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Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
For more than two decades, parents, victims, nuns and others reported alleged sexual assaults or raised other red flags about Fr. Arthur Perrault to Catholic priests and diocesan officials, including two archbishops. None of those warnings, according to court records, stopped him from preying on children here until he vanished from Albuquerque in 1992.
When Fr. Arthur Perrault ushered the altar boy into his bedroom at Our Lady of Guadalupe rectory and locked the door, the 13-year-old feared what would happen next. Years later, he remembered the cleaning lady knocking at the door three times. The Catholic priest warning him to keep quiet. And how the unwanted fondling of his “privates” resumed when she went away.
Perrault had to stop so he could perform a wedding at the church, but asked the seventh-grader to come back afterward to watch TV or see a movie.
“At that point in time, I was scared to death. I wanted to run out,” the former altar boy said in a deposition, portions of which were unsealed last year by an Albuquerque district judge.
Leaving the rectory, the boy made his escape. He rushed through the church out into the December morning while Perrault stood at a window watching. The priest knew where he lived, so the boy jumped into a muddy, icy drainage ditch where he couldn’t be seen from the street as he ran for home.
A mile or so later, he climbed back to the pavement only to see a greenish-blue compact car with Perrault behind the wheel headed toward him. Perrault pulled up and said, “I’m sorry. Come on.” The boy yelled an obscenity and turned away.
“I was so upset, and I didn’t think I could keep away from him,” the former altar boy testified. “I knew he wasn’t going to leave.”
He realized that a kid from school lived just five houses away. Once there, he banged on the door.
“I remember being muddy and his mom standing there when I burst in the door,” he said. “I was crying and screaming, and I told her that I needed to call my mom, that there was a priest chasing me. And I know it probably sounded screwy to her.”
Hours later, his father told him, “I want you to sit down, write out what happened, and I’m going to go to the archbishop, and we’re going to make sure that he doesn’t do this any more.”
The former altar boy, who gave the account in a deposition in the early 1990s, is known as Victim #17 in redacted state court records.
But despite the boy’s letter to then-Archbishop James Peter Davis in December 1971 and the parents’ intervention, Perrault went on to sexually assault at least 21 more children over the next two decades, according to allegations in court records.
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe announced last year that 74 Catholic priests, deacons and religious leaders in New Mexico have been accused of sexual abuse of children, noting that the vast majority of the abuses occurred more than 25 years ago.
Lawyers for his accusers say Perrault stands out because of how long he got away with the alleged criminal activity, and how many warnings the Archdiocese had about his conduct before he fled the state in the fall of 1992.
The Archdiocese says that, these days, it has a “zero tolerance” policy when priests abuse children.
But from 1966 to 1992, there were nearly 20 instances in which parents, victims, nuns and others reported Perrault’s sexual assaults or raised other red flags to priests, diocesan officials and former Archbishop Davis and his successor, Archbishop Robert F. Sanchez, court records show.
At a deposition in 1994, Sanchez testified that he knew of only one complaint about Perrault.
Perrault, now 80, faces federal aggravated sexual assault charges involving an unidentified altar boy allegedly molested at Kirtland Air Force Base and Santa Fe National Cemetery. The alleged repeated molestations occurred during 1991-92 – some 20 years after Victim #17’s parents thought Perrault’s behavior had been stopped.
Perrault has been in federal custody since his arrest last month by the FBI, which sent agents to Morocco to retrieve him for prosecution in New Mexico. Perrault taught English to children at a Tangier school for 23 years. He was detained and ultimately expelled by Moroccan authorities once they learned of his federal indictment, which was only unsealed to the public after his arrest.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Martha Vázquez is set to hear an appeal by Perrault’s attorney of a detention order keeping Perrault in custody pending trial. U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Molzen on Sept. 25 found Perrault was a flight risk, chiefly because he earlier fled to Morocco, which has no extradition treaty.
Molzen rejected the option of a halfway house for Perrault, noting that he was charming and manipulative.
Perrault’s attorney has said the criminal charges date back nearly 30 years and said that, in a trial, the case will come down to whether jurors believe the victim or Perrault. Perrault has pleaded not guilty. If convicted of the most serious charges, he could face life in prison.
Officials at the Archdiocese declined to discuss Perrault’s case because of the “active investigation.”
Beyond the courtroom, the past has come to haunt Victim #17, who testified during his deposition of “having dreams of me being a little boy at night and Father Perrault … doing stuff.” He would wake up sweating.
“Most of the people I represent are in their 40s and 50s and 60s, and are looking back at childhood events,” said Brad D. Hall, an Albuquerque attorney whose firm has filed more than 100 clerical abuse cases in New Mexico since 2011. “Therapy helps, but many of them have suffered for 30 or 40 years. That’s a life sentence for many of them.”
