ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A priest who was captured in Morocco after fleeing the U.S. decades ago is facing a federal trial on charges that he sexually abused a New Mexico boy in the early 1990s at an Air Force base and veterans' cemetery.
The trial of 80-year-old Arthur Perrault is set to begin Monday in Santa Fe with jury selection. Prosecutors are expected to call dozens of witnesses, including a former deacon, parents and former military members who knew Perrault in the early 1990s.
Federal authorities have said in court documents that Perrault may have had as many as eight other victims. But the charges against him only involve an 11-year-old altar boy.
The church sent Perrault to New Mexico in the 1960s for treatment at a center for pedophile priests. He was arrested in 2017 in Tangier, where authorities say he had been teaching at an English-language school for children.
Perrault's case marks a rare federal criminal prosecution of a former Catholic priest in the state where dozens of clergy abuse victims have won more than $50 million in settlements from the Santa Fe Archdiocese, which has filed for bankruptcy protection as a result of the lawsuits.
"It's great he's finally being held accountable for what he did," Michael Norris, a spokesman for the group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said about Perrault. "But I'm also disappointed that some of the bishops that allowed him to be shuffled around aren't being held accountable."
Perrault returned to the U.S. in September to face charges of aggravated sexual abuse and abusive sexual contact. He has pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors say he abused the boy in 1991 and 1992 at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque and Santa Fe National Cemetery. Both sites are military properties that fall under federal jurisdiction.
The Santa Fe Archdiocese and Perrault's attorney did not respond to requests for comment. In response to a civil case filed against him, Perrault said in a 2016 letter to a New Mexico judge that he denied the abuse allegations.
Church officials in Connecticut sent Perrault to the treatment facility in the secluded mountain town of Jemez Springs north of Albuquerque after he was accused of inappropriately touching young males. The facility was operated by the religious order Servants of the Paraclete.
The facility had treated priests from around the country for decades, many of whom remained in New Mexico after spending time at the center.
In 2016, the Santa Fe Archdiocese published a list of 74 clergy members, including Perrault, who had been credibly accused of sexually abusing children in New Mexico. The list was made public after decades of pressure from victims and their family members.
Perrault moved to Albuquerque for a teaching post at St. Pius X High School on a recommendation from a psychologist under contract with Servants of the Paraclete.
Federal court documents filed in September contain accounts of Perrault showering boys with gifts and meals before abusing them.
In Albuquerque, he had been a pastor at St. Bernadette parish and an Air Force chaplain. He vanished in 1992, days before an attorney filed two lawsuits against the archdiocese alleging Perrault had sexually assaulted seven children at his parish.
Since September, Perrault has remained in custody despite arguments from his attorney that his health is fragile and he cannot flee the country because he has no passport, family or means of leaving.