Thursday, July 16, 2009

Father Aaron Joseph Cote Convicted of Sexual Abuse

The family of a victim of a former Somerset priest convicted of sexual abuse says they are grateful the priest will be on the national sex offender registry for life.

Father Aaron Joseph Cote, 57, of New York, was convicted of one count of custodian child abuse by a judge earlier this week in Maryland. Cote served in the Holy Trinity Church in Somerset in the late 1980s.

Cote entered a not guilty plea to the charge, but did not object to a statement of facts that was given by the prosecution and was found guilty of the charge by Judge Louis G. Scrivener.

Cote was indicted last year on the charge in Maryland after victim Brandon Rains, at the time of the abuse 14-years-old, accused Cote of molesting him on a regular basis. Cote was serving part-time as the youth minister at the Mother of Seton Parish in Germantown.

The abuse took place between 2001 and 2002, court records show.

"While no other victims from the Somerset area have stepped forward, we are grateful to two witnesses from that area who previously worked with Cote and who were willing to testify on behalf of the prosecution at Cote's trial if needed," said Michael Morrow, Rains' stepfather.

Morrow said Rains and the family was disappointed Cote would probably not spend any time in prison - court records show Cote and the prosecution have reached a plea agreement of 10 years on probation, five of those supervised. However, he said they are thrilled that Cote will have to spend the rest of his life as a registered sex offender.

"He'll never get to be around children again," Morrow said. "I hope this means that the church won't be able to reassign him anywhere near children, either."

In 2005, Rains, who now lives in Florida, filed a civil lawsuit against Cote and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and in 2007 was awarded a $1.2 million settlement, court records show.

Morrow said at that time that the main goal of his family was to protect children.

"This person has been concealed and protected by the church for so long," Morrow said at the time. "Now there are consequences and Brandon feels vindicated. The charges he brought were true and this man has been convicted."

Morrow also wants any other victims to know they are not alone and if they should ever need to step forward and talk, there are people waiting and who care.

Cote is expected to be sentenced in October.

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