Priest on the lam found in Morocco - Albuquerque Journal

Priest on the lam found in Morocco

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

After nearly a quarter of a century on the lam, a priest who helped ignite the clerical sex abuse crisis in New Mexico in the 1990s has turned up in Morocco, working at an English-language school for children, an Albuquerque attorney said.

Arthur Perrault, who vanished from his Albuquerque parish in 1992, was served last month with a civil lawsuit filed by a man who alleges he was sexually molested repeatedly by the former Archdiocese of Santa Fe priest.

Kenneth Wolter, holding a photo of himself and Arthur Perrault from the early 1990s, identified himself as a sexual abuse victim in November at a news conference in Albuquerque
Kenneth Wolter, holding a photo of himself and Arthur Perrault from the early 1990s, identified himself as a sexual abuse victim in November at a news conference in Albuquerque. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

“Getting (Perrault) away from children is priority No. 1 for me, especially if he is still surrounded by kids, because he will never change,” said Kenneth Wolter, 35, who filed the suit against Perrault in December.

Wolter was an altar server at St. Bernadette’s Church in Albuquerque in 1991 and 1992 when Perrault sexually abused him at the church and at Kirtland Air Force Base, where Perrault served as a chaplain, the lawsuit charges. Wolter was age 10 and 11 at the time of the abuse, which ended when Perrault fled New Mexico.

Wolter wants Perrault to return to New Mexico to face the civil charges against him.

“It’s good that he’s been located, but I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Wolter, who now lives in Detroit. “He’s a slippery individual.”

The last time parishioners at St. Bernadette’s saw Perrault was in September 1992, when their pastor, then 54, announced his resignation and sabbatical in Canada.

Perrault bought a ticket for a Sept. 29, 1992, flight for Vancouver, British Columbia, and appeared to vanish from the Earth.

Just 11 days later, Albuquerque attorney Bruce Pasternack filed two lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Santa Fe on behalf of seven people who said that Perrault had sexually abused them as children at St. Bernadette’s and other churches.

But it appears allegations against Perrault had surfaced decades earlier.

In 1966, Perrault was sent by the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn., to a now-closed facility in Jemez Springs operated by the Servants of the Paraclete, which received pedophile priests from around the nation, according to news reports and lawsuits.

He left Jemez Springs in 1967 and became a diocesan priest in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, serving posts at St. Pius X High School and several Albuquerque parishes.

Brad Hall of Albuquerque, Wolter’s attorney, said investigators working with an informant in Morocco learned that Perrault works at the American Language Center and English-language school in Tangier, where Perrault has lived off and on for 30 years.

A man who answered the phone at the American Language Center said Thursday  that Perrault is not an employee at the school.

A website for the school does not list an age range for students. Photos posted on the site show children and young adults of various ages.

An employee at the American Language Center received, and signed for, a FedEx package addressed to Perrault, Second Judicial District Court records show.

The package, which contained a copy of Wolter’s lawsuit and a legal summons, was received and signed by the school official on April 22, according to an attorney for Ancillary Legal Corp., an international process delivery firm.

A second FedEx package with similar documents addressed to Perrault’s apartment in Tangier could not be delivered, the firm wrote. A similar package was delivered by regular mail to Perrault’s address, it said.

A man who alleges he was abused by Perrault in the early 1970s said efforts to bring him to justice are long overdue.

“Serving him papers and bringing him to justice is what needs to happen,” said Mark Romero, who said he was an altar boy at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Albuquerque when Perrault abused him. Romero is represented by Hall but has not filed a lawsuit against the archdiocese. He also spoke publicly in January at a rally of clerical abuse survivors.

Arthur Perrault in 1989
Arthur Perrault in 1989. The Albuquerque priest fled New Mexico in 1992 just days before lawsuits accused him of abusing children. (Albuquerque Journal File)

“You have a man who has ruined the lives of children – some of them have taken their own lives – and he’s out in Morocco,” Romero said. “There’s something wrong with that.”

A woman who became a vocal critic of the archdiocese after her two sons were allegedly abused by Perrault in the late 1970s said she has seen him avoid justice for decades despite warnings to church leaders from parents and victims.

“It would be beneficial to many people if he had to come back to this country and face the music,” said Marlene Debrey-Nowak, who now lives in Hawaii. “But I suspect that’s not going to come about because he’s been very cagey about finding ways to avoid the matter.”

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

If Perrault fails to respond to the lawsuit, Hall said he plans to ask District Judge Denise Barela Shephard to find Perrault in default and to resolve the case in Wolter’s favor.

Wolter’s lawsuit names only Perrault as a defendant and seeks compensatory and punitive damages. An earlier lawsuit Wolter filed against the Archdiocese of Santa Fe was settled in December for undisclosed terms.

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