Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
A stooped Arthur J. Perrault shuffled into federal court with a cane Friday, handcuffs dangling from his wrist, a security belly chain around his waist. The bearded 80-year-old priest – on American soil for the first time in more than two decades – told a U.S. magistrate judge that he’d had a stroke three years ago, was deaf in one ear, had trouble walking and remembering.
That’s a far different picture than the one painted in newly filed court records of a younger Perrault who wore silk underwear, smoked a pipe and showered the altar boys he was grooming with gifts and meals.
Perrault lived two lives during the 20-some years he spent at some of Albuquerque’s largest Catholic parishes, state and federal records allege.
In his public life, he was beloved by many as a priest and teacher. In secret, federal prosecutors allege, Perrault was “a serial child molester who abused numerous victims,” according to a motion filed Friday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Mexico.
Perrault fled the U.S. in 1992 when “news of his horrific criminal conduct became public,” the motion states. Now he is in federal custody after his arrest last week on federal charges of aggravated sexual abuse of an 11-year-old in New Mexico.
Repeated molestations of the boy from 1991 to 1992 are alleged to have occurred on federal property while Perrault served as a military chaplain in Albuquerque, according to federal authorities.
Over the past two decades, Perrault taught students at a school in Morocco – which has no extradition treaty with the United States. The Moroccan government, however, expelled the priest and permitted the FBI to remove him from the country for prosecution.
At least 38 of Perrault’s alleged victims in New Mexico have come forward to recount how, in the words of one man, “his touching me changed my life.” The mother of one young man contends her son committed suicide after being abused by the priest.
Because of when and where the alleged abuses occurred, and the age of the victims when the abuse occurred, federal authorities were only able to bring criminal charges related to one alleged victim.
“There are probably some people who doubted Mr. Perrault would ever be brought back to New Mexico to face a judge after being away for so long,” James C. Langenberg, FBI special agent in charge, said Friday. “But it is important to prove them wrong for one reason – the victim in this case. The FBI is committed to seeking justice for victims anytime, anywhere.”
Langenberg said he wasn’t aware of similar sex abuse allegations from Perrault’s time teaching children in Tangier, Morocco.
Perrault, through his court-appointed attorney, pleaded not guilty to the federal charges, which carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. Magistrate Judge Karen Molzen ordered him held in federal custody pending a detention hearing on Tuesday.
Months and years of abuse
How the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office managed to bring federal charges against a fugitive accused of crimes that occurred more than 20 years ago is detailed in a motion to detain Perrault in federal custody pending trial.
With Perrault considered “AWOL” or having “absconded,” according to church records, the FBI launched its investigation in 2016 after receiving a tip.
The agency subsequently turned up information that Perrault allegedly sexually abused at least two other victims while serving as a chaplain on Kirtland Air Force Base. They specifically alleged that Perrault molested them on the base, including in his office at the base chapel and inside his car.
A common thread in the FBI’s corroborating evidence: alleged victims recalled Perrault’s pipe smoking and silk underwear.
“Although some victims report single acts of abuse, most describe ongoing abuse of several months or years,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office stated.
“There is also evidence in this case that Defendant admitted to sexually abusing one of these other victims. Indeed, investigators have obtained an apology letter to this victim’s parents blaming his conduct on a cancer diagnosis, which was not true.”
Perrault wrote the apology letter in 1971, some 20 years before he allegedly abused the 11-year-old named as the victim in the federal case.
More than two decades after Perrault vanished from his post as pastor of St. Bernadette Catholic Church in the Northeast Heights, more than 400 pages of internal archdiocese letters, memos and other documents in civil damages lawsuits were unsealed last year by state District Judge Alan Malott at the request of KOB-TV – over the objections of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
The documents show that church officials at the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn., in 1965 discovered Perrault’s “homosexual approaches to some of the young men with whom he was working.” He was ordained a priest just 18 months earlier.
Like other priests before and after, Perrault was sent to a now-closed treatment facility run by the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs. Back then, his transfer paperwork characterized him as having an “emotional disturbance.”
After three months of treatment, Perrault was deemed ready to return to work in New Mexico, with one therapist noting he suffered from having grown up as an “only child.”
He was appointed to teach religion at St. Pius High School, but by the mid-1960s, according to a timeline prepared by one Albuquerque law firm, records show Perrault abused “Victim #1 at the Archbishop’s house.”
Court records show several priests and the diocesan leaders were repeatedly alerted to Perrault’s conduct over the 26 years he lived and worked in Albuquerque.
One priest, told by parishioners at Annunciation Parish in 1980 that Perrault was abusing their children, “never reported this to the Archdiocese because he knew that nothing would be done.”
But by 1992, after two victims went to Albuquerque police, then-Archbishop Robert Sanchez suspended Perrault’s faculties with the Archdiocese of Santa Fe “due to allegations that presently exist.”
For years victims and their parents complained about Perrault, including one victim who contended he was first abused at age 10 as an altar boy at Queen of Heaven parish. Several years later, while on a retreat with Perrault and another priest as chaperones, the same boy reported “fondling and mutual oral sex took place,” according to one complaint investigated by the archdiocese.
Another boy was scared to come out of his room for three days after he complained about Perrault fondling him and touching him “in a sexual way.” Perrault found out, he contended in a court record, “and said he was going to make my life miserable for telling someone that he had molested me, and that no one would ever believe me, and that I better never tell anyone again.”
“He said he could make me the problem, not him, because he was a priest, and that all the priests know, and they all can do what they want.”
Yet another man provided an account, filed in court, of what occurred when he tried to report Perrault’s conduct.
“Recently, I went to confession for the first time in forever, specifically to tell the story of Fr. Art Perrault molesting me as a teenager in a dorm and me getting in trouble for reporting it. The current priest listened to the story, and then told me that it was I that should do penance, not the Church. I have not been back.”