A former Air Force Reserve chaplain, a Catholic priest, who was extradited to New Mexico on charges of child sexual abuse, also served on active duty for more than 14 years, according to Air Force officials.

Arthur Perrault, 80, is accused of seven incidents involving an 11-year-old boy in 1991 and 1992, when he was a colonel, including some that allegedly happened on Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, at the base chapel and other locations, when he was a reservist.

A judge ruled Tuesday that Perrault should be held in federal custody pending trial because the Catholic priest fled the country in 1992 when similar abuse allegations first arose publicly, according to a report in the Albuquerque Journal.

"U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Molzen said that despite Perrault’s age and medical infirmities, she was concerned that the 80-year-old priest had to be forcibly brought back by the FBI to face federal charges after leaving Albuquerque 26 years ago and relocating to Morocco, a country that didn’t have an extradition treaty with the United States.

After researching Perrault’s records, Air Force Personnel Center officials found that Perrault also served on active duty, entering the Air Force in April 1970, and transferring to the Air Force Reserve in August 1984, said Mike Dickerson, spokesman for the personnel center.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, Perrault has said he receives military retirement.

Nearly all of Perrault’s time on active duty was served at Kirtland Air Force Base — from August 1973 to June 1984, Dickerson said.

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.

Officials have not been able to definitively determine from Air Force records where Perrault served from April 1970 to August 1973, Dickerson said.

FBI officials are encouraging anyone who has information about other conduct by Perrault to email the U.S. Attorney’s Office at usanm-priest@usdoj.gov, or call the FBI’s Albuquerque Division at 1-800-CALL-FBI. (800-225-5324.)

In the indictment handed down by a federal grand jury, the former priest in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe is charged with six counts of aggravated sexual abuse and one count of abusive sexual contact. In addition to the incidents at Kirtland AFB, other incidents involving the victim reportedly happened at Santa Fe National Cemetery, also federal property. FBI agents took custody of Perrault in Morocco on Sept. 20.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Sullivan told the judge Tuesday that FBI agents reported that on the flight to Albuquerque from Morocco, Perrault “in general terms” denied the federal criminal charges that in 1991 and 1992, he repeatedly molested the 11-year-old boy at Kirtland, a location that permits federal jurisdiction in the prosecution, the Journal reported.

Yet he did admit, Sullivan said, “touching children through their clothes and engaging in oral sex.”

According to other court documents, Perrault allegedly abused numerous other children over a period of more than 20 years as a Catholic priest in New Mexico and Rhode Island, fleeing the U.S. in 1992 when allegations of his conduct became public. A number of the victims told investigators that Perrault wore silk underwear, and that he often smoked a pipe, according to the documents.

Information was not available about whether any of the victims were military children.

Investigators reportedly have an apology letter from Perrault written to another victim’s parents in 1971, blaming his conduct on a cancer diagnosis, according to the documents. But investigators said that cancer diagnosis was not true, and noted the letter was written 20 years before the alleged abuse at Kirtland took place.

Perrault was on active duty in 1971, but it’s not known when the incident cited in the apology letter happened, or where.

According to the Journal, Perrault pleaded not guilty in his first court appearance Sept. 20, and 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.

Numerous victims have filed lawsuits in New Mexico District Court alleging that Perrault sexually abused them, and some victims have received monetary settlements from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and the Servants of the Paraclete, a facility in Jemez, New Mexico, that previously “treated” Perrault and other priests accused of pedophilia, according to court documents.

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.

The Journal reported that Perrault denied abusing children in a handwritten letter to a judge related to the sexual abuse lawsuits. A New Mexico judge released church records last year that show Perrault is accused in state lawsuits of sexually abusing at least 38 boys, according to the Journal.

The indictment involves incidents with one child. FBI investigators allege that Perrault abused several victims on Kirtland, but the one victim is the only one who was abused on federal property within the applicable statute of limitations period.

Court documents allege that Perrault “groomed” the victim for sexual abuse by giving him personal attention and hugging, touching and kissing him on the head. He also allegedly gave the victim gifts such as a military medal, stereo and video game player, and took him to restaurants and an amusement park.

Investigators allege that Perrault got to know his victims’ parents “and took advantage of their trust in allowing their children to spend time with him.”

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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