Los Angeles (AFP) - A Catholic priest on the run for more than 25 years has been arrested in Morocco and extradited to the United States to face charges that he sexually assaulted a young boy in the 1990s, federal prosecutors in New Mexico said Friday.
Arthur Perrault, now 80 years old, stands accused of aggravated sexual abuse of a minor under the age of 12 on several occasions in 1991 and 1992, while he served as a military chaplain at Kirtland Air Force base outside Albuquerque.
The boy was assaulted both at the base and at Santa Fe National Cemetery, US prosecutor John Anderson told reporters.
"The indictment alleges a profound breach of trust by an individual who was widely perceived as a mentor to young people and a respected figure in the community," Anderson said in a statement handed out by the Justice Department.
The priest vanished in 1992, shortly before lawsuits were filed against the Archdiocese of Santa Fe over Perrault's alleged abuse of seven children in his parish, Anderson said.
According to investigators, Perrault first fled to Canada and then Morocco, where the Federal Bureau of Investigation agents eventually tracked him down last year. He was arrested in October 2017.
If convicted of the charges covered in the indictment, unsealed on Friday, Perrault could face up to life in prison.
Local media reported that Perrault had worked as an English teacher in Morocco, notably at the American Language Center in Tangier.
Anderson said he was extradited to the United States on Thursday.
"Perrault will finally appear in an American courtroom to answer for the charges against him," said FBI special agent James Langenberg, who is in charge of the investigation. He thanked Morocco for its cooperation.
"But this case is not over. The FBI is seeking information from individuals who may have additional information about Perrault's contacts with minors over the years," Langenberg added.
Authorities are concerned that the priest, who worked in New Mexico from 1973 to 1992, may have abused many others.
The indictment is the latest development in the roiling abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church, with shocking revelations of endemic abuse in Australia, Chile and the United States.