La Croix International [France]
January 19, 2023
By Héloïse de Neuville | France
Paris Archdiocese tightens the 2018 restrictions it placed on Tony Anatrella’s ministry following investigation of allegations that he sexually abused male patients
The Vatican has banned one of its longtime priest-advisors on sexual and moral issues, Tony Anatrella, from practicing psychotherapy, following longstanding allegations that the Paris cleric abused male adult patients.
The decision, which was taken last month by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) and announced Tuesday by the Archdiocese of Paris, left Anatrella’s accusers deeply disappointed. They had hoped the priest – who will be 81 next month – would be removed from the clerical state.
The Paris archdiocese said the DDF “ordered the interested party to immediately renounce any professional activity as a therapist”. But the DDF did not place any restrictions on Anatrella’s priestly ministry. The archdiocese had already done that in 2018.
It was announced on Tuesday that Archbishop Laurent Ulrich has reinforced those earlier sanctions, forbidding Anatrella from exercising “any activity related to psychotherapy” or “publication of work”; banning him from “presiding or public concelebration” of the liturgy and removing his “faculties to hear confessions”. Archbishop Ulrich has also confined Anatrella to “a life of prayer in a more remote daily life”.
He is also banned “from all participation in colloquia, public meetings, conferences, etc.”, due in part to his February 2022 attendance at a symposium on the family at the Vatican.
“Disappointment” of the plaintiffs
Under the penal precept applied by the Paris archdiocese, Anatrella will incur heavier canonical sanctions for violations. The sanctions were imposed on the priest on December 13, following a period during which an appeal would have been possible.
“With regard to Father Anatrella, the scandal is recognized. It seems that it was not possible to go any further with regard to Church law, sometimes because of the long delay since the events transpired, sometimes because the events were beyond the statute of limitations,” said a person familiar with the case who was interviewed by La Croix.
“It’s a disappointment,” said Nadia Debbache, the plaintiffs’ lawyer. “We thought there were enough elements for Tony Anatrella to be dismissed from the clerical state. We are talking about serious, repeated acts of sexual assault,” she told La Croix.
In 2006, several former patients of the priest, who since the 1970s has been a reference for the archdiocese of Paris on all matters of emotional life and sexuality, filed a complaint for “sexual touching” during therapy sessions supposed to “cure” them of their homosexuality. In 2016, several new testimonies from men claimed that Tony Anatrella had forced them to perform sexual acts during sessions.
The archdiocese then conducted an internal investigation. Two years later, Archbishop Michel Aupetit, who was ordinary at the time, issued a letter of reprimand forbidding Father Anatrella from exercising any priestly ministry and from practicing as a therapist.
“The sanctions imposed last December thus complete the measures taken in 2018,” said a source within the archdiocese of Paris.
Anatrella first appealed to the archdiocese, and to the Dicastery for the Clergy. After being denied in both cases, he turned to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in May 2019, but again without success.
Shortly thereafter, the archdiocese received a report concerning sexual assaults on a man who was a minor at the time of the events. The report was sent to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which took all the testimonies of the presumed victims.
Since the facts concerning adults were beyond the statute of limitations, the dicastery could not render a decision. It normally lifts the statute when the alleged offenses concern a minor. Yet, due to “inconsistencies” in the accuser’s story, the DDF pronounced a minimal sanction in July 2022 “for the benefit of the doubt in favor of the accused”.
“The archdiocese has therefore strengthened the sanctions and will alert the bishop of the place where Tony Anatrella resides or will reside to ensure that the archbishop’s monition will be followed and respected,” an archdiocesan official said.
(Additional reporting by Matthieu Lasserre.)