Accused Priest Served in R.I.

By Edward Fitzpatrick
Providence Journal
August 24, 2007

Providence — A national group yesterday announced a $1.25-million settlement of a lawsuit that alleged a teenage boy was sexually molested in Maryland and Washington, D.C., by a Roman Catholic priest who was later transferred to Providence to be a youth minister at St. Pius V Church.

No one has alleged that the Rev. Aaron J. Cote molested anyone in Providence, but the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said Father Cote should never have been allowed to continue parish ministry, much less be placed in regular contact with youths.

"This is the type of behavior and actions that allowed the sexual abuse scandal to fester for decades," the group's president, Barbara Blaine, said during a news conference in the shadow of the Cathedral of SS. Peter & Paul, near diocesan headquarters.

"Our perpetrators were abusing people and church officials knew it and left them out there without warning parents," Blaine said. "That's why there were thousands and thousands of children abused, and what we see here is a continuation of that same old policy."

Brandon Rains, who is now 20, filed the suit in 2005 against the order of Dominicans, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington and Father Cote. The suit alleged that in 2001 and 2002 Father Cote "engaged in unpermitted and harmful sexual conduct" with Rains, who was 14 and 15 in that time frame and involved in the youth ministry at Mother Seton Church in Germantown, Md.

The suit says Rains reported the incidents to the police and church officials in 2003. But Father Cote was not charged criminally. In 2005, the police in Montgomery County, Md., said the case remained open but the investigation had been suspended pending further information.

In 2003, Dominican officials transferred Father Cote to St. Pius V Church, on Elmhurst Avenue. In 2005, the Providence Diocese suspended Father Cote when Rains filed the civil lawsuit in Washington, D.C.

With the settlement, no one admits wrongdoing, but Blaine said, "Paying over $1 million to a victim not only tells me he was abused and is suffering, it also tells me this abuse could have and should have been prevented if Dominican and church officials had done the right thing."

Blaine said Father Cote is now 56 and living at a Dominican priory in Manhattan, and Rains is working in construction on the Gulf Coast, helping to repair hurricane damage.

While Father Cote was never charged criminally, Blaine said bishops have vowed to act when there are "credible allegations" of sexual abuse by priests. And in this case, she said, Father Cote had been accused not only of molesting Rains but also of molesting a teenage boy in Somerset, Ohio, between 1986 and 1989 and of engaging in "inappropriate behavior" while a priest in Peru from 1989 to 1990. No criminal charges were filed in those instances, either, she said.

"The bishops say one thing and do another," Blaine said. "Where there is smoke there is fire. We have had three allegations against Father Cote and yet in spite of those he is still permitted to come here and work in Providence."

Blaine said she holds Providence's former bishop, Robert E. Mulvee, and its current bishop, Thomas J. Tobin, responsible, in addition to Dominican officials.

The Providence Diocese issued a statement yesterday, saying a Dominican official assigned Father Cote to St. Pius V in July 2003, and then-Bishop Mulvee approved that assignment "after he was assured by the provincial that he was 'unaware of anything in his [Father Cote's] background which would render him unsuitable to minister in the Diocese of Providence.' "

The Dominican provincial, the Rev. Dominic Izzo, also wrote to the diocese at the time about Father Cote's "good character and reputation" and assured Bishop Mulvee that an allegation against Father Cote had "been closed as unfounded." Also, the diocese said, a background check conducted by the Rhode Island attorney general's office revealed no criminal background for Father Cote.

"Upon hearing of an allegation in November of 2005, officials on behalf of the Bishop of Providence immediately contacted the Dominican Provincial instructing that [Father Cote] be removed from public ministry and recalled to the Dominican Provincial house in New York," the diocese stated. "Father Cote was dismissed from the diocese and returned to the provincial house in New York shortly thereafter."

The statement concluded by saying: "The diocese remains committed to the protection of children and young people as it has for many years."

The Dominican Fathers and Brothers, Province of St. Joseph, based in New York City, issued a written statement yesterday confirming that it had entered into a settlement with Rains "regarding his allegations of sexual abuse by one of our brothers."

"We are awaiting confirmation that this settlement has been accepted by the court and the suit has been dismissed with prejudice to the plaintiff," the statement said. "It is our sincere hope that this settlement will be a source of healing and reconciliation for all involved in these allegations."

The statement encouraged people with such allegations to contact Victims Assistance Coordinator Teresa Rodriguez at (518) 573-8254.

"We are deeply troubled when any allegation comes to us which causes suffering to anyone," the statement said. "The process of healing can be aided by reporting the allegation and receiving pastoral and/or clinical care."

The Dominican statement concluded by saying: "We will keep all who are involved in this terrible situation in our prayers."

Blaine said if any local parishioners have information about misconduct by Cote, "they should report that to the police, not to the church."



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