SANTA FE -- Former Albuquerque priest Arthur Perrault is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison for aggravated sexual assault of an altar boy in the early 1990s, after a riveting hearing Friday in which a federal judge imposed a 30-year sentence and insisted Perrault stand and face one of the multiple victims he abused decades ago.
"I have to say Mr. Perrault that this is the worst case that I have ever handled and ever seen," said U.S. District Judge Martha Vazquez, noting that she has presided over many sexual abuse cases in her 26 years as a judge in Santa Fe. "I'm glad you are looking at me, because it is extremely difficult to speak to someone and to try to explain one's sentiments and have that person not give you the respect of looking at them."
In a rare federal criminal prosecution, Perrault was convicted by a jury in April of seven counts of sexual abuse related to a former altar boy at St. Bernadette's parish in Albuquerque who once considered the priest his "best friend."
The sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Martha Vazquez is considered a life sentence due to Perrault's advanced age of 81. The term was the maximum he could have received after his jury conviction in April in U.S. District Court in Santa Fe.
During a two-hour sentencing hearing Friday morning, Perrault, 81, kept his head down as other victims spoke about their suffering and shame from losing their childhood innocence at the hands of the popular Catholic priest.
A man identified as "David" told the judge he had been "raped" by Perrault as a child and was there to represent other victims, including three who committed suicide before they reached 18 years old.
Perrault, who admitted to at least one earlier molestation of a boy, fled Albuquerque in the fall of 1992 "knowing he would soon be outed as a serial pedophile," according to a sentencing memorandum filed by the U.S. Attorney's office. He was charged with the molestation of a single victim, with supporting trial testimony from six other men who said they too had been sexually abused by Perrault as children.
Looking at Perrault, David spoke of "innocent, youthful individuals who needed to walk away from their places of worship because of you. ... You left a destructive path of (children) who were left estranged from their families, from their faith and from their promising futures."
"I have finally come to where I can forgive you," David said, looking at Perrault, who made no eye contact. "I cannot forgive all of those who as witnessing adults did nothing to stop predators like you."
The former pastor at St. Bernadette's parish in Albuquerque's Northeast Heights, Perrault ended up teaching at the American Language Center in Morocco for more than 20 years until an FBI investigation resulted in a grand jury indictment in 2017 and his expulsion from Morocco.
Perrault came to New Mexico from Connecticut in the 1960s to be treated at a religious center for sexual pedophiles and other troubled clergy. Prosecutors alleged he preyed upon and sexually assaulted dozens of minors for decades as a teacher and parish priest in the Albuquerque area and fled in 1992 as he was about to be "outed" for his crimes.
Trial testimony showed at least two clergy or church employees at St. Bernadette either helped Perrault leave or were in contact with him when he relocated to Morocco. He taught at an American language school in Tangier for more than 20 years. So far, no one there has reported similar crimes, stated Holland Kastrin, an assistant U.S. Attorney in a sentencing memorandum.
The unusual case was prosecuted in U.S. District Court because federal authorities found a victim who recalled Perrault sexually abusing him on federal property -- at Kirtland Air Force Base, where Perrault had been an Air Force chaplain and at the Santa Fe National Cemetery, where Perrault held burial services.
"The fact that no allegations have been made against Defendant in Morocco does not necessarily mean that no abuse occurred," she wrote. "As demonstrated by Defendant's history and characteristics, Defendant was able to successfully abuse minors in New Mexico for decades without any allegations of misconduct being made."
Albuquerque attorney Brad Hall, who represents clergy abuse victims, tracked Perrault down in Morocco several years ago. That spurred the FBI to launch an investigation, and Perrault was expelled by Moroccan authorities to return to Albuquerque in September 2018.
Federal prosecutors Sean Sullivan and Holland Kastrin said in the sentencing document that the federal government was aware of "dozens of additional victims."
A federal grand jury a year earlier had issued a sealed indictment related to the former altar boy at St. Bernadette's parish in Albuquerque.
The fact that some of the assaults occurred on federal property at Santa Fe National Cemetery and Kirtland Air Force Base, where Perrault was a military chaplain, gave prosecutors the window to pursue a criminal case against Perrault despite the time delay.
The maximum sentence, their memorandum stated, is the only sentence that "comports with any moral sense of right and wrong and the only sentence that will ensure that the defendant does not harm another human life."
"The federal government prosecuting a pedophile priest is very important for survivors of childhood sexual abuse everywhere," Hall said after Friday's sentencing. "This particular pedophile priest is known for his arrogance and his selfishness and pride. From interviewing maybe a couple of dozen of his 60, 70 or 80 victims, we know a lot about him and he deserves every day that he is going to serve in prison."
On Friday, a total of five victims testified, some directly addressing the hunched-over former priest who wore an audio device because he is hard of hearing.
When 60-year-old Elaine Montoya related how Perrault's sexual abuse of her in the 1980s had damaged her life, self-worth and livelihood, she told the judge that she has forgiven him.
Looking over at him sitting at the defense table, an emotional Montoya added, "Without forgiveness he will continue to consume the remaining years of my life."
To that, Vazquez said, "Before you leave ... Mr. Perrault, could you please look at Ms. Montoya?" Perrault leaned over to speak with his attorney, and mumbled, "I don't understand. I don't hear what they said."
Vazquez pointed out that Perrault, in addition to his audio aid, was relying on a real-time device sitting on the defense table that shows what is being said in court.
"You've been reading your screen. I'm just asking you to look at Ms. Montoya," the judge said again. "Just stand please and look at Ms. Montoya."
The seconds passed in the silent courtroom before Perrault slowly rose and faced Montoya, who stood across the room.
Later, Perrault, who didn't testify at his April trial or offer a statement Friday in his defense, told the judge he wasn't looking at the victims because he was reading the testimony on his real-time screen.
His attorney said Perrault plans an appeal.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Sullivan told the judge that Perrault's case proves he "is one of the worst sex offenders and child predators in the history of New Mexico."
Another victim spoke directly to Perrault, saying, "You will have to explain your actions to almighty God, and you will be held accountable. You see, Art, no one is above the law, not in this lifetime or the next."
That man, now in his 60s, said Perrault deserved the same sentence that he imposed on his child victims: "a lifetime of eternal torment and misery."
This article is written by Colleen Heild from Albuquerque Journal and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.