|Details of Cote
Sexual Relationships Released
By Annmarie Timmins
A judge released details of Father Roland Cote's admitted sexual encounters with at least three young men yesterday, rejecting Cote's argument that the airing would hurt his ability to remain a priest when he returns from sick leave.
Yesterday's release revealed new information that church leaders knew more about Cote's sexual past with young men, which included his payments for sex, than officials let on this fall.
"Simply because the documents the State intends to release contain additional details about the allegations does not create irreparable harm," Judge Kathleen McGuire ruled.
Cote is still a priest with the Diocese of Manchester and could be reassigned to parish ministry after he returns from sick leave, said Pat McGee, church spokesman, yesterday. Cote made headlines in September after his Jaffrey parish learned that Bishop John McCormack had assigned him there knowing Cote had paid an 18-year-old man for sex.
The man came forward last year, and the diocese questioned his claim that he was only 16 at the time - young enough to warrant criminal charges. When law enforcement couldn't prove the man had been underage, McCormack defended the reassignment, saying Cote had not committed child abuse.
McCormack soon after put Cote on sick leave and apologized for not being more honest with parishioners about Cote's past. But it was clear in Cote's file yesterday that the diocese knew even more about Cote's past than McCormack admitted to hiding this fall.
According to a letter in Cote's file written by Auxiliary Bishop Francis Christian, church leaders believed as early as 1990 that Cote had "some problems with homosexuality." And the file contains Cote's admission last year to investigators that he had had "a couple" of other sexual encounters in addition to the one McCormack did eventually disclose to parishioners.
Cote's file was to be among the 9,000 pages of church files made public by the attorney general's office Monday as part of its agreement with the Diocese of Manchester to drop criminal charges in exchange for the release of abusive priests' files and an improved abuse reporting policy.
A lawyer representing Cote filed a last-minute request Monday to block the release to protect Cote's reputation.
The file McGuire made public yesterday does not elaborate on two of the three liaisons Cote admitted to.
The bulk of the file pertains to Cote's five- to six-year sexual relationship with the man who came forward with allegations last year. He met Cote in the 1980s when he was hitchhiking and Cote picked him up. The man said Cote paid him repeatedly for sex. He thought he was 15 or 16 at the time, but he could not remember dates precisely enough to overcome the diocese's insistence that he was not underage.
Church officials initially told state investigators last year that they would remove Cote for the sexual relationship. They decided instead to reassign him after the male signed a settlement with the church that said he was 18 - the age of consent - when he was with Cote.
McGee would not disclose the amount of the settlement yesterday but confirmed that it included a reference to the man being of age.
McGee declined to say why Cote is on sick leave and whether he is being treated. He also declined to say under what circumstances Cote could be reassigned to parish ministry.
When McCormack apologized to parishioners this summer for assigning Cote, he said his mistake was not telling the parish of Cote's past.
When asked whether future parishioners would be notified of Cote's past, McGee said he could not speculate.
"If the bishop decides to assign Cote somewhere, we'll address it at that time," McGee said.
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