Robert F. Sanchez served as archbishop from 1974 until he stepped down in 1993 after a scandal involving his relations with at least five young women, according to court records. He died in 2012 of complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
Court records and interviews show that his approach to dealing with Perrault and other priests accused of abusing children was to send them to therapy.
For instance, in 1981, after two nuns reported assaults of children by Perrault and a mother notified the archbishop that her son committed suicide after being abused by him, Sanchez sent Perrault for a psychological evaluation.
“In 1981, I did not understand that (child sexual assault) to be a crime. I considered it to be a moral infraction of his (the priest’s) own life and it was an offense against a child,” he said during the 1994 deposition.
“Why was Perrault allowed to go on so many years doing this, Archbishop? Sexually molesting children,” one of the victims’ attorneys asked.
Sanchez replied, “… It appeared to me that with proper counseling of this man, proper therapy and support, that he could work effectively. There was no indication to the contrary.”
Sanchez testified that if Perrault’s therapist “indicated to me that Father Perrault constituted a continual danger to children, that I would have not allowed him to function in that way.”
Perrault abruptly left his post as pastor of St. Bernadette parish in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights as allegations against him became public.
But earlier in 1992, Sanchez testified that he didn’t consider Perrault “a potential danger to anyone … because of his presence with his therapist, the continuing therapy that he was receiving, evaluation he was received, the fact that there had been no allegations for several years and years, the fact that the people of St. Bernadette, meeting with them repeatedly, had nothing but affirmative things to say about him. ….”
How did he know there were no complaints? Sanchez replied, “because I had not received them. I could not be accountable for things that I was unaware of.”
Paraclete and therapy
Court documents chronicle Perrault’s pattern of alleged child sexual assaults amid stints of psychoanalysis. For instance: In 1965, the archbishop of Hartford, Conn., sent a 28-year-old Perrault to New Mexico for treatment at the now-closed Via Coeli center, run by the Servants of the Paraclete, in Jemez Springs. He began therapy in early 1966, because, according to his therapist notes, of his “homosexual approaches to some of the young men with whom he was working.”
Nearly all of his alleged victims were boys, some as young as 9.
After his release to Albuquerque in early 1966, which led to a teaching assignment at St. Pius X High School, Perrault allegedly abused nine children by the decade’s end. The first victim was assaulted at the archbishop’s house in the mid-1960s; others at St. Pius and at Queen of Heaven parish. The first complaint came in 1968, when a victim reported the abuse to the director of the University of Albuquerque’s Upward Bound program and was later chastised and threatened by Perrault. The University of Albuquerque closed in 1986.
By the early 1970s, Perrault was seeing a therapist, but during that same time period, he allegedly sexually assaulted eight more children while assigned to the high school, and later, at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish. Archdiocesan priests, including then-Father Robert Sanchez, confirmed to high school board members that the rumors that Perrault was a “practicing homosexual” were true.
Then-Archbishop Davis told board members he placed Perrault under psychiatric care, and Perrault was eventually transferred to Our Lady of Guadalupe parish.
Months later, in December 1971, Perrault allegedly sexually assaulted Victim #17, who contacted an attorney after Perrault left the state in 1992.
According to Victim #17’s deposition, he cried and argued when his father demanded they go back that December day and confront Perrault about the assault. The priest told them he was “sorry that he had touched me.”
While his father continued to talk with Perrault, the boy was sent outside, where he met another priest from the parish who told him, “You need to forgive and forget and pray.” The victim said the priest told him that Perrault was “just trying to express love for me.”
“I remember he tried to put his arm around me, and that’s the last thing I wanted him to do, and so I shrugged away, and I told him to leave me alone.”
After his father told him to write a letter to the archbishop, “That’s the last day my parents and I basically spoke about this incident. They just told me that they would handle things with the Archbishop, and we didn’t ever go back to that church again.”
“The only other thing they (his parents) communicated to me was they talked to the Archbishop and they were taking him (Perrault) out of the church and he wouldn’t bother anyone again.”
Perrault wrote a letter to the family apologizing, explaining he was lonely and had lung cancer, which federal prosecutors say wasn’t true.
“I just fell apart and reached out to the first person,” Perrault wrote.
In 1992, Victim #17’s mother contacted her son after the abuse allegations surfaced publicly.
“You’re not going to believe it,” she told her son. “But he’s been back in the church, and not only has he been back in the church, but he’s the head of this big church called St. Bernadette’s.”
During Perrault’s 10 years at that parish, six more children were sexually abused, court records allege.