Judge Finds Priest Guilty of Third-degree Sex Offense Involving Altar Boy

By Melissa A. Chadwick
The Gazette
July 13, 2009

Cote would be sentenced to probation under terms of plea agreement

A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge has found the Rev. Aaron Joseph Cote, former youth pastor at Mother Seton Parish in Germantown, guilty of a third-degree sex offense involving a teenage altar boy in 2001 and 2002.

Judge Louise G. Scrivener will sentence Cote in October.

The judge will consider a plea agreement, filed in Circuit Court last week, under which Cote, 57, has agreed to serve 10 years' probation. Also under the agreement, Cote, who was indicted on one count of third-degree sex abuse last year, pleaded not guilty to the charge and prosecutors laid out the case in a statement of facts to the judge. The plea agreement states that prosecutors and the defense agree to ask the judge to order Cote to "undergo a full sex offender evaluation" and complete counseling.

As part of the agreement, the defense attorney and prosecutors will not ask for jail time, and request that Cote serve five years supervised probation and five years unsupervised probation.

Cote was accused of abusing Brandon Rains, now 22, when he was 14 and 15 years old, from 2001 to 2002 in Germantown. Rains, who had been an altar boy, reported the abuse, which he said also occurred in Washington, D.C., in 2003. His family grew dissatisfied with the lack of police action and filed a lawsuit against Cote and the religious order to which he belonged in 2005.

Although The Gazette rarely names alleged victims of sex crimes, Rains and his family went public with the case. Rains' stepfather, Joe McMorrow, would not comment on the case Friday.

The lawsuit, which was filed in D.C. Superior Court, was settled for $1.2 million in August 2007. Montgomery County Police charged Cote with one count of sexual abuse in July 2008.

Documents filed in the lawsuit indicate that the Dominican Order of Fathers and Brothers had records from church officials and parents suspicious of Cote's relationship with children and possible abuse. Those reports date to the 1980s, when Cote was a pastor in Ohio.

Cote's attorney, Terrence McGann, had no immediate comment on the judge's ruling.

Cote also served at St. Jane Frances de Chantal Catholic Church in Bethesda in the late 1990s, prior to his Mother Seton assignment. He was an associate pastor and youth minister at Mother Seton from 1999 to 2002.

After Rains' allegations were made in 2003, the Dominican order sent Cote for psychological evaluation, conducted an investigation and cleared him of any wrongdoing, church officials have said.

Cote then was assigned a position as youth minister and associate pastor at a Providence, R.I., church. When Rains went public and filed the lawsuit, Cote was placed on administrative leave from the church, church officials have said.

In 2008, a Massachusetts couple filed a lawsuit against Cote and the Dominican Order alleging that he abused their two young sons. The attorney in that case, Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., said late Friday that the lawsuit is on hold while they "evaluate what is in the best interest of these children."


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