By MORGAN LEE and MARY HUDETZ, Associated Press
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A U.S. jury found a former Roman Catholic priest who was captured in Morocco guilty Wednesday of sexually abusing an altar boy at a veterans’ cemetery and Air Force base in New Mexico in the early 1990s.
The jury reached the verdict against 81-year-old Arthur Perrault following a trial in Santa Fe in which several men testified that they had been abused by him as children in his car, a church rectory and other locations.
The victim at the center of the case said Perrault took him on excursions to amusement parks and 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 same year Perrault vanished from the state as an attorney prepared to file two lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Santa Fe alleging Perrault had sexually assaulted seven children.
“He fled to escape justice because he knew he was guilty,” federal prosecutor Sean Sullivan said.
Authorities believe Perrault had numerous victims in New Mexico. However, the federal charges against him stemmed only from the treatment of the one boy at Santa Fe National Cemetery and Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, where Perrault had been a chaplain.
Perrault’s attorney Sam Winder said the former priest maintained his innocence and planned to appeal the conviction.
The verdict came as the Roman Catholic church faces mounting pressure to do more to address the decades-long clergy abuse scandal.
In New Mexico, dozens of victims have won more than $50 million in settlements from the Santa Fe Archdiocese, which has filed for bankruptcy protection as a result of lawsuits.
In 2016, Perrault was among more than 70 clergy members on a list released by the Santa Fe Archdiocese identifying those who had been credibly accused of abusing children in New Mexico.
He first arrived in the state in the 1960s after church officials in Connecticut sent him to a center that treated priests accused of abuse located in the secluded Jemez Mountains north of Albuquerque.
The facility was operated by the religious order Servants of the Paraclete.
Federal authorities said their decades-long pursuit of Perrault showed how far they were willing to go to bring him to justice.
He was arrested in 2017 in Tangier, Morocco, where authorities say he had been teaching at an English language school for children.
The African country has no extradition treaty with the United States but expelled Perrault after his arrest, allowing the U.S. to bring him back to New Mexico to face charges of aggravated sexual abuse and abusive sexual contact.
The cemetery and military base where the abuse occurred are within federal jurisdiction, and the charges carry no statute of limitations.
“Despite the passage of many years, and Arthur Perrault’s efforts to evade justice and deny his victims their day in court, he has at long last been held accountable for his crimes,” U.S. Attorney John Anderson said in a statement.
The jury returned the verdict several hours after beginning deliberations. Some people who were present when the verdict was read broke down in tears.
Perrault was expressionless as he left the courtroom with the aid of a walker.
Elaine Montoya, 59, of Albuquerque had travelled to Santa Fe to learn the verdict. She said she had been sexually abused by Perrault, starting when she was 14 and grew frustrated with the church’s lack of response over the years.
“It’s a precedent and it’s saying to people that we are no longer going to tolerate abuse by Roman Catholic priests here in New Mexico,” Montoya said of the verdict.
She did not testify in the criminal case.
A sentencing hearing for Perrault has not been scheduled.