A high-ranking priest known for practicing “ex-gay” therapy as well as being a key Vatican consultant on homosexuality has been removed from priestly ministry over allegations that he abused patients while attempting to “heal” them of being gay.
Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris announced sanctions against Msgr. Tony Anatrella earlier this month. The priest was accused of doing “body therapy” with patients under his care for “ex-gay” therapy, acts which were really sexual abuse. La Croix reported on the latest development:
“On the basis of information gathered during a preliminary investigation, Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris has now ruled that ‘no priestly ministry will henceforth be granted to him,’ the archdiocese told La Croix.
“Archbishop Aupetit also ‘ordered (him) not to hear the confessions of the faithful, to give up the practice of spiritual direction and accompaniment and to refrain from making any public pronouncements without his (the archbishop’s) agreement.’
“Msgr. Anatrella must also cease ‘all therapeutic activity,’ as previously ordered by the late Cardinal André Vingt-Trois of Paris.”. . .
“This amounts to a ‘reprimand,’ a canonical sanction invoked when there is a decision not to proceed with a trial but where ‘after investigation, grave suspicion of having committed has fallen’ on the person concerned.”
Allegations of abuse by Anatrella have been public for over a decade, but only in 2017 was a commission established to investigate the priest after new complaints were filed in 2016. Those complainants sought justice in the canonical legal system rather than a civil one, and the Archdiocese of Paris sought to launch a canonical trial but were barred from doing so by the Vatican. Archbishop Aupetit received the results of that investigation in May of this year, and acted despite Anatrella’s repeated denials of any wrongdoing.
One of the 2016 complainants said the archbishop’s move was “a courageous decision,” and he is “satisfied” though unaddressed is the sometimes poor treatment victims received and the lack of compensation provided for them. He had asked for a symbolic payment to victims to reimburse them for therapy costs, about 50,000 euros. Previous complaints had resulted in a drawn-out process with civil cases simply dismissed.
Anatrella has been for many years a leading gay-negative figure in Church circles. He authored more than 30 books on homosexuality, in which he said being gay was a mistaken identity by narcissists unable to be in lasting relationships. The blog European Communion reported that he often told seminarians and religious sent to him, “You’re not gay, you just think you are.” Besides practicing “ex-gay” therapy, the priest consulted for a number of Vatican offices including ones responsible for family, healthcare, and child protection. He helped produce a 2005 document under Pope Benedict XVI that barred gay men from the priesthood. In a 2015 training for new bishops, Anatrella told participants that they need not disclose allegations of abuse to civil authorities even if applicable civil laws required them to do so.
European Communion interviewed Dominican Fr. Philippe Lefèbvre, a theologian and vocal opponent of Anatrella’s teachings and tactics, after news broke of the sanctions. Lefèbvre said the Church had used “mafia practices” against the priest’s victims, four of whom he knows personally, and he has corresponded with others. These victims were “very worthy, brave and courageous” despite efforts to silence and discredit them, as well as Lefèbvre. The Dominican explained:
“A French priest who was involved in the pastoral care for homosexuals wrote to me and said he knew three men who had gone through the same thing. That priest started talking to seven bishops in November 2006. They weren’t surprised at all. Everyone knew about it! On November 23, 2006, Cardinal Vingt-Trois, the archbishop of Paris, wrote an e-mail to all his priests: ‘We support Monsignor Anatrella with our prayer and our esteem’. . .
“The church gives these people an almost almighty status. And if you criticize them, you get the bishops coming down on you. Or the whole Catholic system of laymen that keeps all kinds of internet sites running. They are mafia practices that are accompanied even by intimidations. I know that Anatrella has tried everything to get me removed from my chair here at the faculty in Fribourg, even going to the highest Roman court. I also received phone calls from friends who told me that I was being portrayed as the ‘destroyer of the church’ in Rome. A bishop told me that I had better stop, since my lectureship depends on the Congregation for Catholic Education in Rome.”
Lefèbvre said many French clerics were silent because Anatrella had been their therapist and they feared what knowledge he had of them. But the Dominican concluded:
“Anatrella has held French Catholicism in his ideological grip for thirty years, while the bishops knew of his abuse. In the corridors several bishops said to me: ‘You’re right, but don’t say it was me who told you’.
“The current Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, came out [and suspended Anatrella] very cleverly just before the summer holiday. After the summer we will have forgotten about it again.”
“But I hope Anatrella’s suspension is the beginning of a new reflection.”
Given the U.S. case of resigned Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s alleged abuse of minors and seminarians under his supervision, as well as scandals that continue to break across the world which reveal that officials knew about abuse but did nothing, sanctions against Anatrella are indeed a positive step. But they are certainly not enough. A dangerous anti-gay voice has been discredited and hopefully his homophobic ideas will be discarded in the same way his psychotherapy and pastoral ministry have been.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 6, 2018