SNAP Members Hold Conference in Front of Pastoral Offices; Seek Publicity about Dominican Priest Who Served in Diocese
By Rebecca Drake
November 15, 2007
SPRINGFIELD – Members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) organized a late morning press conference Nov. 7 in front of the pastoral offices of the Springfield Diocese on Elliot Street, here.
The group sought to bring attention to Dominican Father Aaron Joseph Cote, a native of the Springfield Diocese, who ministered as a parochial vicar in the Springfield Diocese, from 1991-1995. Although not currently allowed to present himself as a priest, Father Cote had a history of reported inappropriate behavior with young boys both before and after his time in the local diocese.
Speaking to reporters from local newspapers, television and radio stations, SNAP President Barbara Blaine began by identifying herself as a clergy sex abuse victim, having been abused by a priest in Toledo, Ohio, when she was a youngster. Holding a photo of herself as a child, she noted that she started SNAP in 1988 as a self-help group for clergy abuse victims.
Blaine then spoke at length about Father Cote, who was suspended from active priestly ministry in 2003 due to allegations of abusing minors in the Providence, R.I., Diocese. According to Blaine's statement, SNAP this week learned of recent allegations of abuse involving two young boys in the Springfield area.
Noting that Father Cote still has family in the Springfield Diocese, Blaine said, "There is an active police investigation going on (in the Springfield area)" regarding abuse that has occurred in the last one to two years. When asked to identify the specific local police department conducting the present investigation, Blaine said that she was not familiar with the towns in western Massachusetts.
Following up on sources that Agawam police were investigating abuse claims, iobserve contacted the detective bureau at the Agawam Police Department. The iobserve reporter was referred to the office of District Attorney William Bennett in Springfield, which, in turn, referred iobserve to the Massachusetts State Police. A representative there stated that the state police office "would not confirm or deny that there is an ongoing investigation of a priest."
Blaine said that SNAP members are concerned that Father Cote is not being monitored by his religious community, and that the group came to the diocesan offices "to call on (Springfield) Bishop (Timothy A.) McDonnell to encourage anyone with any information (about Father Cote) to report it to law enforcement."
At the conclusion of the press conference, Blaine and the other SNAP members then entered the Bishop Maguire Pastoral Center, intending to hand deliver a letter to Bishop McDonnell. The letter was accepted by Patricia Finn McManamy, diocesan director of counseling, prevention and victim services, on behalf of the bishop, who was out of town.
The letter, copies of which were distributed to the media during the press conference, presented two requests to Bishop McDonnell regarding the abuse allegations against Father Cote.
"We ask that you launch a campaign to reach out to anyone who might have been hurt by this priest in your diocese. We ask that you use the resources of the diocese, including the Web site, parish bulletins and the diocesan newspaper. Please tell parishioners, employees and former employees that it is their civic and Christian duty to report any knowledge or suspicions to the police," the letter stated.
Secondly, "We also ask that you put pressure on the Dominicans to get Cote off the streets and into a secure treatment facility so he can get help and so that kids can be safer," the letter said.
Names appearing at the end of the letter included Blaine, David Clohessy, SNAP national director, and Barbara Dorris, SNAP outreach.
In a statement issued shortly after the Nov. 7 press event, Mark E. Dupont, spokesman for the Springfield Diocese, said, "With regard to today's press event held outside the diocesan offices by SNAP it is important to note that no allegations, including the ones discussed today, have ever been brought to the attention of the Diocese of Springfield.
"Father Aaron Joseph Cote, though a native of western Massachusetts, was ordained as a Dominican Order priest, and not as a priest of our diocese. He did serve for approximately four years in the diocese in the early 1990s. At no time then or afterwards were any allegations or complaints brought forward."
In his statement, Dupont also noted that in late 2005 when press accounts detailed serious allegations elsewhere involving Cote, the pastor of the parish in Westfield where he had served in the 1990s did run a notification in the parish bulletin of the allegations and encouraged any parishioners with concerns to come forward.
Also, on Dec. 2, 2005 the diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Observer, ran an article on the allegations against Cote and mentioned his ministry in the Springfield Diocese. "Again no complaints came forward," Dupont said in his statement.
"We concur with SNAP's goal to encourage victims of abuse to come forward and would likewise encourage SNAP to become better informed on the many steps which have been taken in this diocese – many demands they made today which we have already been doing," said Dupont. "Anyone with a concern or allegation can call our toll free number at 800-842-9055."
(Editor's note: For more on the abuse claims against Father Cote and the Springfield Diocese's ongoing efforts to address the problem of clergy sexual abuse, see the Nov. 16 issue of The Catholic Observer.)
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