BY MARY HUDETZ & RUSSELL CONTRERAS
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A fugitive priest who fled the U.S. decades ago amid allegations of child sex abuse has been returned to New Mexico to face charges after being arrested in Morocco last year, federal officials said Friday.
Arthur J. Perrault, 80, a former Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and a former Air Force chaplain, has been charged in a federal indictment with seven counts of aggravated sexual abuse and abusive sexual contact between 1991 and 1992 at Kirtland Air Force Base and Santa Fe National Cemetery.
Perrault, a one-time pastor at St. Bernadette parish in Albuquerque, is one of many priests who were sent to New Mexico in the 1960s from around the country for treatment involving pedophilia.
Victims, lawyers and church documents show the priests were later assigned to parishes and schools across New Mexico — especially in small Native American and Hispanic communities.
At a court appearance Friday, Perrault pleaded not guilty to all seven counts against him. His attorney couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
“The FBI and our partners were determined to make sure he faced justice — no matter how long it took and how far we had to go to get him,” said James Langenberg, FBI special agent in charge of the Albuquerque office.
Perrault vanished in 1992, just days before an attorney filed two lawsuits against the archdiocese alleging Perrault had sexually assaulted seven children at his parish.
The FBI said Perrault first fled to Canada and then to Tangier, Morocco, where he worked until last year at an English-language school for children.
The FBI did not provide further details on how he was located and arrested by Moroccan authorities.
Church records released last year by a New Mexico judge show Perrault is also accused in state lawsuits of sexually abusing at least 38 boys in other incidents.
The federal charges involve a boy who was younger than 12 at the time of the alleged abuse on the air base and at the cemetery — both federal jurisdictions.
“This is a great day for survivors of clergy abuse everywhere,” said Brad Hall, an attorney who has represented more than 100 victims of Catholic clergy abuse in New Mexico.
Records show Perrault was sent in 1965 to Servants of the Paraclete — a religious order that ran a treatment center for pedophile priests in Jemez Springs, New Mexico — after he was accused of molesting young men while serving in Connecticut.
A year later, he was recommended for a teaching post at St. Pius X High School in Albuquerque by a psychologist under contract with Servants of the Paraclete.
Langenberg said the FBI’s investigation began in 2016 and led to the indictment last year.
“There were some people who doubted Mr. Perrault would ever be back to New Mexico after being away for so long,” Langenberg said. “It was important to prove them wrong for one reason — the victim in this case.”