Fugitive priest sentenced to 30 years in New Mexico sexual abuse case

PBS/September 13, 2019

Santa Fe, New Mexico — A former Roman Catholic priest who fled the country decades ago was sentenced Friday in New Mexico to 30 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of sexually abusing an altar boy at a veterans’ cemetery and military base.

In ordering the sentence, U.S. District Judge Martha Vazquez said it was the worst case of child sex abuse she has handled over the course of 26 years. At one point, the judge demanded that 81-year-old Arthur Perrault look men in the eyes as they testified about being abused by him.

She condemned Perrault for only being concerned about his sexual needs.

“You chose as a profession the life of being a priest. It was supposed to be your job to help, not destroy,” she said.

Prosecutors had requested the maximum sentence of more than three decades in prison for Perrault, once a pastor at an Albuquerque parish and a chaplain at Kirtland Air Force Base.

He was convicted in April of six counts of aggravated sexual abuse and one count of abusive sexual contact with a minor under 12.

He had pleaded not guilty after he was returned to the U.S. from Morocco in 2017. His defense team plans to file an appeal.

The abuse counts stem from the treatment of one boy at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque and at Santa Fe National Cemetery. The two sites are within federal jurisdiction, which authorities say allowed them to file charges with no statute of limitations.

Authorities said their decades-long pursuit of Perrault led them to Morocco — a country that does not have an extradition treaty with the United States — and showed how far they were willing to go to seek justice.

Perrault is among more than 70 clergy members identified by the Santa Fe Archdiocese as credibly accused of abusing children in New Mexico.

The archdiocese is in bankruptcy proceedings as a result of the abuse scandal.

Perrault first arrived in New Mexico in the 1960s after church officials in Connecticut sent him to a center that treated priests accused of abuse. Located in the Jemez Mountains north of Albuquerque, the facility was operated by the Servants of the Paraclete religious order.

At Perrault’s trial, several men testified that he abused them as children in his car, a church rectory and other locations.

Prosecutors wrote in a recent court filing that they tried Perrault on a “small fraction” of his crimes, saying he had many more victims.

The victim at the center of the prosecutors’ case said Perrault took him on excursions to amusement parks and to the military base in Albuquerque and had touched him inappropriately as many as 100 times starting when he was 10.

The abuse ended in 1992, the year Perrault left the state. An attorney had been preparing two lawsuits at the time against the Archdiocese of Santa Fe alleging Perrault had sexually assaulted seven children.

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