By Keith Coffman
(Reuters) – A former Roman Catholic priest who fled to Morocco before he was returned to the United States and convicted of sexually abusing an altar boy in New Mexico in the 1990s was sentenced on Friday to 30 years in prison, prosecutors said.
U.S District Judge Martha Vazquez imposed the sentence in Albuquerque federal court on Arthur Perrault, 81, a onetime Air Force chaplain and colonel, U.S. Attorney John Anderson said in a statement.
“There are few acts more horrific than the long-term sexual abuse of a child,” Anderson said. “At long last, today’s sentence holds Perrault accountable for his deplorable conduct.”
Perrault’s trial attorney, Samuel Winder, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Perrault was convicted by a federal jury in April on six counts of aggravated sexual abuse and one count of abusive sexual contact with a minor in 1991 and 1992 at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque and at the Santa Fe National Cemetery, prosecutors said.
The victim, now an adult, testified that Perrault befriended him when he was 9 years old, showering him with gifts and trips before sexually assaulting him, prosecutors said.
Although he was convicted of abusing just one victim, prosecutors alleged in court filings that Perrault was a serial child molester who abused numerous young people over more than 30 years as a priest in New Mexico and Rhode Island.
At his trial, seven other alleged victims testified that Perrault, ordained in 1964, abused them during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
The Roman Catholic Church has been roiled by allegations of sexual abuse since 1992, when the Boston Globe newspaper revealed a decades-long cover-up by church hierarchy of sexual misconduct by its clergy.
The U.S. Catholic Church has paid out more than $3 billion to settle clergy abuse cases, according to BishopAccountability.org, which tracks the issue.
Under federal law, a convicted defendant must serve at least 85% of a sentence, meaning Perrault will likely die in prison.
Perrault fled the United States in 1992 when his criminal conduct became public, prosecutors said. He was located in Morocco, where he was arrested in 2017 following his indictment on the sex charges, and was extradited to New Mexico.
Linda Card, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, said Perrault served in the Air Force Reserve Chaplain Corps, and for a time was on active-duty status.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Steve Gorman and Tom Brown)