Archdiocese Says It Didn't Know

By Michael Brooks
The Sentinel

July 10,2008

The Rev. Aaron Joseph Cote, a Roman Catholic priest of the Dominican Fathers and Brothers who was arrested and charged with custodial child abuse last week, was released the same day he was arrested, according to the Montgomery County Records Department.

Cote, 56, turned himself into a police station in Rockville on July 2 after county police notified him they were obtaining a warrant for his arrest. Cote was being held on $250,000 bond. According to the Records Department, Cote was admitted to jail at approximately 3:40 a.m. and was released at 8:55 p.m. later the same day after the bond was posted. According to court records, Terrence McGann, Cote's Rockville attorney, posted bond.

Cote was working part-time as a youth minister at Mother of Seton parish in Germantown in 2001. Cote allegedly touched then-14-year-old Brandon Rains in an inappropriate sexual manner in an apartment in Germantown, police said.

In a letter read at every Mass at Mother of Seton Sunday, July 6, Archbishop of Washington Donald Wuerl said the Archdiocese of Washington, under which Cote served in 2001, "had no prior knowledge of any wrongdoing by Fr. Cote" and that it "received written certification from the Dominican Order that Fr. Cote was of good character and reputation and there was nothing in his background that would render him unsuitable to work with children."

According to Director of Communications Susan Gibbs, the Washington Archdiocese also received a second letter from the archdiocese Cote had worked at previously in Massachusetts. "They also gave a recommendation," Gibbs said. "They had no reason for him not to work here. So when he came here, it was with full background checks." The archdiocese only learned about previous allegations "a few years" after Cote had left," she said.

After Rains filed a civil suit against Cote in 2005 and the priest was suspended from his parish in Rhode Island, he was placed on administrative leave by the Dominicans. According to a Dominican order press release, the order "immediately places members on administrative leave when an established allegation of clergy sexual abuse is received, while an investigation is undertaken."

In his letter to Mother of Seton, Wuerl said "the archdiocese was found to be not liable of any wrongdoing and was released of any liability in the matter and thus was not part of the financial settlement paid by the Dominicans when the lawsuit was concluded in 2007." The Dominicans agreed to pay $1.2 million in 2007.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Aug. 1 at 10 a.m. McGann declined to comment on the specifics of the case, only saying, "We do expect him to be full exonerated."

Cartoon by Mark Cabot


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