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Cote Has Supported Priests Accused Of Misconduct

Sep 28, 2002 | Nashua Telegraph A former Nashua priest who Bishop John B. McCormack said Friday admitted to a sexual relationship with a teenager has been a vocal supporter of other priests accused of sexual misconduct.

The Rev. Roland Cote was relocated from St. Louis de Gonzague to St. Patrick Church in Jaffrey effective June 26. He had served the city church for 14 years.

Two weeks after a list of New Hampshire priests accused of abuse was released in February, Cote asserted his own innocence.

"I . . . told (St. Louis de Gonzague parishioners) that we need to clearly keep in mind that it wasn’t all priests who did this. It wasn’t most or even many priests. That the majority of us are not guilty of this and that we’re hard-working, good, honest people that continue to love their children as much as they do and that in no way would we ever harm them."

Cote had been pastor at St. Louis since 1991, and before that served the church from 1982 to 1984.

A witness to McCormack’s deposition Friday in the case of the Rev. Paul Shanley said McCormack testified Cote admitted this spring to having the sexual relationship with a teenager in Newport about 15 years ago. Cote could not be reached for comment Friday.

Cote was shaped by a Franco-American upbringing in Manchester but came to call St. Louis home. He worshiped with parishioners who not only prayed in English or French, but since 1993, in Vietnamese, and since 1994, in Portuguese.

Over the years he watched the neighborhood change from the rectory at the corner of Chestnut and West Hollis streets, he explained in 1999.

"Every morning, when I’m brushing my teeth, I stand at the sink, look out the window and see the kids lined up for the bus," he said. When he first began taking notice, most of the children were white and a few were Hispanic. Then, for a time, there were fewer whites, more Hispanics, and a few blacks and a few Asians, he said. Later, most of the children were Hispanic.

He did his best to adapt, parishioners said, even learning some prayers in Vietnamese, encouraging events like an annual talent show and was described as a man who laughed and smiled easily.

A month after he prayed with his parishioners about February’s priest removals, Cote spoke with The Telegraph about the removal of the Rev. Ronald Corriveau from pastoral duty. Allegations had come to light that Corriveau sexually assaulted a minor sometime in the past 25 years. Corriveau served in 1985 at Gonzague and for several years before that at St. Christopher.

"In these cases, there are allegations that have come to light, and in many of the cases, the statute of limitations has run out and we’ll never know if they were true or not," Cote said in March. "So we’re left with all these allegations that are leading people to think these priests are guilty in a country where you’re innocent before proven guilty. It’s a real paradox and it’s sad."

On Feb. 15, the Diocese of Manchester released the names of 14 New Hampshire priests who allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct with minors between 1963 and 1987.

Later that month, Cote expressed solidarity with fellow priests accused of sexual misconduct.

"It’s really humiliating and a little demoralizing and discouraging," he said of the public attention on all the state’s priests after the list was released. "I have to say when we had a meeting with the bishop in Concord (shortly after the list was released) and I saw all the reporters and cameramen outside, it made me feel like a criminal. I have to admit I drove around the block a few times thinking I didn’t want to put myself through that. But in the end I felt I had to stand with my brother priests."

Cote said he felt accusing eyes. "It was like running a gauntlet. I felt like everyone was looking at us, probing to see how many others (priests accused of molesting children) were out there."

The names of more priests were released over the next few months.

Cote assured his parishioners then that most priests could be trusted.

"I briefly explained that this is a terrible thing and that we need to be compassionate, understanding of the terrible trauma that the victims have been through," Cote said in February.

He also defended the innocence of most priests. "I feel we needed to assure them that our church is a safe place for them and their children."

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