Shattered Faith Part Ii: the Wide Circle of Silence
By Chris Ramirez
November 20, 2017
Editor's Note: This story is the second in a series called "Shattered Faith," in which KOB 4 Investigates examines the cases of three former Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe whose alleged widespread abuse of children decades ago not only went undealt with, but has contributed to what many mental health professionals call a mental health crisis for New Mexico.
The first story in this series, "A dangerous shuffle game," can be found here. Read on for the second part of "Shattered Faith."
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – There is the crime. And then there is the cover-up.
When it comes to child sex abuse by priests, we know for years the church protected pedophile priests and worked to silence victims and their families. But keeping a secret for so long required help.
The documents that the KOB 4 Investigates Team fought to bring to the public light reveal the wide circle of silence that denied justice to our most vulnerable victims.
It’s difficult to believe that even though former Catholic priest Arthur Perrault has at least 36 known victims, he has not spent a single night in a jail cell, has never gone through the criminal justice system for the heinous crimes he is accused of.
Files reveal Perrault ingratiated himself with faithful New Mexican families for the purpose of molesting and raping young boys in the family. He preyed on altar servers and traded boys with other priests, causing some victims to be raped by multiple members of the clergy.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
The American legal system works on numbers and time. To put it simply, justice has a timeframe and it can only be achieved when you work within the time limits.
The harsh reality is New Mexico’s statute of limitations has ensured much of the sexual abuse will go unaccounted for.
“It’s one of the aspects of this tragedy,” said New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. “First is that these abuses were under-investigated and underreported. But secondly, so much time has lapsed on these cases.”
Balderas started a new investigation into the priest abuse scandal. Quietly, his investigators are meeting with scores of abuse survivors who hope the priests who raped and molested them as children may one day trade the clerical collar for orange jump suits.
But even Balderas admits the statute of limitations he has to work with is causing barriers.
“I think it was horrific in the first place that the New Mexico Legislature thought there should be a time limit on horrific child abuse in New Mexico,” Balderas said. “This is one of the most egregious black eyes that we will be paying the price for many, many generations to come.”
During the 1970s and 80s, the statute of limitations for child rape was 15 years. The clock started when the child turned 18 or first reported the abuse to police.
For example, if a child was sexually abused in 1983 at the age of 9, the clock started ticking in 1992 once he turned 18. The statute of limitations required that the perpetrator be prosecuted before 2007.
After 2007, the child rapist got away with his crime.
LETTING THE CLOCKS EXPIRE
Before all these clocks started expiring, people in power knew about many of the abuses and about the pedophile priests. We found two Albuquerque Police reports from 1993, one of which showed Perrault performed oral sex on a boy several times at his home.
The other revealed Perrault made a boy take a bath with him. That bath led to a sexual assault.
Police knew Perrault was a predator, but there is no documentation to show that the police investigation led to any criminal charges or prosecution.
Additionally, the files we obtained reveal the Archdiocese of Santa Fe sent letters to then-District Attorney Kari Brandenburg. The first letter in 2005 stated, “Father Sabine Griego engaged in all forms of sexual abuse with (the child) and even introduced him to Father Arthur Perrault so that the two of them could sexually abuse (the child) together.”
Then the Archdiocese sent another letter in 2007, again outing Perrault’s sexually predatory behavior.
But according to a spokesman working for current District Attorney Raul Torrez, there are no documents to suggest anyone in 2005 or 2007 took the letters seriously.
In 1997, the New Mexico Legislature changed the law. There are no longer statute of limitations placed on crimes of child rape.
Essentially, the clock was removed. But that doesn’t help the hundreds of children preyed upon by priests before then.
Balderas also said he believes the lawyers who represented many of survivors in civil cases share the blame for keeping the abuse a secret. Balderas believes that generations of civil attorneys should have led their clients to law enforcement, but instead led their clients to quick, secret payouts where the client and attorney got thousands of dollars from the church.
“I think it is appalling that individuals bravely came forward, but they were offered civil resolution that forced these families were asked to keep these horrific crimes a secret,” Balderas said. “That is extremely appalling and I believe that is re-victimizing families. I think it is one of the significant barriers to the criminal justice system.”