ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A former New Mexico priest, who fled the U.S. decades ago amid allegations of child sex abuse, appeared in U.S. District Court on Tuesday as a federal magistrate decided to keep the 80-year-old behind bars pending trial as his accusers in the audience applauded.
Defense Attorney Samuel Winder argued that Arthur Perrault was not a flight risk as he had no passport, no family and no means of leaving the country. But prosecutors described him as a danger to the community.
Court documents filed late last week said victims described Perrault showering them with gifts and meals before abusing them. They also described Perrault as someone who smoked pipes and wore silk underwear.
The documents said the Connecticut-born Perrault wrote an apology letter to the parents of one victim in 1971 and blamed his actions on cancer, which prosecutors said he was never diagnosed with.
Perrault was extradited to New Mexico last week from Morocco in connection with sexual abuse cases that are said to have taken place between 1991 and 1992 at Kirtland Air Force Base and Santa Fe National Cemetery.
The former Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and a former Air Force chaplain has been charged in a federal indictment with seven counts of aggravated sexual abuse and abusive sexual contact.
Perrault pleaded not guilty in his first court appearance Friday. He also told a U.S. magistrate judge he’d had a stroke three years ago, was deaf in one ear, and had trouble walking.
Perrault, a one-time pastor at St. Bernadette parish in Albuquerque, is one of many priests sent to New Mexico in the 1960s from around the country for treatment involving pedophilia.
Victims, lawyers and church documents show the priests were later assigned to parishes and schools across New Mexico — especially in Native American and Hispanic communities.
Perrault vanished in 1992, just days before an attorney filed two lawsuits against the archdiocese alleging Perrault had sexually assaulted seven children at his parish.
The FBI said Perrault first fled to Canada and then to Tangier, Morocco, where he worked until last year at an English-language school for children.
Perrault denied abusing children in a handwritten letter sent in November 2016 to a judge related to sexual abuse lawsuits in Albuquerque. Perrault said his assets included money from military retirement and Social Security.
Church records released last year by a New Mexico judge show Perrault is also accused in state lawsuits of sexually abusing at least 38 boys in other cases.
Records also show Perrault was sent in 1965 to Servants of the Paraclete — a religious order that ran a treatment center for pedophile priests in Jemez Springs, New Mexico — after he was accused of molesting young men while serving in Connecticut.
Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras