Claims against priest kept quiet

Fomer altar boy alleges abuse at Mother Seton

Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2005

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Photo provided by law firm of Jeff Anderson and Associates
The Rev. Aaron Joseph Cote with Brandon Rains following the youngster’s eighth-grade confirmation at Mother Seton Parish.

Parishioners at a Germantown Catholic church were not informed of sexual abuse allegations made against a former pastor two years ago because the Washington archdiocese did not want to interfere with a police investigation, according to a letter from Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick read at Sunday mass.

People attending mass at Mother Seton Parish showed little emotion after McCarrick’s letter regarding the allegations against the Rev. Aaron Joseph Cote was read. Cote, 54, is a former associate pastor and youth minister at the church.

The allegations came to light last week after a former altar boy, Brandon Rains, now 18, filed a lawsuit.

Rains accused Cote of repeatedly abusing him from June 1, 2001, to July 30, 2002, at locations in Germantown and Washington, D.C., according county police and the family.

Police said the allegations were reported to the department Aug. 14, 2003. Conflicting statements from police leave the status of the case unclear, but police confirmed no charges were filed.

Cote, a member of the Order of Dominican Fathers and Brothers, was assigned to Mother Seton from 1999 to 2002. After the allegations were made in 2003, the order sent Cote for psychological evaluation, conducted an investigation and cleared him of any wrongdoing, according to officials with both the local archdiocese and the Providence diocese, where Cote is currently assigned.

No officials in any of the affected jurisdictions are aware of any other allegations against Cote.

After the lawsuit was filed, Cote was placed on administrative leave from his posts as youth minister and associate pastor at St. Pius V Church in Providence, according to Dominican Order vicar provincial Father Raymond Daley.

Cote also served at St. Jane Frances de Chantel in Bethesda and at St. Dominic Church and Priory in Washington, D.C., while assigned to the local archdiocese.

The archdiocese and the Dominicans are also named as defendants in the lawsuit, which was filed in Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

Both were told by police that the case was closed in October 2003, two months after Rains came forward with his allegations, said archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Gibbs.

In a letter to county police that month, Dominicans confirmed their understanding from police that the allegations were unfounded and that the investigation had been closed, Gibbs said. The archdiocese also received a copy of that letter, she said.

This conflicts with a series of statements from police over the last week.

The most recent statement from police indicates the case is inactive but open, according to spokesman Officer Derek Baliles.

‘‘At the time the original complaint was made it was investigated, but no conclusion was made at the time,” Baliles said.

Police interviewed Rains and Cote, according to Rains’ stepfather, Joe McMarrow. In a phone interview Friday, he said, ‘‘During recent months we were back in touch with police. It’s clear that they don’t have enough evidence to do a criminal investigation.”

Rains’ parents, attorneys and members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests held a news conference last Wednesday announcing the lawsuit outside a Washington, D.C., hotel where the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was holding its annual meeting.

The lawsuit comes two months after the family said they learned that the archdiocese had not investigated the case and several days after the family canceled a meeting with Auxiliary Bishop Kevin Farrell of the Washington archdiocese.

Rains, who was not available for comment, was 14 and 15 years old at the time of the alleged abuse and living in Germantown with his stepfather and mother, Toni McMarrow. The couple has since relocated to Frederick, but the McMarrows continued to attend Mother Seton, where they were parishioners for nearly a decade, until last month. Rains is currently working in Alabama, repairing buildings damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Rains explained his lawsuit in a brief handwritten letter provided by his attorney. He wrote, ‘’I don’t want what happened to me that so greatly affected me to happen to other children.”

The alleged abuse occurred at a Germantown apartment and a Washington, D.C., hotel where Rains went on a retreat with Cote and other church youth, according to Joe McMarrow. Rains first told his parents about the abuse in 2003, about a year after it had ended, McMarrow said. Rains was in a treatment center in Florida when he disclosed the alleged abuse.

The archdiocese offered the family assistance and a meeting with the auxiliary bishop, Gibbs said.

When the allegations were made, the Dominicans removed Cote from public ministry and sent him for two months of psychological evaluation pending the outcome of the investigation, according to Gibbs.

Rains met with police in March 2004, but the archdiocese and Dominicans say that police informed them the case was closed without charges in October 2003.

Confusion remains as to the sequence of events leading up to last week’s court filing. The archdiocese maintains that it wasn’t informed that Rains met with police in March 2004.

His family said they believed that police, the church and the Dominicans were in contact with each other and that the family didn’t need to serve as a facilitator in the investigation.

‘‘After we went in for the interview [in 2004] we assumed police were giving them updates,” Toni McMarrow told The Gazette. ‘‘We haven’t had any follow-up calls from the police. ... I was just assuming this whole time they were investigating.”

A swift behavior change in her son caused the family to seek professional help for him.

‘‘I have huge concerns that this is not something out of the blue and it never happened before and it won’t happen again,” Rains’ mother said.

The Providence diocese was aware of the allegations against Cote but accepted the findings of the Dominican investigation before hiring him, said Providence diocese spokeswoman Karen Davis.

‘‘The Order of Dominicans supplied us with documents and a review board reviewed those documents and cleared him because the Dominicans cleared him,” she said.

Church officials said only one Mother Seton parishioner approached them following Sunday’s mass to discuss his feelings on the case, which has thrust this gleaming white church into the headlines again.

In June 2000, the parish’s pastor, Monsignor Thomas Wells, was stabbed to death in the rectory. His killer remains in prison.

Those with information about the Rains case or who have other concerns about Cote should call the Family Crimes Division at 240-773-5400.