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  Home :: 2007 September :: UNSETTLING
Urbana family settles priest abuse case for $1.2 million
The parents of a local man who said a Catholic priest abused him as ateen announced Thursday that the Rev. Aaron Joseph Cote's Dominicanorder has agreed to a $1.2 million settlement in the case.

BrandonRains, 20, a former altar boy at Mother Seton parish in Germantown,alleged in 2003 that Cote, an associate pastor there from 1997 to 1999and 2000 to 2002, had molested him in 2001 and 2002 — when Rains was 14and 15 years old.

Brother Ignatius Perkins, of the DominicanFathers and Brothers Province of St. Joseph in New York City,acknowledged the settlement Thursday and said Cote, though still apriest, is no longer active in ministry.

Rains' stepfather andmother, Joseph and Toni McMorrow, live in Urbana. With them atThursday's press conference in Washington were representatives of SNAP,the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national, self-helporganization of victims of clergy sexual abuse.

"Brandon doesn'twant to be in the spotlight, but he feels exonerated outwardly thatthey've had to publicly admit what was done to him," Joseph McMorrowsaid.

After Rains' allegations, which the archdiocese termedcredible, and despite previous questions about Cote's behavior, thepriest, now 56, served as associate pastor at St. Pius V Church inProvidence, R.I.

He was put on administrative leave in November 2005, shortly after Rains' lawsuit was filed.

Duringthe discovery process of the lawsuit, it was learned that the Rev.Raymond Daley, vicar provincial of Cote's Dominican order, knew of atleast two allegations involving Cote in Ohio dating back to 1988.

Documentsand letters found in Cote's file with the Dominican order cite seriousconcerns about his drinking and attention toward underage males asearly as 1985 when he was a seminary student.

In a letter datedMay 13, 1988, to the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Columbus, theRev. Joseph M. Hendricks, Daley thanked Hendricks for the sensitivemanner in which complaints made about Cote by St. Joseph's parishionerswere handled.

In his deposition, Daley said the Ohio claims couldnot be substantiated because a teacher who wrote a letter claiminginappropriate sexual behavior refused to give the student's name. Hesaid without direct evidence, the order could not take any action.

Severalmembers of St. Joseph's questioned Cote's behavior with boys in thelate 1980s, including sleepovers at the parish, according to twoparishioners.

A Jan. 29, 1991, letter to Cote's superiors inChimbote, Peru, where he served for several years, mentionedaccusations and letters of concern from the community there. It raisedquestions about allowing young boys into the clergy's private quarters.

"Thecivil action is what uncovered these papers that document that this mana long history of inappropriate sexual misconduct," Joseph McMorrowsaid.

Rejected by the archdiocese

Rains' suit also named the Archdiocese of Washington as a defendant, alleging that its negligence allowed Cote to harm Rains.

Thearchdiocese in 1990 turned down Cote's request to leave his Dominicanorder and permanently join its clergy. The Rev. Msgr. R. Joseph Dooley,in a memorandum, cited provincial officials who described Cote asextremely unsettled and said he "had some bizarre behavior."

The transfer request was unusual, according to Susan Gibbs, a spokesperson for the archdiocese.

Dooleywrote that perhaps Cote's request, apparently supported by at least oneprovincial supervisor, was an attempt to "unload Father Cote on theArchdiocese."

Gibbs said the archdiocese was not part of thefinancial settlement and admits no wrongdoing in allowing Cote to workin its parishes. Though Cote worked under the auspices of thearchdiocese, he is employed by his Dominican order which ultimatelydecides where he serves.

"The Archdiocese of Washington had noknowledge of any prior wrongdoing by Fr. Cote, O.P. before acceptinghim for ministry and, in fact, had received written certification fromthe provincial superior of the Dominican Order that there was nothingin Fr. Cote's background to preclude him from ministry in theArchdiocese," the Washington archdiocese stated.

In addition tothe Germantown parish, Cote served at two other archdiocese churches:St. Dominic Church and Priory in Washington and St. Jane Frances deChantal Church in Bethesda, Gibbs said.

The archdiocese checkedwith the bishop of the Diocese of Springfield where Cote had served,before permitting him to be in ministry in Washington, Gibbs said. TheDominicans did not share their documentation of Cote's troublingbehavior with the archdiocese, she said.

Although the archdioceseis not part of the financial settlement, Jeff Anderson, an attorney forRains, said, "They allowed him to serve here without looking at all thedocumentation in his files that was available — or chose not to look.And they failed to ask about his history at every parish. He had sevenor eight different allegations at different parishes."

Montgomery County police opened an investigation in 2003, but have not filed any criminal charges. The case remains open.

Uncovering the truth

McMorrowsaid his stepson got off to a great start at Northwest High School inMontgomery County, was an A and B student and "had goals andaspirations" before his behavior changed dramatically. Eventually,McMorrow said, he and his wife realized Rains had a substance abuseproblem.

A year after successfully completing a rehabilitationprogram in Florida, Rains told his parents about the abuse. Hisstepfather said he's doing well, but does not want reveal where helives and works.

McMorrow said he believes the Archdiocese of Washington tried to discredit his stepson.

"I still consider myself a Catholic," he said. "But I haven't set foot in a church in two years."


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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia