Wednesday, April 9, 2008

New allegations against former Seton priest

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A former youth pastor at Mother Seton Parish in Germantown has been accused in a civil lawsuit of sexually abusing two young Massachusetts brothers between 2002 and 2005.

The Rev. Aaron Joseph Cote, 57, and the Catholic religious order to which he belongs reached a $1.2 million settlement in August with a former Mother Seton altar boy, now 21, who accused Cote of sexually abusing him from 2001 to 2002 at locations in Germantown and Washington, D.C.

The new lawsuit, filed Tuesday in New York State Supreme Court, New York County, alleges that Cote molested two preschool boys in Springfield, Mass., on several occasions. The lawsuit names Cote and the Order of Dominican Fathers and Brothers in New York City as defendants.

Cote could not be reached for comment Tuesday. A call to the Order of Dominicans in New York City was not returned.

The boys, who were ages 2 and 4 when the alleged abuse began, told their mother about the incidents in 2006, while the Germantown lawsuit was in court, said attorney Jeff Anderson who represented the alleged victim in the Germantown case and now represents the Massachusetts family.

The mother reported the alleged abuse to police and to the Dominicans, who offered counseling and did not inform her about the other claims against Cote, Anderson said Tuesday.

Cote was assigned to a parish in Springfield in the 1990s, Anderson said, and occasionally returned. The father of the Massachusetts boys was a member of Cote’s church youth group in the 1990s, Anderson said.

‘‘The father would allow him to visit him and spend time with the kids,” Anderson said.

Former Germantown resident Brandon Rains, now 21, filed his lawsuit against Cote in 2005. Cote was assigned as an associate pastor and youth minister at Mother Seton from 1999 to 2002.

‘‘I was just so upset, sickened really, to hear about it. It was my fear,” said Rains’ mother Toni McMorrow of the Massachusetts lawsuit. ‘‘Coming forward with Brandon, my hope was that this would stop. To find out that sure enough, in that time, after Brandon, he hurt two more children that we know of.”

Her son’s allegations of sexual abuse were reported to Montgomery County Police in 2003. No criminal charges were ever filed against Cote. There was no admission of wrongdoing in the settlement.

After the 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.

When Rains’ lawsuit was filed, Cote was placed on administrative leave from his post as youth minister and associate pastor at a Providence, R.I., church.

Cote also served at St. Jane Frances de Chantel Catholic Church in Bethesda in the late 1990s, prior to his Mother Seton assignment.