible, and despite previous questions about Cote’s behavior, the priest, now 56, served as associate pastor at St. Pius V Church in Providence, R.I.
He was put on administrative leave in November 2005, shortly after Rains’ lawsuit was filed.
During the discovery process of the lawsuit, it was learned that the Rev. Raymond Daley, vicar provincial of Cote’s Dominican order, knew of at least two allegations involving Cote in Ohio dating back to 1988.
Documents and letters found in Cote’s file with the Dominican order cite serious concerns about his drinking and attention toward underage males as early as 1985 when he was a seminary student.
In a letter dated May 13, 1988, to the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Columbus, the Rev. Joseph M. Hendricks, Daley thanked Hendricks for the sensitive manner in which complaints made about Cote by St. Joseph’s parishioners were handled.
In his deposition, Daley said the Ohio claims could not be substantiated because a teacher who wrote a letter claiming inappropriate sexual behavior refused to give the student’s name. He said without direct evidence, the order could not take any action.
Several members of St. Joseph’s questioned Cote’s behavior with boys in the late 1980s, including sleepovers at the parish, according to two parishioners.
A Jan. 29, 1991, letter to Cote’s superiors in Chimbote, Peru, where he served for several years, mentioned accusations and letters of concern from the community there. It raised questions about allowing young boys into the clergy’s private quarters.
“The civil action is what uncovered these papers that document that this man a long history of inappropriate sexual misconduct,” Joseph McMorrow said.
Rejected by the archdiocese
Rains’ suit also named the Archdiocese of Washington as a defendant, alleging that its negligence allowed Cote to harm Rains.
The archdiocese in 1990 turned down Cote’s request to leave his Dominican order and permanently join its clergy. The Rev. Msgr. R. Joseph Dooley, in a memorandum, cited provincial officials who described Cote as extremely unsettled and said he “had some bizarre behavior.”
The transfer request was unusual, according to Susan Gibbs, a spokesperson for the archdiocese.
Dooley wrote that perhaps Cote’s request, apparently supported by at least one provincial supervisor, was an attempt to “unload Father Cote on the Archdiocese.”
Gibbs said the archdiocese was not part of the financial settlement and admits no wrongdoing in allowing Cote to work in its parishes. Though Cote worked under the auspices of the archdiocese, he is employed by his Dominican order which ultimately decides where he serves.
“The Archdiocese of Washington had no knowledge of any prior wrongdoing by Fr. Cote, O.P. before accepting him for ministry and, in fact, had received written certification from the provincial superior of the Dominican Order that there was nothing in Fr. Cote’s background to preclude him from ministry in the Archdiocese,” the Washington archdiocese stated.
In addition to the Germantown parish, Cote served at two other archdiocese churches: St. Dominic Church and Priory in Washington and St. Jane Frances de Chantal Church in Bethesda, Gibbs said.
The archdiocese checked with the bishop of the Diocese of Springfield where Cote had served, before permitting him to be in ministry in Washington, Gibbs said. The Dominicans did not share their documentation of Cote’s troubling behavior with the archdiocese, she said.
Although the archdiocese is not part of the financial settlement, Jeff Anderson, an attorney for Rains, said, “They allowed him to serve here without looking at all the documentation in his files that was available – or chose not to look. And they failed to ask about his history at every parish. He had seven or eight different allegations at different parishes.”
Montgomery County police opened an investigation in 2003, but have not filed any criminal charges. The case remains open.
Uncovering the truth
McMorrow said his stepson got off to a great start at Northwest High School in Montgomery County, was an A and B student and “had goals and aspirations” before his behavior changed dramatically. Eventually, McMorrow said, he and his wife realized Rains had a substance abuse problem.
A year after successfully completing a rehabilitation program in Florida, Rains told his parents about the abuse. His stepfather said he’s doing well, but does not want reveal where he lives and works.
McMorrow said he believes the Archdiocese of Washington tried to discredit his stepson.
“I still consider myself a Catholic,” he said. “But I haven’t set foot in a church in two years.”
By Ron Cassie