By Michael Dooling
July 22, 2016
|When Rev. Arthur Perrault left St. Francis parish in Naugatuck in November 1965, he was sent to Via Coeli, a residential treatment facility run by the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs, New Mexico. The property still stands there today, although the treatment center, to which archdioceses nationwide referred pedophile priests in the 1950s and 1960s, is closed. Michael Dooling/Republican-American |
Editor's note: Part 2 of a two-part report about the Rev. Arthur Perrault, a Bristol native and one-time Connecticut priest from 1964-65 who decades later fled the country after multiple allegations of sexual abuse in New Mexico.
When the Rev. Arthur Perrault left St. Francis Church in Naugatuck he was sent to Via Coeli, a residential treatment facility run by the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs, N.M.
The center, outside Santa Fe, originally treated priests with emotional and addictive problems including drug dependency and alcoholism. In the 1950s, the church began to refer pedophile priests there, with increasing frequency.
The center's history is documented in letters from its founder, who urged the church to remove such men from the priesthood, and in depositions made public after lawsuits began to be filed in New Mexico in the 1990s.
Perrault remained in New Mexico after Via Coeli. Less than a year after leaving St. Francis, Perrault became active in parish work in Albuquerque. He is mentioned, again and again, in editions of the Albuquerque Journal and the Santa Fe New Mexican from 1966 well into the 1980s: officiating at a marriage ceremony, moderating a YWCA "Girls into Women" conference on sex education, teaching religion and ethics at St. Pius X High School, running a youth choir.
The Archdiocese of Hartford officially transferred Perrault to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 1967 although he had been removed from Connecticut more than a year earlier.
All ties to the Archdiocese of Hartford ended in August 1967, said Maria Zone, communications director. In an email, Zone said the archdiocese could not release further information or comment about Perrault because personnel information is kept confidential.
Two years after Via Coeli, Perrault took on the task of organizing a youth Mass. In 1969 he told the Albuquerque Journal, "It is difficult for the parishes to provide a meaningful liturgy for everyone from the very young to the very old. Therefore we instituted a service that is directed solely at the adolescent." He continued to surround himself with young people when he became the chaplain at the University of Albuquerque during the fall 1970 semester.
NOT ALL OF HIS ACTIVITIES DIRECTLY involved interactions with children. Perrault was selected to serve on the Eighth Archdiocese Synod and he served as chairman of a liturgical commission for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. In 1974, he became coordinator of worship for Catholics in the Western states and editor of the national publication Servant to the Faith. Two years later he was appointed chaplain of the New Mexico Air National Guard with the rank of major.
Perrault gained significant credibility throughout the Southwest and was frequently interviewed by the press. When the film The Exorcist was released, he was asked for his opinion by a local newspaper. He was quoted saying "ůsociety's evil is so much more enticing than this evil."
Perrault cemented friendships in high places. When the new Archbishop of Santa Fe, Robert Sanchez, was consecrated, Arthur Perrault was the master of ceremonies at the celebration. By 1992 the man who boys feared 30 years earlier in Naugatuck was a highly regarded pastor, respected editor and liturgist, and a good friend of Archbishop Sanchez. He was voted "people's choice" as favorite clergyman around Albuquerque.
In October 1992, Perrault's world started to collapse.
Several people levied sexual assault allegations against him.
A parishioner from Our Lady of Assumption, Marlene Debrey-Nowak, befriended Perrault after he was assigned to the church, and he visited her family regularly. She claimed in a lawsuit that Perrault molested her two sons, ages 10 and 12, in 1973. She said the abuse occurred 25 to 30 times over a period of six months, took place in her home, and occurred in the presence of the boys' younger sister. According to a report in the Santa Fe New Mexican, once she found out what was happening she confronted Perrault. Initially he denied it and then "admitted he had fondled her sons," she told the newspaper.
Siblings Elaine and Paul Montoya also filed a lawsuit, alleging they had both been abused by Perrault when they were teenagers; Elaine said she had been abused by him more than 300 times. The diocese responded to the court that Perrault had been a patient at the Paraclete Center in 1966 but denied that archdiocesan officials were aware he had pedophilic tendencies.
EIGHT YEARS BEFORE THE MONTOYA siblings filed a lawsuit, their parents met with the Rev. Donald J. Starkey, chancellor for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. In court documents, they said that Starkey "explains that Father Perrault has an illness or rather lack of development in the growing-up stage and never has passed through puberty like the normal person does. His growth in that area he (Starkey) equates to that of a nine-year-old or younger who loves to play doctor and nurse."
Two lawsuits, one brought by the Montoyas and the other by five other plaintiffs, were brought against the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, including one brought by a man who claimed Perrault had sexually abused him in the residence of the archbishop.
Albuquerque attorney Levi Monagle said 36 people in New Mexico have alleged being sexually assaulted by Perrault. It is unknown if other victims were abused and did not come forward.
In October 1992, as a storm of anger and fury started to bear down on him, the 54-year-old priest resigned as pastor of St. Bernadette, drove off in his car and was not seen in New Mexico again.
Michael Dooling, a former librarian for the Republican-American, is a member of the St. Francis School class of 1966.