A Roman Catholic priest was removed from his job at a Rhode Island parish after being accused yesterday in a D.C. Superior Court lawsuit of sexually abusing a Germantown teenager over several months in 2001 and 2002.
The Rev. Aaron Joseph Cote, 54, associate pastor at St. Pius V Church in Providence, was put on administrative leave, according to the vicar provincial of Cote's religious order, the Dominicans. "He'll be marking time until this is resolved," said the Rev. Raymond Daley.
Cote's removal from ministry came hours after the parents of the alleged victim, Brandon Rains, announced at a sidewalk news conference that their son, now 18, had filed a lawsuit against Cote.
The conference, which was arranged by the victims' advocacy group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, took place outside the downtown Washington hotel where U.S. bishops were holding their semiannual meeting.
The parents, Toni and Joseph McMorrow, who live in Frederick, said they had been appalled to discover that their son's alleged abuser was still in ministry with responsibility for youth ministry. "Our purpose is just to protect other kids," said Toni McMorrow.
"The bishops are not following their own policy," said Barbara Blaine, president of the advocacy group. "They promised . . . that if a priest is credibly accused, he will be removed from ministry, pending an investigation, and that did not happen here."
Rains, a former altar boy at Mother Seton parish in Germantown, where Cote was associate pastor in 2001 and 2002, alleges in his suit that the priest "engaged in unpermitted and harmful sexual conduct and contact" with Rains when he was 14 and 15 years old, causing him "severe and permanent emotional distress."
The suit also names the Washington archdiocese and the Dominican order as defendants, alleging that their negligence allowed Cote to harm Rains.
Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Washington archdiocese, said archdiocesan officials first became aware of Rains's allegations in August 2003. They informed Montgomery County police and its child protective services and offered help to Rains, who was in therapy at the time, she added.
The archdiocese also informed the Dominican order, which removed Cote from ministry and sent him to a treatment center for psychological evaluation. But in October 2003, "we were informed by Montgomery County authorities that the case was not moving forward," Gibbs said. "They had attempted to meet with Brandon, and that had not happened."
Toni McMorrow said that her son, then living in Florida, spoke with police on the phone in 2003 but did not have a personal interview with investigators until March 2004.
Lucille Baur, spokeswoman for Montgomery police, said she could not comment on whether police had interviewed Rains or provide other details of the investigation. She said the case "remains open, but the investigation was suspended pending further information. . . . Our detectives would welcome anyone who has any information regarding these crimes to contact [us]."
Cote also served in two other area churches: St. Dominic Church and Priory in the District and St. Jane Frances de Chantal Church in Bethesda.
At the news conference, Joe McMorrow acknowledged that "police said they didn't have enough evidence for a criminal prosecution."
Gibbs said the Dominican order informed Montgomery child protection officials and police that they were restoring Cote to active ministry in October 2003, after his psychological evaluation.
Two months ago, Joe McMorrow said, he contacted the archdiocese seeking information on what had happened to Cote. In 2003 "we were assured a thorough investigation would be undertaken, and then we heard nothing," he said.
The case illustrates how investigations of abuse can become more complicated when the alleged perpetrator belongs to a religious order. Under church regulations, it is the order, not the diocese, that has responsibility for disciplining its members, Gibbs said.
Cote did not reply to an e-mail seeking comment, and an official at St. Pius V Church referred a reporter to Daley, the Dominican vicar provincial.