SANTA FE, N.M. — A federal prosecutor late Tuesday described a former priest and Air Force chaplain standing trial on sex abuse charges as a “serial molester” who during his final years in New Mexico exploited one young altar boy’s interests in the military and priesthood to spend more time with him.
Prosecutor Sean Sullivan’s harsh illustration of Arthur Perrault came as attorneys for both sides delivered closing arguments. Jurors now must decide whether Perrault abused the boy in the early 1990s at Santa Fe National Cemetery and Kirtland Air Force Base.
Perrault, who is 81, was returned by authorities to the United States from Morocco in September to face charges of aggravated sexual abuse and abusive sexual contact.
Once the pastor of St. Bernadette’s, one of New Mexico’s largest Roman Catholic parishes, Perrault is accused of vanishing from the state in 1992 just as an attorney prepared to file two lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Santa Fe alleging he had sexually assaulted seven children.
“He fled to escape justice,” Sullivan said.
While Perrault had multiple victims in New Mexico, according to authorities, the federal charges against him stem only from the abuse of the one boy at the two military properties, which fall under federal jurisdiction.
Perrault has pleaded not guilty to charges, and his attorney questioned Tuesday why the former altar boy did not tell his mother when he was still a child about being abused.
In his closing arguments, Perrault’s attorney, Sam Winder, suggested the accusations may have resulted from “false memories.” The defense also sought to underscore that the former altar boy, now in his 30s, did not come forward with his accusations against Perrault until media reports of other abuse allegations emerged.
The former altar boy testified during the trial, saying Perrault had engaged in inappropriate physical encounters with him about 100 times, and that the former priest’s violations against him ranged from hugging and kissing him to fondling his genitals and placing his mouth there.
The abuse occurred at locations that included an amusement park, the military base in Albuquerque and a rectory, the man said. Winder said that rectory was a parish office at the time of the alleged abuse, leading him to raise questions about the veracity of the man’s account.
Perrault spent nearly three decades working as a priest in the Albuquerque area after being released in the 1960s from Servants of the Paraclete, a secluded retreat in the mountains of northern New Mexico that served as a treatment center for pedophile priests.
Perrault was sent there after he was accused of molesting young men while serving in Connecticut.
Jurors are expected to resume deliberations Wednesday.