Priest sentenced to 10 years probation for sex offense

Frederick News Post, Maryland/November 24, 2009

Rockville - A Roman Catholic priest was sentenced Monday in Montgomery County Circuit Court to 10 years probation for sexually abusing an altar boy at a Germantown church more than seven years ago.

In July, the Rev. Aaron "A.J." Cote pleaded not guilty and was convicted of third-degree sex offense after Judge Louise G. Scrivener heard an agreed upon statement of facts. Employed at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer in New York City, Cote must register as a sex offender and undergo court-ordered evaluation and treatment.

The 10-year suspended sentence and probation was part of a plea deal reached by prosecutors.

The sentencing comes two years after Cote's New-York-based Dominican order agreed to a $1.2 million settlement in a civil lawsuit related to the charges of child sexual abuse.

As part of his evaluation and treatment, Cote, who continues to deny the sex offense charge, will be required to undergo plethysmograph testing and polygraph examinations regarding specific sexual activity and his sexual history.

Assistant State's Attorney Karla N. Smith, told Scrivener that because Cote was denying wrongdoing, he is "more likely to re-offend."

Cote was not allowed to make a statement at the sentencing. He looked away impassively when the victim and his family read their victim impact statements.

As part of his probation agreement, Cote is not allowed to minister publicly and may not have unsupervised contact with minors. He is not allowed to work with minors and has agreed to close supervision by his Dominican order.

As early as 1985, when Cote was a seminary student, his file with the Dominican order contained letters and documents citing worries about his drinking and attention toward underage males. The information was part of discovery during the civil lawsuit brought by former Mother Seton Parish altar boy Brandon Rains, now 22. That evidence eventually led Montgomery County to pursue criminal charges.

Other allegations of Cote's inappropriate behavior and sexual misconduct with boys were raised in the late 1980s with the Archdiocese of Columbus and in the early 1990s in Chimbote, Peru, where he had served.

In 2007, four years after Rains' allegations were first made against Cote, new allegations over the sexual abuse of two young boys were made in the Diocese of Springfield, Mass.

Rains spent three years in a Florida residential drug treatment program, said he was lost and angry for a long time after coming to the realization that Cote, whom he had considered a friend, groomed him for abuse. Today, Rains runs a small business in Florida and is engaged to be married in February.

Rains said Cote's sentence was not entirely satisfactory given his alleged history of abuse.

"After 20 years of what he's done, I think it's light," said Rains, who expressed strong dissatisfaction with Catholic hierarchy's handling of Cote, his case and sexual abuse issues regarding clergy. "It's also hard to believe he's going to be supervised that closely."

Toni McMorrow, Rains' mother, and his stepfather, Joe McMorrow, said the abuse their son suffered, subsequent knowledge of Cote's history and dealing with the Catholic Church left their faith in shambles.

"All I can think about when I see a priest is whether he is a sexual predator or is covering up for one," Joe McMorrow said in his statement.

McMorrow, formerly of Urbana but living in Florida with Rains' mother, told the court he'd spent more than $50,000 for professional help in the aftermath of the abuse for his stepson and other members of the family.

Toni McMorrow told the court of sleepless and anxiety-filled nights following her son's abuse and subsequent behavior issues.

Before Cote's abuse she described her son, then a 14-year-old freshman at Northwest High School, as a good student who enjoyed church youth group activities and dreamed of entering the Air Force.

Afterward, she described him as depressed and self-medicating with drugs. She said he began running away from home and quit going to school.

In emotional testimony, his mother said she did not have the opportunity to see her son finish high school with his friends, attend prom or graduation.

"Those wonderful, important life experiences were just a few among so many that were lost in the fallout, due to Aaron Cote's criminal, injurious conduct."

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