Former Pastor in Perry County Subject of Multiple Complaints

By Dennis M. Mahoney
Columbus Dispatch [Ohio]
November 25, 2006

Authorities are looking into an allegation that a Roman Catholic priest molested a teenage boy while serving at a Perry County church in the late 1980s.

The Rev. Aaron Cote, a Dominican priest who is on leave from ministry in Providence, R.I., was accused by a man of molesting him while Cote was pastor at Holy Trinity Church in Somerset from 1987 to 1989. For a year before that, Cote worked at St. Patrick Church in Downtown Columbus.

The allegation was reported to Cote's Dominican superiors in New York in summer 2005 by a teacher in Somerset, who said the former student recently had confided to her that Cote had molested him.

The Dominicans tried to keep the identity of the teacher secret. But a recent ruling in a Maryland lawsuit against Cote forced the religious order to reveal the name to police and lawyers.

Thus far, the man who made the Somerset allegation has been unwilling to talk about it with authorities.

Perry County Sheriff William Barker said yesterday that he could not comment on the allegation because it is being investigated. Prosecutor Joseph Flautt said he is aware of it.

There was no comment from the Columbus Catholic Diocese because its offices were closed yesterday. Religious-order priests are under the au- thority of the bishop where they are serving.

Dominican officials in New York did not return a telephone call yesterday seeking comment.

In Maryland, Cote has been sued by Brandon Rains, 19, who said the priest sexually abused him in 2001 and 2002 while Cote served at Mother Seton Parish in Germantown, Md. Rains now lives on the Gulf Coast.

Joe McMorrow, Rains' stepfather, said yesterday that his stepson revealed the abuse in 2003 and reported it to Montgomery County Police and the Washington Archdiocese.

But Cote never was charged because police did not have enough evidence, McMorrow said. The Dominicans considered Cote exonerated because he wasn't charged, McMorrow said, and transferred him to Providence, where he served as a youth pastor.

Last November, Rains sued Cote, the Dominicans and the Washington Archdiocese, and the order put Cote on administrative leave. McMorrow said a monetary settlement is part of what Rains is seeking.

"A bigger part of it is making sure this guy is removed from priestly ministry," he said.

McMorrow said he understands the reluctance of the man making the Somerset allegation to discuss his case.

"The last thing I want is to drag this person out if he's really not ready or willing to do that," McMorrow said. "But my hope is that he can get to the place where he can, because that's going to be good for everybody."

A call to Rains' attorney, Michael Finnegan, of St. Paul, Minn., was not returned yesterday.

Lt. Eric Burnett, spokesman for the Montgomery County Police, said yesterday that detectives have not closed their investigation of Cote. Detectives have talked to a person concerning the Somerset case, he said, but it was not the alleged victim.

Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said she thinks that the Columbus Diocese was not aware of the Somerset case until recently.

SNAP, as her group is known, sent a letter to Columbus Bishop Frederick Campbell this week, asking him to help the investigation by urging other possible victims to come forward.


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