A Connecticut man who has confessed to sexually abusing several homeless boys in Haiti is claiming in his plea for leniency that a relationship he had with a priest while in college more than 20 years ago is linked to his pedophilia, according to a document filed by his attorneys.

Douglas Perlitz, 40, pleaded guilty in August to travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct, and he admitted to engaging in sexual acts with eight children as part of a plea deal. He could receive from eight to nearly 20 years in prison on Dec. 21 when he is sentenced by U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton.

In an effort to get Perlitz a lesser sentence, his attorneys, David Grudberg and William Dow III, claim his relationship with an unidentified priest when he was a student at Fairfield University in Connecticut -- coupled with his sexual identity issues, the sudden death of his father and his struggles with alcoholism -- acted as "complex forces that led him to stray from his normally sound moral footing." 

That claim is made in a 32-page memorandum in aid of sentencing brief obtained by FoxNews.com.

"[Perlitz] freely acknowledges that he is responsible and answerable for his misconduct, but that fact does not make his current circumstance any less tragic," the document reads. "In imposing sentence, the Court is called upon to balance the duty and obligation to punish the defendant for his actions with the need to fashion a punishment that properly takes into account all the good Doug Perlitz has done throughout his life, as well as the complex forces that led him to stray from his normally sound moral footing."

In 1997, while he lived in Connecticut, Perlitz founded the Project Pierre Toussaint (PPT) School for homeless children in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. Four years later, the school had evolved into a 10-acre walled village where more than 200 children could eat, live and attend school, according to the brief.

"Dozens, if not hundreds, of youths who had entered the program 'drugged out' and homeless evolved into respectful, productive students with the help of PPT," the document reads. "With the growth of the program, however, came additional pressures, and additional forces that, coupled with the many other stresses of everyday life in Haiti, took their toll on Doug Perlitz."

Those factors, the document claims, ultimately led Perlitz to "cross the line," along with stress and the "never-ending responsibility" of his job at the school, his struggles with homosexuality, a lack of intimacy and his prior physical and spiritual relationship with a priest at Fairfield, a Jesuit institution.

"In many ways, the abuse of power and trust that manifested itself in Doug's own painful relationship with the priest recurred in his own conduct with some of the young adults of PPT," the document reads. "Our purpose is not to compare the Haitian street children in this case with a teenage Doug Perlitz. However, it is a sad and all-too-true fact that abusive behavior has a painful circularity to it."

Prosecutors, meanwhile, claim Perlitz withheld benefits and threatened to expel boys if they spurned his advances for nearly a decade after opening the school. U.S. Attorney David Fein has said Perlitz "preyed on impoverished and powerless" homeless children in Haiti, enticing them with food, shelter, clothing and education.

The priest Perlitz accuses of beginning a relationship with him "within days" of his arrival at Fairfield is not identified in the 32-page document. But the Connecticut Post reports that the Rev. Paul Carrier -- who served as the university's director of campus ministry and chaplain for 18 years -- played a key role in Perlitz's life.

Carrier, who took students on missions to Haiti and visited the school nearly once a month, called Perlitz nearly daily and vacationed with him, several former employees and students in Haiti told the Post last year. Carrier resigned from Fairfield University in 2006 after 18 years of service.

Attempts to reach Carrier on Tuesday were unsuccessful. His attorney, Timothy O'Neill, declined to comment, other than to say: "[Perlitz's brief] deserves the same credibility as the person making that statement, which is absolutely none."

Grudberg declined to comment on any connection between his client and Carrier. Calls to the Archdiocese of Bridgeport were not immediately returned.

In a statement to FoxNews.com, Fairfield University spokesman Mark Gregorio said the school was "deeply troubled" by the new allegation in Perlitz's brief and cited its policy against harassment.

"Fairfield University is deeply troubled by this new allegation in this tragic case," the statement read.

Paul Kendrick, an advocate for sexual abuse victims and a Fairfield University alumnus, has repeatedly called on university officials to take responsibility in the case and provide aid to the abused boys. But he also claims Perlitz's plea for leniency should be disregarded.

"It's obviously all about Doug," Kendrick told FoxNews.com. "What I really see is a lack of awareness, a real lack of accountability and a real lack of responsibility for the depth of the harm he's inflicted on these children."

Kendrick, who is accepting donations for the victims in question, said sexual abuse "permanently alters" the victim's physical and emotional development.

"In my mind, people like Doug are sorry for one thing -- they're sorry for being caught," he said. "Anything less than a maximum sentence is a slap in the face to the boys who courageously came forward and, of course, were raped and sodomized by this guy."