Former Area Priest Arrested in Maryland

The Republican
July 3, 2008

SPRINGFIELD - A former Western Massachusetts priest who is being sued by a West Springfield mother for allegedly sexually abusing her two sons was arrested Tuesday night in Maryland on an unrelated charge of child abuse, officials said.

Rev. Aaron J. Cote, 57, was being held on $250,000 bail in the Montgomery County Detention Center in Rockville, Md., yesterday, according to officials with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office.

Cote surrendered himself to the sheriff's department Tuesday night and was booked on a single count of custodian child abuse.

He is due in court for a pre-trial hearing on Aug. 1, officials said.

Members of the group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), who have accused Cote of numerous instances of abuse going back 20 years, said they were pleased to learn Cote is in custody.

"Kids are safe because Cote is behind bars. We're happy," said St. Paul, Minn., lawyer Jeff Anderson.

"Finally, in this case, we're seeing justice," said SNAP president Barbara Blaine.

Cote, a 1970 Holyoke High School graduate, is a Dominican order priest who served on a visiting basis with parishes in South Hadley and Westfield during the 1990s.

He also served in Boston, Ohio, Maryland and Rhode Island.

His arrest stems from allegations made by a 20-year-old Maryland man who says Cote sexually molested him several times between 2001-2002 when he was an alter boy at Cote's parish in Germantown, Md.

The allegations were reported to police in 2003, and the boy and his family filed a lawsuit in 2005. The Dominican Province of St. Joseph, Cote's order, last year reached a $1.2 million settlement in the case in August.

In April, an unidentified West Springfield resident filed a lawsuit in Manhattan against Cote and his order, the Dominican Province of St. Joseph.

The suit, seeking unspecified damages, charges that Cote abused the woman's two sons when they were 5 and 2 years old, and that the order knew about Cote's past and did nothing about it.

New York lawyer Michael G. Dowd, representing the West Springfield family, called Cote's arrest "a major, major event" in the ongoing case.

"He seems to be in an appropriate place where he can't hurt anyone - in jail," Dowd said. "A lot of us think he should have been there before."

The suit is in the preliminary phase and is months away from going to trial.

Anderson said West Springfield police are also investigating to see if criminal charges are warranted.

Dowd said there have been allegations against Cote for several years, and the order hushed them up. If the order had at any point taken action, "the children I represent would not have been abused," he said.

A spokesman with the Dominican Province of St. Joseph in New York said they have been instructed by their lawyers not to comment.


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