Suit Prompts Diocese to Suspend Priest
The Rev. Aaron J. Cote, of St. Pius V Church, Faces Accusations That Allegedly Occurred in Maryland during 2001 and 2002
By Tom Mooney
Providence Journal [Providence RI]
November 17, 2005
PROVIDENCE -- The Providence diocese suspended a priest at St. Pius V Church yesterday after an 18-year-old Maryland man filed a civil lawsuit claiming the priest had sexually molested him.
Read the complaint filed against Rev. Aaron J. Cote (pdf)
The Rev. Aaron J. Cote, a member of the religious order of Dominicans, has served as youth minister and associate pastor at the Elmhurst Avenue church since 2003.
Earlier that year, Father Cote had worked in churches in Washington, D.C., and in Germantown, Md., until Dominican officials transferred him to Rhode Island.
At the time of his transfer, diocesan and Dominican officials said yesterday, they were aware of sexual allegations lodged against Father Cote.
But they said they believed officials from the Montgomery County Police Department and Maryland child-protective services officials had closed their investigations without bringing any criminal charges.
"We felt he had been cleared," said the Rev. Paul D. Theroux, a diocesan spokesman, "that there was no basis to the charges."
Indeed, "that investigation was closed without making an arrest," Officer Derek Baliles, spokesman for the Montgomery County Police Department, said yesterday afternoon, hours after members of a national group of survivors of priest sexual abuse announced the filing of the civil suit against Father Cote.
Said Baliles: "There is no active investigation at this time [against Father Cote]."
MARY GRANT of the group called SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) stood outside the diocese headquarters in Providence earlier in the day and accused church officials of incompetence and deceit.
"Instead of removing him [Cote] from ministry and warning others, they quietly sent him here to Rhode Island.
"It clearly reminds us that church officials have not changed," Grant said. "This priest is being harbored, aided and abetted and allowed to work here."
Grant -- who told reporters that the Maryland criminal investigation of Father Cote was still active -- carried copies of a lawsuit she said had been filed yesterday in the Superior Court in Washington, D.C.
Brandon Rains, 18, of Frederick, Md., had filed the suit against the order of Dominicans, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington and Father Cote.
The suit alleges that during 2001 and 2002, while Rains attended Mother Seton Church in Germantown, Md., and was involved in the parish's youth ministry, Father Cote "engaged in unpermitted and harmful sexual conduct" with Rains.
The suit claims the molestations occurred in Maryland and Washington, D.C., and that Rains reported the incidents to the police and to church officials in 2003.
The defendants, the suit claims, "ratified and endorsed Cote's conduct by taking no action in response to plaintiff's report by allowing defendant Cote to remain in a parish in Rhode Island in youth ministry until the day of this filing."
Grant said Rains, who did not attend the Providence news conference outside diocesan headquarters, had been "devastated" by what had happened to him.
"This boy is very, very hurt," she said. "All he wants to do is make sure no other child is harmed."
Grant said her group was demanding that Father Cote be suspended and that church officials from the various dioceses where Father Cote had worked, visit those parishes and ask any other alleged victims to come forward.
Father Cote could not be reached for comment yesterday.
A woman who answered the phone at St. Pius referred all media inquiries to the Rev. Raymond Daley, vicar provincial of the Dominican Fathers and Brothers in New York.
Father Daley said he would not comment until he has seen the civil suit.
Regarding the criminal investigation of Father Cote, "what we've been told," said Father Daley, "is the case was closed but that's all we know."
This civil suit "comes as a surprise to us."
Father Theroux, the spokesman for the Providence Diocese, said the civil suit was news as well to church leaders here.
He said Father Cote -- who had also undergone a criminal background check by the Rhode Island attorney general's office prior to his arrival at St. Pius -- was being removed from church duties until more is learned.
"We're certainly going to look into it," said Father Theroux.
"Clearly we are determined not to assign anyone with children" who may be facing such charges, he said.
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