“This is a big disappointment for the victims because the sexual assaults committed by Tony Anatrella are of a particular gravity because they took place in a therapeutic context,” said a lawyer for the victims, Nadia Debbache.
Over the years, French and Catholic media have reported claims by several men and seminarians who were sent to Anatrella because they exhibited homosexual tendencies, only to then be allegedly subjected to sexualized therapy with him. Anatrella had been considered one of the Catholic Church’s foremost experts on homosexuality, and had served as a consulting member of the Vatican’s family and health offices.
Church teaching considers homosexual acts to be “intrinsically disordered” and the Vatican in 2005 issued a policy aimed at keeping men with “deep-seated” homosexual tendencies from becoming priests.
In a statement Tuesday, the Paris archdiocese noted that the French justice system hadn’t prosecuted Anatrella criminally because the allegations against him exceeded the statute of limitations.
The statement said the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith issued one measure against Anatrella after a church investigation initiated in 2016, to “immediately renounce all professional activities as a therapist.”
That office, which handles sex abuse of minors cases, got involved because one of the claimants was 16 when he said he was abused by Anatrella, the author of over a dozen books on gender, marriage, adolescence and family life.
“We don’t know why his testimony was not taken into account!” said Debbache, who added that she had asked the office to waive the statute of limitations in the case, which it used to do with some regularity.
While the Vatican issued a minimal penalty, the Paris archdiocese “formally asked” Anatrella to cease all editorial publications, public ministry and participation in conferences. It forbade him from hearing confession and asked him to lead a reserved life of prayer.
The request, however, was merely a “warning” “under the penalty of canonical sanctions,” suggesting even the archdiocese was unable to impose harsher penalties on him. The newspaper of the Italian bishops conference, Avvenire, had reported in 2018 that Anatrella’s church lawyers had argued that he committed no canonical crime.
Debbache praised the archdiocese’ measures as nevertheless strong, noting that he is essentially forbidden from doing anything as a priest except celebrate Mass in private, as well as its decision to make the sanctions public.
The archdiocese’ statement on its website, “is also proof that it wishes that everyone be informed on the sanctions taken against him,” she said, noting such transparency was rare and positive.
The Vatican has articulated norms for sanctioning priests who sexually abuse minors, up to and including laicizing them, or essentially removing them from the priesthood. And the Vatican has regularly waived the statute of limitations for cases involving abuse of minors. But the Holy See’s in-house legal code has only recently begun to recognize abuses against adults, and the abuses of authority and spiritual abuses that often accompany such crimes.
Recently, another case has grabbed headlines involving a prominent Jesuit priest and artist, the Rev. Marko Ivan Rupnik, who was accused by nine women of spiritual and sexual abuses dating from the 1990s when he helped run a religious community in Slovenia.
The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith declined to waive the statute of limitations in the case, even after declaring a year earlier that Rupnik had been excommunicated for having committed one of the gravest crimes in the church, using the confessional to absolve a woman with whom he had engaged in sexual activities.
The Jesuits say Rupnik, whose mosaics decorate churches and basilicas around the globe, remains under restricted ministry.