SANTA FE, N.M. — A New Mexico man counted scores of instances Thursday of sexual abuse by a former Roman Catholic priest and Air Force chaplain in the early 1990s, testifying that the then-pastor inappropriately touched him at Kirtland Air Force Base, a church rectory, a veterans’ cemetery and an amusement park when he was as young as 10 years old.
The testimony came during a federal jury trial in Santa Fe for Arthur Perrault, a retired Air Force Reserve colonel, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of aggravated sexual abuse and abusive sexual contact.
He was accused in court of abusing the witness at each of the locations in New Mexico. However, the federal charges only stem from abuse that authorities say occurred at Santa Fe National Cemetery and at Kirtland in Albuquerque — two military sites that fall under federal jurisdiction.
Now 81, Perrault entered and left the courtroom with the aid of a walker, and used a hearing device to listen to his accuser's testimony. He returned six months ago to the United States from Tangier, Morocco — where authorities say he had been teaching for more than a decade at an English-language school for children before he was arrested.
The former chaqplain, who reportedly draws retired pay, had been a fugitive from justice for more than 26 years.
Perrault also served on active duty for more than 14 years, according to Air Force personnel officials. He entered the Air Force in April 1970 and transferred to the Air Force Reserve in August 1984.
Nearly all of Perrault’s time on active duty was served at Kirtland Air Force Base — from August 1973 to June 1984. His last active-duty station was the now-closed Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado, where he apparently served for about three months — from June to August 1984 — before transferring to the Air Force Reserve.
Merrica Heaton, a consular official for the U.S. State Department, told jurors she had visited Perrault in January 2018 inside a Moroccan jail. She was checking on Perrault’s well-being after his detention by local authorities in response to an Interpol warrant.
She testified that Perrault volunteered to tell her without being asked that he was surprised and unhappy to learn the U.S. government still was pursuing him for transgressions decades ago. A defense attorney for Perrault pressed Heaton on whether "transgressions" referred to any specific allegations of sexual abuse against Perrault or specific victims.
"He admitted to — I don't know what specific acts — but misconduct involving young boys," responded Heaton, who said that the conversation left a lasting impression because of her own Roman Catholic upbringing. "You can't un-hear that."
In response to a civil case filed against him, Perrault said in a 2016 letter to a New Mexico judge that he denied abuse allegations.
His attorney sought to delve into the trustworthiness of Perrault's accuser. He also asked the man why he came forward with his claims against Perrault after media reports emerged in 2014 of other accusations against the priest.
The charges against Perrault only relate to the alleged abuse against the one man. But federal authorities have said Perrault had at least eight victims, including several who testified Tuesday.
One man, identified only as John Doe #8, told jurors the first assault against him at age 12 occurred during a drive to the mountains outside of Albuquerque after the priest told his parents they would be doing "church business."
The man testified the groping started 30 minutes into the trip, the Albuquerque Journal reported. Perrault was accused of pulling off the road and finishing the assault.
They later arrived at what the victim now believes was the Servants of the Paraclete center in Jemez Springs, a secluded retreat in the mountains of northern New Mexico that served as a treatment center for pedophile priests.
Records show Perrault was sent there in 1965 after he was accused of molesting young men while serving in Connecticut.
The man who testified Thursday said he was a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Santa Fe Archdiocese in which he says he received $300,000 through a settlement.
He said in court that Perrault inappropriately touched him as many as 100 times — sometimes by hugging or kissing him. Other times, the priest fondled his genitals both over his pants and directly, or placed his mouth there, the witness said.
He also accused the priest of penetrating him with his fingers.
He said the abuse often occurred on outings that lasted several hours at a time. Afterward his mother would pick him up at the rectory.
He said he never told her about the assaults.